Why Cannes doesn’t reward brand social media excellence

Cannes Lions — the high water mark of marketing awards. But does it ‘work’ when applied to social media?

Another year of Instagram snaps of senior marketers enjoying sunshine, fizz and, erm, networking has passed. As has the flush of trade press articles debating what we really learned from the bewildering flurry of awards.

When it comes to social media excellence, I’d argue we learned relatively little.

But that’s not Cannes’ fault. They are, by their own definition, a celebration of creativity in marketing. From their site:

We believe creativity is the driving force for business, for change and for good.
That’s why we are campaigners for creativity: we inspire creative bravery that changes the course of communications.
Our awards set a global benchmark for what good creative looks like, and our annual Festival connects those with a similar vision

Creativity matters in delivering stand-out ‘moments’ in social. Those small windows of time where a brand captures the zeitgeist of social, and literally and metaphorically ‘trend’. There were some lovely examples at Cannes this year — and many had social as a core part of a broader campaign: a notable step forward. Personal favourites were Salta beer (not for the squeamish) and Gisele and UnderArmour.

But, real social success relies on what happens every single one of your annual; 365 days of marketing opportunity.

Why do I say that?

  • Social media is a broad business tool, and marketing promotion (the primary focus of most, but not all, of the work at Cannes — this year saw an increased focus on social change) is only one way in which it can add business value. Service, direct response, and reputation management are equally social focus.
  • The ROI of daily operational social excellence is greater than through standout one-off creative campaigns. For a typical modest consumer brand in the UK, sone might see 1–2000 mentions a month. A successful (UK only) creative campaign for the same brand might see 3–5,000 mentions. Being 30% more effective daily, would lead to an additional 3,500–7,500 cumulative mentions across a year. And provides the platform for creative moments to achieve more — an amplifying effect.
  • Often it costs more to make proportional improvements via creative campaigns than daily operational programmes, in my experience.
  • Some of the most effective brand users of social make creativity a distinctly secondary priority. Service brands (transport, telco etc) are especially good examples of this.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s challenging. Brands will understandably be loath to talk about the true business value of social (retention benefits from better social service, revenue from acquisition etc). I struggle to see a way in which to create an award which celebrates the full value of social media effectiveness. I can’t point to an awards programme which does this for the more traditional branches of marketing, which probably underlines the difficulty.

Having celebrations of social media creativity (like Cannes) are still useful, despite this. Creativity does matter, notwithstanding the caveats above, and it’s better this is celebrated, rather than hidden. With some businesses it can be the key to business excellence.

But we do need to change the way we discuss awards for creativity. Too often these become the reference point for social media effectiveness, where they really only represent one facet of it. Mindsets, and the budgets which inevitably follow, get skewed towards creativity, and away from operational excellence. The brands used as industry shorthands for effectiveness are those which have triumphant creative moments, which may not always be the ones driving true business value.

Lets keep awarding. But let’s shift to a more sophisticated discussion of social media’s role for businesses.