By Simon Harwood

Towards the end of the 2017 Lions awards, last year’s multi-category winning effort from the Art Institute of Chicago, the van Gogh Airbnb, collected another Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness. According to the Festival website, Creative Effectiveness Lions celebrate the ‘measurable impact of creativity… that demonstrate hard results over the long term’.

A worthy winner that had all the ingredients of modern creativity, including an audacious, attention-demanding concept that planned for earned media from the start. But the very fact that there is a separate category for Creative Effectiveness is somewhat alarming.

Surely all the work that makes it to the narrow shortlist from thousands of entries submitted should be able to point to the effectiveness of their efforts? Not so.

This became apparent when wandering around the vast basement of the Palais showcasing the shortlisted work. One entry ended with ‘we don’t know whether the idea worked or not but we certainly had fun making it!’. When results were invoked they ranged from the meaningless ‘5 billion impressions!’, using media metrics as a substitute for real world results, to the desperately small-but-honest grand total of 142 entries to a radio promotion.

At least Grey had some fun with their Swear Jar entry for Comic Relief, citing ‘fucking millions of impressions, shit loads of tweets’ before giving us a real life result (donations up 33% on 2016 if you were wondering).

The lack of meaning attached to results is even more bewildering when you consider the pressure that Cannes Lions now finds itself under. There are other awards such as D&AD that make no bones about prioritising the craft of beautiful creative work but Cannes has to appeal to clients as well as the networks. Plastered all over the festival was the claim that ‘creativity matters for business’, a demand to recognise the true value of creative thinking.

Also deep within the basement, Festival organisers were giving away James Herman’s book ‘The Case for Creativity‘ that studied the correlation between client winners and business performance. The headline from his analysis is that the share price of winners is three and half times higher than the stock market average. For example, 2016’s big winner Burger King has seen its share price increase 110% over the last three years.

Cannes Lions also invited McKinsey to share the 16 year analysis of the performance of creative leaders and found that across all key financial metrics, creative leadership pays off.  So why isn’t the link between creativity (the work) and results made more explicit in the criteria for Lions success?

Under pressure from clients and agency networks to step up its game next year, the Lions could do worse than amend its criteria to demand entries show the link to the desired behaviour change, perhaps giving them some basic tools to help as the IPA Effectiveness Awards do. Currently 30% of the weighting for Media and Direct Lions for example is based on ‘impact and results’ but this doesn’t seem to have translated to the entry material.

Otherwise you need only point to this year’s almost universally derided (by their target audience, not just industry folk) Burger King Home commercial which picked up a Grand Prix in the Direct category for another kick in the Cannes to the Festival’s credibility. The creative leadership that enabled the brilliant McWhopper campaign in 2016 doesn’t mean Burger King aren’t prone to produce the odd turkey as well. Not all impact is the right kind and bravery shouldn’t be applauded for its own sake.

Creativity is the best tool we have to transform our client’s business and drive competitive advantage. Let’s hope next year the Lions celebrates this truth across all of the awarded work to help us move beyond the standard industry bluster.

Simon is Head of Creativity & Innovation at PHD. For more of his thoughts and opinions, please follow him on Twitter @sharwoodster