Cannes – The short and long of it. From Lions to Elephants.

August 26, 2015

By: Rachel Catanach

The dust is settling following the 2015 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The winners of the coveted gold Lions were decided following a marathon judging effort. The results were then dissected amidst a whirlwind of backchat and canapés.

Among the winners of the coveted PR Lions were some great, great campaigns. Ones that provoked a visceral reaction, that had you salivating at their lustrous production values, wondering at their sheer inventiveness, and wishing it were you that had created them they were just so damn clever.

And this is what this Festival is all about. Celebrating the best of the best in creativity. The bold and the beautiful. And why not?

But what is harder to ascertain is whether the winning campaigns will live beyond their moment of glory – whether they will continue to change behaviours or build reputations two, or even five, years hence?

Before we drink too much of the Cannes cool aid, we should take a moment to reflect that for business, real success — success that is rewarded — is repeat performance. Campaigns that continue to build shareholder value quarter after quarter.

As an industry, we should celebrate the long idea, those that continue to resonate long beyond their initial thrust. Dove’s “Real Beauty” is such a campaign. While the execution has evolved since Real Beauty was first launched in 2004, Dove has remained faithful to the initial insights that underpinned their campaign strategy. Commissioned by Unilever, The Real Truth About Beauty research revealed 75% of women between the ages of 18 and 64 “would like to see considerably more diversity in the images of beauty” and that only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful.

Today, despite the controversy that has accompanied some of their campaigns, Dove continues to feature real women in its advertising and support activities that reinforce its positioning as a progressive force for women. Advertising Age recently stated that Dove’s sales have reportedly increased to $4 billion in 2014, compared with $2.5 billion in 2004. The company has not confirmed whether this is correct but it is fair to say from an outsider’s perspective the brand continues to perform strongly because of the Real Beauty campaign. This year competitor P&G struck gold with its Always #likeagirl campaign and it will be interesting to see whether its follow-up, #Unstoppable, also continues to sustain the game-changing power of the initial self-esteem campaign.

Long ideas are usually based on some fundamental human truth rather than a fashionable whim. Increasingly they are purpose driven and are therefore closely aligned to business strategy. As Cannes is an annual event, idea longevity is not currently recognized as a category. Results are pegged to the year campaigns are created. For this reason it can sometimes seem that Cannes recognizes more highly those who excel at the one-night stand than those who make the marriage work over time.

Perhaps a new award should be introduced – the Cannes Lions Long Life Award (LLL for short)… or the Cannes Elephant, in recognition of another long-living giant in the animal kingdom. Agencies could choose to submit entries from previous years if they felt they demonstrated the arc of an idea over time (or as it comes of age), much in the same way a great television series builds episode by episode to reveal a rich story with highly developed characters and an engaging plot. In this sense, the award will recognize those ideas that keep the love alive beyond the first blush.

Measurement is central to understanding whether a “long idea” campaign is delivering sustained value.

Tracking not only immediate sales or ROI but sustained impact on business performance is challenging and should be a collaborative effort with brands. However, the good news is our unparalleled access to consumer data, cultural insights and financial metrics means we are better placed than ever before to spot the gaps where tangible value can and is being created.

Communication is often seen as the oil that makes the wheels of business turn, but in today’s super-connected, technologically driven world, communication, like the wheel itself, has the power to change the course of history. The PR industry’s sweet spot is reputation management, which traditionally takes a long-term view. This means as an industry we are in the box seat to make a real difference by embracing the long idea. But we need to think afresh about our role.

We need to see ourselves as architects of change, working at the coalface of innovation, disrupting industries from within, creating new business models through our ideas, and using technology to create new ways for consumers to engage with products and services. By aligning brand and reputation and by developing big ideas that deliver real value over the long-term, PR professionals have the potential to be the future’s really big winners. Carpe diem.

Rachel Catanach is the senior partner, senior vice president and managing director of FleishmanHillard Hong Kong. You can reach her at Rachel.Catanach@fleishman.com.