Here’s a purpose-based initiative. Where’s my award?

When I was younger there were occasional discussions about what kind of ads would win awards. You had the obvious elements of being original, simple, well-crafted, memorable and all that jazz, but as award schemes started to become more international, there seemed to be a bias towards the kind of things that would win at Cannes (ie, when judged by an international jury of people who may not speak immaculate English).

This led to a few years where people in the UK discussed the ‘Proster’ (sic) – a press ad that was simple enough to be a poster. If your ad had a single image, no words and a logo that often sat in the bottom right-hand corner, then it was more likely to be understood by people from across the globe.

I thought this was a bit of a shame (see my Press juror’s comment in the 2005 D&AD Annual, nerds), but it was just a continuation of a question as old as time: how do you make an ad that will win you a prize? (By ‘time’ I mean since the late 1990s, when ads really started to be made deliberately for awards, and scam began to take off.)

The stories of scam, homogenisation of global work, international jurors who need to have nuance explained to them (which of course course includes English-language natives, who will have no idea how to appreciate a reference to a Malaysian stand-up comedian or a Turkmenistani pun), proliferation of categories and a general lowering of standards over the fifteen years have been told many times, so I won’t repeat them here.

Instead, I’m going to point out a relatively new development that has well and truly conquered the awards scene. 

If you want to win the highest advertising prizes you must, must, must create a piece of work that either contains, or simply is, a purpose-based initiative.

I direct you to the list of this year’s Cannes Grand Prix winners. Out of 27 winners in over 30 Grands Prix, I counted 4 (maybe 3 1/2) actual ads that just sold something produced by a corporation.

The others were either initiatives created by a corporation, or ‘for good’/charity communications/ideas. So that’s about 15% that were not purpose-based.

The lesson: next year, you’d better do something nice, because it ain’t Santa who’s making a list; it’s the world’s ad juries.

Here’s a rundown of the Grand Prix winners and the extent to which they tried to save the world:

The Brand Experience and Activation, Radio and Audio, and Influencer Grands Prix were won by Vice World News for their Unfiltered History Tour. It brilliantly highlights the fact that the British Museum should really give back all the stuff it has stolen from other countries. I’ve watched it a few times, but had no idea it had anything to do with Vice World News (11,813 views so far, by the way). Amazing initiative. Surely not a great ad. 

The Creative Strategy and PR Grands Prix were won by The Breakaway: the first ecycling team for prisoners. Ummm… so they put Pelotons in a jail? Not really – that would be too expensive, but that sums it up. I guess it must have had some great PR to have won the Grand Prix, but with 6,666 Youtube views, no one seems to have been directed to this film. I’ve now watched it twice, but have no idea who Decathlon (the client) is. I could Google a bit harder, but I think that misses the point somewhat. Another so-so ‘ad’. 

The Glass and Creative Data Grands Prix were won by Data Tienda from WeCapital. This initiative allowed Mexican women to build up a credit score based on the hitherto-irrelevant credit they had used in small, local shops. They could then get loans to build businesses. Great! 10,000 women and 50,000 shops got involved, so it seemed to be pretty substantial. On the ‘is it an ad?’ Question, I think the case study highlights an interesting point: if you take too much credit (pardon the pun) for these efforts you look like a shitty company making hay off the back of people’s misery. But you have to let people know who was behind it, or you won’t have any kind of an ad. I assume all the suggested newspaper headlines at the end went on to mention We Capital, so maybe it was a decent corporate communication to go with the great initiative. 

The Industry Craft and Media Grands Prix went to Hope Reef for Sheba cat food. As the Youtube description says, ‘The world’s coral reefs are at breaking point. But, there’s hope. We’ve launched the world’s largest coral reef restoration program, to preserve and restore the beauty in our oceans.’ 8.2m views are not to be sniffed at, but my question is, what does this have to do with cat food? There was a point when it mentioned that ‘more coral means more fish’, and I thought, ‘Yeah, for your cat food’. But it didn’t suggest that was the case, so I’m left wondering why a company that offers Tender Whitefish and Tuna flavours is trying to save fish. Why not just stop selling it as cat food? Is it a good ad? I honestly have no idea.

The first film Grand Prix went to Channel 4’s latest remarkable Paralympics ad. I’m going to make this down as a slight initiative, as the Paralympics have a sort of purpose-based vibe. I know it’s advertising Channel 4’s actual programming, but you know what I mean.  

The second film Grand Prix was a bloody ad! Yes it was! With no initiative stuff at all! How did it slip past the jury? Crazy stuff, full of moments that actually demonstrate the products’ benefits (check the credits at the end), and with 34m views! Well done, Apple!

The Titanium GP went to Long Live The Prince, for the Kiyan Prince Foundation/EA Sports/QPR/Match Attax. This reimagining of Kiyan’s life had he not been killed with a knife at 15 is an ad for the Kiyan Prince Foundation, so it’s not an initiative for something else, but it is a ‘for good’ communication. 

The Creative B2B Grand Prix went to Speaking in Color for Sherwin-Williams Coil Coatings, which allows you to use your voice to describe something, which they then interpret with AI to create a colour or palette for your paint. It does say, ‘Defined by human experience, it redefines how people connect with colour’. So I don’t think that’s an initiative, although I think they’re trying to make it sound like one. 

The Creative Business Transformation Grand Prix went to Piñatex, Dole/Ananas Anam, an initiative (Phew! We’re back to those) to create a sustainable leather substitute made from the cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves. Seems like a good thing. Is it much of an ad for Dole? I don’t know, but it’s going to have to do more than this to compensate for its terrible crimes against humanity (financing death squads in Colombia etc.). 

Next, another actual ad with no initiative! The Creative Ecommerce Grand Prix was won by Wingstop/Thighstop, a chicken wing shop that pivoted to selling thighs when wings ran out. Nothing else to say. 

The Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix was won by an initiative to help farmers grow organic crops. The Contract for Change was actually tied very tightly to Michelob Ultra, as they guaranteed to buy the organic barley that was a more risky choice for farmers to grow:

The Design Grand Prix was fully ‘initiatived’. Penguin Books’ ‘The Portuguese (Re)Constitution’ uses the ‘blackout poetry’ technique: several poets and illustrators passed the blue pencil over this constitution until some words were highlighted, celebrating the freedom of expression. Yeah… it’s all a bit complicated, but bottom line: it was the design of a purpose-based book.

The Digital Craft Grand Prix went to Backup Ukraine, from Polycam x Unesco. It’s an app created for Unesco which allows people to digitally scan architecture and monuments in Ukraine that are under threat of being destroyed in the war. Obviously purpose-based (and obviously a great cause).

The Direct Grand Prix was won by Coinbase for its lo-fi Superbowl ad. No purpose-based initiative there! 

The Entertainment Grand Prix was won by Eat A Swede, Ikea, which was – yes, you’ve guessed it – an initiative! Creative Review describes it as a ‘mockumentary for Ikea that appears to show Swedes eating lab grown human meat, in order to raise awareness of the impact climate change will have on the global food supply’, so who am I to argue?

Even the Entertainment Lion for Music was ‘for good’. This Is Not America ft. Ibeyi is all about protesting police brutality:

Entertainment Lions for Sport’s Grand Prix was an initiative to create a training system for those who are menstruating:

And the Film Craft Grand Prix was for a German supermarket called Penny. But was it about selling peas or Coke? Of course not! It was a purpose-based thingie with plinky music about dealing with the pandemic:

Of course the Grand Prix for Good was a ‘for good’ thing:

As was the Grand Prix for Good – Health:

As was the Sustainable Development Goals Grand Prix: 

Health and Wellness’s Grand Prix was a ‘for good’ initiative where a company made a mosquito repellant whose packaging killed mosquitos when chucked in a dumpster:

The Innovation Lions Grand Prix was an initiative to create a home that’s more resilient to extreme weather:

Mobile Lions’ Grand Prix was for Real Tone by Google, an initiative which captured darker skin more accurately on its Pixel phone’s camera.

The Outdoor Grand Prix went to Adidas’s Liquid Billboard, which created a swimming pool for women in Dubai, who could now wear Adidas’s more inclusive swimsuit range. Yes, It was a for-good initiative.

OK, we’re nearly at the end. The Pharma Lions Grand Prix went to an initiative called I Will Always Be Me, which allowed people with Motor Neurone Disease to save their voices before they lost the ability to speak (initiative!):

Finally, the Print and Publishing Grand Prix went to an initiative called The Elections Edition, from Annahar Newspaper, which skipped a day of publishing and donated the paper and ink to create election ballots: