Technology shows how to win at Cannes Lions, but are the awards worth it?

Dive Brief:

  • Ace Metrix, the video advertising measurement company, used machine learning and natural language processing to try and uncover the emotional patterns that make it more likely for a brand campaign to win an award at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, per a press release[1] made available to Marketing Dive.
  • The study found four main emotional clusters exist around a high percentage of winners: universally funny ads, ads that create a sense of confusion, ads that are heartfelt and ads that are driven by storytelling accounted for 7% of winners apiece. Surprisingly, ads that were considered annoying made up 20% of winners, almost matching the combined 21% of the next three categories. Ace Metrix pointed out annoying ads are polarizing with high “hate” scores, but also succeed in grabbing attention. The study said that Cannes-winning ads often don’t have a brand-forward message, either.
  • While winning a Cannes Lion is considered by some to be the pinnacle of success in the advertising world, a recent Campaign report[2] citing the Ace Metrix study questions that position. The article noted that branded ads actually reduce the chance of winning an award and that, while it doesn’t hurt to take top honors, the direct benefits are more elusive and might run counter to business goals for advertising a brand.

Dive Insight:

Ace Metrix’s findings that annoying ads tend to win big at Cannes Lions might shock some marketers but make a lot of sense taking into account some broader branding objectives. Ads that are the most effective, beyond being creative, tend to find a way to embed themselves in consumers’ brains, whether through an ear-wormy jingle, a persistent brand mascot[3] or a memorable stunt. Burger King’s “Connected Whopper” spot from earlier this year, which hijacked users’ Google Home devices without their permission via the “Okay Google” voice command, was deemed by many to be intrusive at the time — it certainly seemed to frustrate Google[4] — but ended up taking home the Grand Prix at Cannes in June[5].

But perhaps a more interesting takeaway is what Ace Metrix’s findings say about the value of Cannes from a broader industry perspective, as Campaign noted. Agencies are weathering some of their roughest financial waters in years amid CPG ad spending cuts, multiple transparency crises and growing competition from global management consultancies[6]. Leaders at some of the largest agency holding groups including WPP and Publicis Groupe have expressed wariness about the often-exorbitant cost of an event like Cannes Lions[7] at a time when many in the ad space are expected to be tightening their belts.  

At the festival this year, Publicis’s Arthur Sadoun, then recently appointed as CEO, announced that all agencies within the company were forbidden from participating in any awards shows for a year — a cost-cutting development that made a big splash and had its share of controversy but was also one that put Cannes players on high alert. Ascential, which owns the festival, established an advisory committee[8] following Sadoun’s initiative to address some hiccups with the show and help safeguard its future. 

The Ace Metrix study only reinforces that agencies and brands might have to more carefully consider whether meeting business objectives and winning industry praise are compatible goals going forward. 


  1. ^ a press release (
  2. ^ Campaign report (
  3. ^ persistent brand mascot (
  4. ^ seemed to frustrate Google (
  5. ^ Grand Prix at Cannes in June (
  6. ^ global management consultancies (
  7. ^ often-exorbitant cost of an event like Cannes Lions (
  8. ^ established an advisory committee (Ascential)

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