The Europeans Just Don't Get Us: Part 1

The Europeans just don't get us.

That is the most common refrain from U.S. agencies after they fare dismally in the International Advertising Festival's Lions Direct and Cyber Lions awards in Cannes, France.

This past month was no different. A German agency took the Lions Direct Grand Prix for traditional DM, while a U.S. shop along with a Brazilian one each took a Cyber Lions Grand Prix for interactive work.

All told, the United States won three Lions Direct awards — one gold and two bronze — out of 49 handed out. This is half the nation's tally from last year. Britain this year won the most Lions Direct: eight (one gold, three silver and four bronze).

On the Cyber Lions side, Brazil won 23 awards, leaving the United States in second place with 20 — one Grand Prix, three gold and 16 bronze. Britain won 13 Cyber Lions.

Granted, Lions Direct and Cyber Lions are not as long in the tooth as the Direct Marketing Association's Echo or the John Caples International Awards. Still, what explains most U.S. agencies' success at these domestically based but internationally focused awards versus the underwhelming performance at British-owned Cannes Lions?

Listen to what Lor Gold, executive vice president and chief creative officer at Draft Chicago, had to say after his first stint this year as a Lions Direct judge: “I'm saying that if we want to get involved in Cannes Lions, we have to pretty much go by the rules the rest of the world follows. It's first and foremost a creativity award. And the way even the judging breaks down, the bulk of the points are dedicated to the creative idea and the execution. You still get judged on strategy and the results, but they are the lesser number.

“So you shouldn't enter unless you're going to compete on the level of creativity with which they all enter. America's got a choice: If they want to win a Lion, they're competing on creativity and not necessarily strategy and results alone.”

Gold noted that direct often plays different roles outside the United States.

“Now I'd say that there are problems in the entries that make it into the pre-judging,” he said. “I don't believe it's political. I think it's cultural. And I think it's a function of how many entries the pre-screeners have to look at, how much time they have to look at it and, I think, the way they think about direct and the way we think about direct.

“The key difference is that we're in a fairly mature market where above-the-line advertising like television allows for the relationship to start between the brand and the consumer, and then direct has often taken care of the heavy lifting — sales. And in Europe, direct has kind of done it all. They use it to soften [and] build a relationship as well as the heavy lifting.

“[Europeans] have been using direct to do a lot of things for a very long time. Asia has really considered their interactive outdoor [ads] to make contact with various segments for a very long time also.

“So when they have to screen our work, they only see that aspect of the work — the heavy lifting. It's not very interesting. They're not used to seeing part of it done. They're not used to seeing the envelope get the job done. It's not that they don't do it. It's just that they don't enter these into an award like Cannes Lions anymore than we would enter a s—ty TV spot for a Lions, either. We would never enter a car dealer spot. They would never enter a mere envelope.

“When the Europeans and the Asians and the South Americans try to win our coveted awards, they're judged by our standards. And they can't win too easily because they're judged by traditional standards based on results. So the weighting of the points [for the Echoes and Caples] is far different from Cannes Lions.”

Gold gave his suggestions for improved results at Cannes.

“What I want is we work with those clients that really want to know what's going on in the work of effectiveness to see if they're interested in trying some of those techniques,” he said. “It's not for every American client. And the other thing I recommend is, we really decide if we have what it takes to win a Lion. And if we don't, don't bother entering.”

Next week: Wunderman's Joel Sobelson, executive vice president and chief creative officer, and also a jurist this year at Lions Direct, gives his take on Cannes Lions.

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