U.S. Flops at Lions Direct

Executives at U.S. direct marketing agencies have every reason to lament the state of the industry based on the country's appalling performance at last week's 50th International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France.

Minneapolis agency Fallon's BMW Films entry for client BMW of North America won a silver Lions Direct in the Web traffic-building category. That was the extent of the U.S. winnings from 59 Lions Direct awarded. Last year, the United States won two awards of 44 handed out.

Granted, the number of U.S. entries was lower than last year, 117 versus 169. But Britain submitted 209 entries this year and topped Lions Direct with 13 awards — five gold, three silver and five bronze.

Even more galling, the United States was in the ranks with South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, France and the Philippines — all winners of one Lions Direct each. None of them won gold, taking home silver or bronze. Even India won two gold Lions Direct awards.

Perhaps it results from cost cutting at U.S. direct marketing agencies, falling creativity, low awareness or a lack of interest in the Cannes Lions. But it does show the United States in a poor light. Ask Lions Direct jury president Daniel Morel, New York-based chairman/CEO of Wunderman.

“I know the industry in the States, and we have outstanding creative,” Morel said from Cannes. “The problem is that they're not present in Cannes. I've seen my own network. I'll be meeting with my creatives, and I'll be chastising them for not having presented what's good about what we produce. … I would not be hard on U.S. creative. I think there are many great pieces out there, and I'd like to see them in Cannes.”

Indeed, U.S.-owned or affiliated agencies accounted for 20 of the Lions Direct winners, including Wunderman, Young & Rubicam, OgilvyOne Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather, MRM Partners, Fallon, McCann-Erickson and Foote, Cone & Belding.

In a way, the U.S. tally of Lions Direct is no shocker. U.S. agencies have steadily lost ground to rivals from Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia in competitions operating in the United States.

Take the Direct Marketing Association's Echo awards, usually an accurate barometer of DM in the United States and, increasingly, overseas. Spanish agency CP Comunicacion/Proximity and its CP Interactive arm won the 2001 and 2002 top Diamond Echo awards, respectively.

That Spanish sweep extended to this year's John Caples International Awards, a New York-based show for creative direct marketing, as CP Comunicacion took best of show for a Nike campaign. The year before, an entry for Highland Distillers by Britain's WWAV Rapp Collins Scotland won the top Caples.

The U.S. impact on direct marketing is not entirely fading, as American agencies won 10 Cyber Lions a day earlier.

R/GA, New York, won a gold, silver and two bronze. Circle, Boston, won a silver and a bronze. Winning one Cyber Lions each were Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York; Arnold Worldwide, Boston; Big Spaceship, New York; and Atmosphere BBDO, New York.

The Cyber Lions honor entries only in interactive and online marketing. The Lions Direct include interactive and online marketing entries as well as those using older DM tactics.

Young & Rubicam, Sydney, Australia, won the Lions Direct grand prix, the most prestigious Cannes prize, in the consumer goods category. The client was Jim Beam Brands Australia's Jim Beam Bourbon.

Positioning Jim Beam as a macho whiskey, the campaign asked consumers to call a number whenever their manhood was doubted. The effort sought humorously to settle the debate between the sexes and take a stand for real men.

The effort helped sell 5.4 million additional Jim Beam cans and raised its market share by 4.3 percent. It generated $3.4 million in extra profit, or a 70 percent return on the campaign's cost.

That level of creativity also was evident in the two Cyber Lions grand prix.

The Volvo XC 90 campaign by Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, Sweden, had a tough mandate from Volvo Cars Sweden/Norway to pique interest in a vehicle brand known to almost every Swede. The agency used a volvoxc90.se site, banner ad, billboard, TV commercial and print ad showing a breathtaking forest shot with only the Web address. The intent was to make consumers feel that the car was unique. That agency won its grand prix in the integrated interactive campaign category.

The other grand prix winner, in the sport, entertainment and leisure category, was Framfab Denmark, Copenhagen. Nike Europe tasked the agency to create a “Panno KO” Web site to celebrate the annual Panna tournament where footballers go one-on-one in intense matches. Nike hoped its footwear would benefit from the association.

Besides the two grand prix, there were five gold, 12 silver and 20 bronze Cyber Lions awarded June 17. The Lions Direct tally was one grand prix, 17 gold, 16 silver and 25 bronze awards handed out June 18.

Industry observers and practitioners often complain that U.S. direct marketers do not push the envelope hard enough. And in times like these, agencies definitely are wary of going beyond the tried and true.

“What needs to be done is to take the industry beyond the traditional, perfectly well-executed, well-crafted use of data and tracking results,” Wunderman's Morel said. “But how do we provide the better customer experience, how could we be more humorous, interesting with a human touch, charming with a high recall? We didn't find that in quantity or in the pieces sent from North America. But we did find that very much in pieces from Europe.”

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