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Cannes Lions Winners Hold Lessons for Cause Marketers

Last week at the 57th annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival fully one-third of the 12 Grand Prix awards were taken by two campaigns that were cause-based.

(If the math seems a little funny it’s because the two campaigns in question won Grand Prix awards in four separate categories).

Is this the most ever? Truthfully the Lions website was so slow moving on my side of the Internet that I couldn’t afford the time to double-check. But I think it’s safe to say that more of this is happening now than when the Festival launched back in 1953.

Why is that? And why did these two cause-driven campaigns vacuum up so many awards in Cannes?

I think we can stipulate that there are more causes now than in 1953 or even in the two-martini lunch days of 1963, when Mad Men’s agency ‘Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’ was active on Madison Avenue.

We can also stipulate that there are more media available to advertisers now than ever. Indeed, one of the winners was Wieden + Kennedy’s campaign for Livestrong, that developed a machine that re-imagines street advertising for the digital age. (See above).

But I think the real reason is that when there’s meaningful resources involved and a certain amount of creative license, it’s a lot more fun for an agency and its creatives to tackle a cause campaign than to develop another ad for McDonalds or Walgreens.

For proof you don’t have to look any further than the Ad Council, which had been enabling cause advertising since 1942. While plenty of schlock has come from the Ad Council over the years, they’ve also been responsible for some real gems, including Smokey the Bear, Rosie the Riveter, United Negro College Fund’s ‘A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste,’ McGruff the Crime Dog, and many more.

The first of the double-winners at this year’s Cannes Lions was Gatorade’s campaign Replay, which won for ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ and ‘Promo and Activation’ by creative agency TWBA\Chiat\Day LA.

Replay was a promotion meant to rekindle the athletic fires of men 30 or over. Statistics show that only 3 in 10 adults over the age of 30 exercise regularly. Put another way, demand for Gatorade is suffering because so many adults settle into sedentary lifestyles as they age.

So Gatorade sponsored the replay a high school football game between two longtime rivals in New Jersey that had ended in a soccer-style 7-7 tie on November 25, 1993.

Chiat\Day convinced players from both teams, their old head coaches, even the high school’s cheerleaders and band members to return to the field and settle the score. The players trained for two months and the game was played on a scorching hot day in 2009. (And, as Gatorade took pains to announce, there were no big injures and no heat exhaustion in the game.) The training and the lead-up to the game was edited into episodes and posted on the Internet.

The game itself sold out in 90-minutes and the campaign generated 160 million media impressions. A feature film is in development and a reality series based on the concept airs on Fox Sports Network.

The other double winner was Wieden + Kennedy, which won a Lion under the ‘Cyber’ category for Chalkbot, and a ‘Titanium and Integrated’ Lion and for Livestrong, Lance Armstrong’s cancer charity.

Chalkbot was an element of the Livestrong campaign, but was nonetheless awarded a separate Lion award.

The Livestrong campaign was based on Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France in 2009> Armstrong returned, in part, to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer. Chalkbot’s part in that was to lay down inspirational messages on road surfaces in Livestrong’s signature yellow.

The yellow was chalk not paint and therefore degradable. The messages came from people in the United States and France who had texted them to the Livestrong website. During the month-long Tour de France, the chalkbot laid down more than 36,000 messages on the actual race course. As the images were laid down they were GPS-tagged and photographed to enable social media sharing through Facebook, Twitter and others.

It’s easy to see why these campaigns are winners. The Chalkbot, for instance, had to be invented from the ground up. And the text to message feature was genius.

Back in the day, the message of Replay… ‘get fit, old man’… was relegated to PSA campaigns of the type the Ad Council specializes in. But Replay is thousands of times more sticky than any standard-issue PSA. After all, who hasn’t known lament at events and choices from our earlier life? And who among us wouldn’t want to press the reset button to get a second crack at righting old regrets?

Not every cause campaign can or should be Cannes Lion award winner. Marketers with integrity should care more about results than awards. But for cause marketers the message from these two campaigns is; don’t settle for the ordinary.

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