25 October 2013

Louis Eksteen

Q&A with Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas

Cannes Lions on #scamvertising

Scam ads (#scamvertising) is advertising made only for the purpose of winning awards, not because of sound commercial and business reasons. Some dodgy advertising agencies create scam ads to elevate themselves to the level of “award-winning”, ironically for their own commercial and business reasons. Clients love agencies that have won awards — any awards — so business rolls in after the award show hangovers have passed.

But what happens when the scam goes bust?

According to Philip Thomas, Chief Executive of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, Cannes Lion awards are incredibly important to agencies and marketers. “It means business, talent … it’s the way of measuring quality in creativity. That’s why we are growing so fast, clients value Lions.”

Because of the importance of winning legitimate awards, Thomas says they have seen a significant reduction in scam ads being entered into the Cannes Lions over the last seven years: “Clients are less likely to enter scam ads because they are not interested in scam ads. They are interested in solutions to their problems.”

In light of the recent #scamvertising scandal involving the Loerie Awards in South Africa, I conducted a question and answer session with Thomas, to get the Cannes Lions view on scam ads.

How do you define scam ads?

Scam ads are ads created purely to enter award shows, they are created for clients who do not use the agency, or without the knowledge of the client.

What is the Cannes Lions stance on scam ads?

We don’t accept scam ads. If an ad is found to be a scam we remove it from the judging process. We have systems in place to check veracity, such as contact information from the client. If a scam ad wins a Lion, after an investigation proves it to be scam, we will remove the Lion.

How prevalent are scam ads around the world? (Sir John Hegarty is on record as saying Asia will never be a dominant force in advertising if it doesn’t cut out scam ads.)

The Cannes Lions is a global event and the world’s press and marketers are watching. In the modern world you cannot win a Lion with a scam ad, because people will find out. We will then remove the Lion. This fear is enough of a deterrent. In the last seven years we have removed two Lions.

Having a Lion taken away is ten times more negative than the benefit of winning it in the first place.

Can you see a trend? More, or less, scam ads being produced and entered into awards?

Much, much less. We have 35 000 entries and award 1 100 Lions per year. Scam ads are an infinitesimal problem. There hasn’t been a case of it for years and only two in the last seven years I have been running the event.

Cannes Lions, to all intents and purposes does not have an issue with scam ads. Smaller shows sometimes do still.

What advice can you provide to advertising awards organisations to prevent scam advertising entries?

In the awards we run that have had much bigger problems in the past, like Dubai Lynx, we insist on a letter from the client for every entry. Also, the juries need to be briefed to look out for it. They are pretty obvious to spot.

How do Cannes Lions approach a scam ad issue?

We investigate thoroughly and have lengthy discussions with the agency and the client. If it is a scam we remove the Lion and announce the removal to the press.

How are legit versus scam ads differentiated?

It’s really easy. Did a bona fide client commission the work?

Can you share an example of a particularly brazen attempt at scam advertising?

At Dubai Lynx an agency produced a TV spot at great expense for a client who did not approve it, for a car that was not even for sale in the region.

What bearing does high production value presentation have on work winning at Cannes Lions?

Craft is critical. It’s the price of getting on the starting block.

Is there a conflict between accepting as many as possible award entries, while preventing scam ad entries?

Our model is based on the link between creativity and commercial success. What’s the benefit for us in celebrating work that’s not real, or made for fantasy clients?

It’s the exact opposite that enables us to make our business model work.

What’s the Cannes Lions revenue split?

Entries and delegate sales make up about 90% of our revenues and are roughly equal.

Did MetropolitanRepublic enter MTN Project Uganda into the Cannes Lions 2013 awards?

Yes. It didn’t get shortlisted.