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Does the Cannes Lions Festival need a new online ad category to level the playing field?

Any art direc­tor or account man­ag­er who has ever worked on a TV cam­paign will be more than aware of the tough con­straints they face to pre­vent ads from cost­ing a for­tune. So it’s a tad iron­ic that the Cannes Lions Inter­na­tion­al Fes­ti­val of Cre­ativ­i­ty has just bestowed its pres­ti­gious grand prix award on two com­par­a­tive­ly lengthy cam­paigns, nei­ther of which was ever intend­ed for a TV ad break.

Online cre­ative genius

The awards are tes­ti­monies to the cre­ative genius that can be found in inno­v­a­tive online adver­tis­ing agen­cies, which gen­er­al­ly don’t have to reck­on with the time con­straints TV ads demand. But does that mean that art direc­tors and account man­agers who focus on online cam­paigns are at some­thing of an unfair advan­tage when com­pet­ing with their TV coun­ter­parts at Cannes?

TV adver­tis­ing expert Jason Stone cer­tain­ly seems to think so. In an arti­cle for the UK’s Guardian news­pa­per, he notes that the Cannes judges have now hand­ed out the top prize to films last­ing well over the upper TV lim­it of 2 min­utes for the fourth time in five years. And that’s despite the fact that the very same judges have expressed “dis­dain” for the grow­ing ten­den­cy amongst agen­cies of sub­mit­ting long stretch­es of video con­tent exclu­sive­ly for online cam­paigns.

The win­ning ads (Australia’s viral “Dumb Ways to Die” rail safe­ty cam­paign and the six-episode Toshiba/Intel cam­paign) were undoubt­ed­ly bril­liant, high­ly enter­tain­ing, engag­ing and mem­o­rable. But the play­ing field seems far from lev­el: the “Dumb Ways” ad lasts three min­utes, and each of Toshiba/Intel’s “episodes” last around six min­utes (that’s 40 min­utes in total).

A new cat­e­go­ry? 

Stone takes issue with those who claim that Dumb Ways to Die is an “effec­tive” safe­ty cam­paign. Pop­u­lar­i­ty doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly trans­late into rail safe­ty (it’s been viewed an esti­mat­ed 500 mil­lion times on YouTube). But while that’s many more times than Aus­tralia has peo­ple, no one actu­al­ly knows yet whether it’s actu­al­ly had an impact on reduc­ing rail deaths.

Art direc­tors labor­ing on TV cam­paigns and strug­gling to keep their bud­gets with­in the going rate per film of $920 (€700) are enti­tled, Stone argues, to feel “dis­grun­tled”. He believes that the Cannes Fes­ti­val needs to cre­ate a sep­a­rate cat­e­go­ry for online campaigns.

One thing that’s for cer­tain is that online ad agen­cies are siz­zling with cre­ative power.

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