Few would confuse Cannes with the Road to Damascus. But many at this year’s Lions International Advertising Festival now view it in that light after the seeming conversion of Procter & Gamble to creative-led advertising.

The Cincinnati colossus, hitherto the high priest of marketing-by-numbers, fielded for the first time a twenty-strong contingent at the global ad industry’s annual Saturnalia of hubris and Heidsieck. Partying, however, was quite definitely not the name of P&G’s game.

Global marketing officer James R Stengel instructed each of his twenty delegates – senior international marketers all – to keep a personal journal in which they recorded their Cannes observations along with ‘action steps’ to recommend to divisions back at the corporate ranch. They also had to view each and every ad chosen as a category finalist.

The delegation was sufficiently impressed with the Cannes experience to declare it will also attend the 2004 festival – beavering away meantime to ensure its return is accompanied by an improved creative offering.

Said Stengel: “We won't get from good to great without some big changes.” For starters he identified two key reforms. (1) Each P&G brand will be required to nominate in writing an executive decision-maker for all ad-related matters; and (2) All consumer brands will impose an overriding check on all future P&G copy testing, asking consumers: ‘Would you want to watch this commercial again?’

“We need to clarify decision-making by [business unit], put it on paper, share it broadly and not violate it,” announced Stengel at a post-Film Awards party for P&G hosted by Saatchi & Saatchi. At which point one euphoric agency creative reportedly “squealed and gave him a big hug”.

In this heady atmosphere of convivial creativity, discretion was thrown to the winds. Mathilde Delhoume, P&G’s global ad development director for baby care, committed what previously would have been the ultimate heresy at the planet’s largest advertiser: “Success at Cannes,” she affirmed, “is more predictive [of market success] than copy testing.”

‘Hallelujah Sister, tell it like it is, yeah, yeah,’ chanted the congregation of creative acolytes, urged on by Saatchi’s global executive creative director Bob Isherwood, who evangelized: “Sometimes you don't trust the greatest piece of research you have, which is your gut.”

Amen to that.

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff