Faris Yakob looks ahead to this year’s Cannes Lions Awards, mixing experience and the very latest technology to explore what and who might win. 

[Editor's note: As ever, the opinions expressed on WARC Opinion are the author’s own. WARC is a sibling brand of LIONS, both part of Ascential, and has absolutely no idea which campaigns or agencies might win at this year’s awards. Judging takes place onsite at the festival.]

Every year since 1988, the 85 global offices of Leo Burnett collectively predict the winners of the Cannes Lions Awards. I discovered this in 2007 when I was speaking in Romania and the local office invited me to their judging, where they all sat in a room and watched case studies, pencils in hand. 

Whilst everyone in the industry idly wonders what will win, Leo filters the collective intelligence of their network in a methodical way, applying their own 7+ GPC (Global Product Committee) creativity scale that they use internally to evaluate work. The scale is 1-10, with work getting 7+ being considered for awards, with qualitative descriptors at each level: 1 is ‘Destructive’, 7 is “An inspiring idea, beautifully crafted”, and 10 is “Changes the world”.

What’s remarkable is that they consistently get around 90% of their predictions right. This seems like a testament to their standardized creative judgment and it is indeed useful to have a spectrum against which to judge work, however you describe the levels. Heineken adopted it into their ‘creativity ladder’ which they much touted when they won marketer of the year at Cannes. Leo usually announces their predictions a couple of weeks before the awards but I am about to equip you with the insight needed to get a similar predictive performance.

Despite the shared eponymous toponym, the Cannes Lions festival is fundamentally unlike the film festival. Film festivals are where previews of movies seek a distributor, whereas the advertising Cannes is the final award show in the season and features work that by definition has been in-market. Here is where the hint comes – because that means that Cannes for advertising is more akin to the Oscars, since it is judging work that audiences have seen (and which has either made money or not.) The amount of spend directed ‘for your consideration’ to the Academy is a reflection of how much of a commercial boost an Oscar nod or win can generate for a product, and this can be understood as analogous to the amount agencies spend to enter awards and the impact they hope it will have on their business. 

By the time the Oscars arrive, there have been innumerable other award shows that filter the films and critical opinion. This is well understood. To quote CNN: “One of the best ways to know who is going to win in each category is to look at which films and actors have done best in other award shows so far this year. Some award shows do a better job of predicting the Oscars than others.” If a movie hasn’t won any other awards, it’s vanishingly unlikely it will win an Oscar, and the same holds true at Cannes. These relationships have been extensively modeled in Hollywood and, if one had the inclination and the wherewithal, one could do a similar analysis on the winners of D&AD, The One Show, and a number of other key award shows and make robust statistical predictions of what will win at Cannes. I informed Google Bard of my theory and here’s what it thinks: 

Based on the data, the following campaigns are most likely to be awarded across the most categories at Cannes Advertising in 2023:

"Chatpat" by Kinnect + FCB India + FCB Chicago. This campaign uses a 10-year-old boy to share wisdom about life, and it has been praised for its creativity and impact.

"The Nominate Me Selfie" by FCB India + FCB Chicago. This campaign encourages people to nominate themselves for awards, and it has been praised for its humor and originality.

"Cadbury Perk Disclaimers" by Ogilvy. This campaign uses disclaimers to poke fun at people who take offense easily, and it has been praised for its wit and social commentary.

"Unaids' 'Unbox Me'" by FCB India + FCB Chicago. This campaign uses a series of videos to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and it has been praised for its powerful storytelling.

"Machine Gun Mouth" by DDB Mudra for Battlegrounds Mobile India. This campaign uses a rapper to promote the game Battlegrounds Mobile India, and it has been praised for its energy and excitement.” 

Which suggests a strong year for FCB and India, but might reflect Bard bias - who can say? These all appear to be real at least, an obvious advantage over GPT, but several of these were awarded in 2022 so, depending on the date range, may not reflect the 2023 winners. Regardless, it is unlikely for work to win at Cannes if it hasn’t been awarded elsewhere first. Agencies know this and enter work strategically over the year to work towards a Cannes crescendo. If your campaign went live too close to the end of the eligibility range you won’t enter it to Cannes that year because it won’t have had a chance to pick up heat in the prior shows. 

When I was an agency person I had the privilege of judging many of what would be considered the most important global creative awards. This was unusual, as my co-jurors inevitably pointed out, since I was not an agency or network CCO - the shows, smartly, tend to appoint their biggest customers as jurors and CCOs usually own or heavily influence that budget. 

Judging is a fascinating experience and incredibly valuable, especially if you want to understand how awards are won. Award entries are advertising for agencies and their work, and they are focused on a very tightly defined audience they are trying to persuade. Advertising leverages the ‘mere exposure effect’, you tend to prefer things you have seen before, and you can see how work that has garnered PR in advance tends to do better. The prior awards are another reputational indicator and give juries enhanced confidence in their opinions. You would be fascinated by how much time a jury spends considering the kind of message it is sending to the industry about the kind of work we think works and what we should be doing more of. At least on the good juries. 

A cursory glance at some of the earlier shows suggests that yes, Cannes Lions this year will have a significant number of ‘purpose’ winners in 2023. Having sat in those darkened rooms, it’s obvious that the emotive issues agencies are claiming to solve can impact creative judgment. It makes logical sense to separate these out into their own category, so innovative work that generates great short and long term value for processed consumer packaged goods wrapped in plastic aren’t being judged against one-off stunts designed to pull at the creative heart strings by ‘addressing’ climate change or championing marginalized communities with limited commercial impact. The shows don’t seem inclined to do this but there are many other new categories across the shows more broadly, as the channel based delineations of the industry confront the ever changing world. The work that picks up steam tends to win across a few different categories now so that’s worth looking for (that’s why I asked Bard that), as are grand prizes and the equivalent pencils. When you see the same work winning across these, they have a good chance of picking up metal in France. 

So keep an eye for Apple’s The Greatest (best in One show, pencil), Adam&Eve’s Last Photo for Calm (won 11 pencils including a Yellow), Burger King & David’s Glitch (won various and the industry is still looking for guidance on how to deal with gaming, so there will be a bunch of gaming ones), and I keep seeing The First Digital Nation work coming up from Monkeys/Accenture Song. The only black Pencil awarded at D&AD this year will not win at Cannes because it’s a music video and they aren’t eligible. 

If you haven’t sought out the winning work in our industry, it’s worth taking the time. You can have fun with it, setting up a session with your team or even with your clients, learning from and inspiring each other. It is interesting, useful and oddly unusual at many agencies, except of course, Leo Burnett.