CannesIntro-e1420666726757It’s that time of year again. The time of year when marketing and communications people from across the world gather in the south of France to celebrate creative genius in all its many forms at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity (bet you never knew that was its official title – I certainly didn’t).

Villas have been booked, restaurants reserved and plane tickets paid for. From Hong Kong to Hyderabad, Auckland to Aarhus, the well-oiled Cannes machine is swinging into action. To win here is every creative person’s dream and every agency president’s desire. Because nothing – nothing – quite compares to winning at Cannes.

Indeed, Cannes has come to be universally acknowledged as the benchmark creative awards show in the world. A status that is reflected in the fact that, yet again, this year sees the setting of a new record for the total number of entries.

And, as usual, Canada will be well represented. Indeed, Strategy magazine ran this piece only last week about the fact that this year Canada will have just over a thousand entries. Which is great, isn’t it? We obviously really love Cannes here in Canada.

But…before we all jump into our taxis and limos and head off to Pearson, I think that there is something we should talk about first. Something that doesn’t get the airtime that it deserves. In fact it doesn’t really get any airtime at all.

And that is that we don’t do very well at Cannes. We really don’t.

And we haven’t been doing well for a while.

Sure, as Strategy points out, we have lots of entries. In fact, we just love entering – indeed, compared to our population, we enter much more than perennial festival heavyweights Argentina, Brazil and the US.

But when you look at the only thing that really matters – the numbers of lions we actually bring back home across the Atlantic – the picture is much less encouraging. In fact it’s downright depressing, especially given the amount of status we accord to Cannes here in Canada.

How do we know this to be true?

Because of an article (‘The Lions’ Share’) in Marketing magazine from August last year, that’s how. (Everything that follows is based on data cited in that piece.)

Let’s start with the simple stuff – the number of lions actually won by Canada over the last five years compared to other countries that we might reasonably consider our peers.

Cannes lions 2014 Average 2010-13
USA 215 154
Brazil 107 79
UK 104 85
Australia 63 56
Argentina 45 31
Japan 44 35
Sweden 34 39
New Zealand 25 20
Canada 14 19

So, clearly last year was not a great one for Canadians, especially compared with the previous four years. In contrast, for some other countries, notably the US, UK and Brazil, 2014 was a really good year. Indeed, apart from Sweden and us, everyone bettered their medium-term average.

“But” I hear you protest, “Cannes Lions are supposed to be hard to win. Dumbass.”

And you are, of course, right.

But they are equally hard for everyone to win, not just Canadians.

A moment’s further scrutiny makes you realise that there is a size effect here, so the next step was to allow for the relative size of the various countries, using recent population data as a useful proxy. This is what happens when you do that:

Cannes lions/ million population 2014 Average 2010-13
New Zealand 5.6 4.5
Sweden 3.5 4.1
Australia 2.7 2.4
UK 1.6 1.3
Argentina 1.1 0.7
USA 0.7 0.5
Brazil 0.5 0.4
Canada 0.4 0.5
Japan 0.3 0.3

Although there are some changes in the table, with some of the smaller countries shooting to the top, Canada remains stubbornly down towards the bottom, despite having the sixth smallest population in the list.

The third step in the analysis was to look at what I have called the conversion ratio. This is the ratio of our share of winners in the whole show compared to our share of entries. (To be clear, if a country had the same share of winners as it had share of entries, it would have a ratio of 1. Obviously. So the higher the ratio, the more effective the country is at converting its entries into lions.)

Conversion ratios 2014 2010-13
Argentina 1.85 1.51
Sweden 1.73 1.77
New Zealand 1.64 1.74
Australia 1.34 1.47
Japan 1.26 1.20
UK 1.24 1.27
USA 1.13 1.06
Brazil 1.06 0.87
Canada 0.46 0.67

As you can see, our ability to convert entries into actual winners is, frankly, terrible. On this measure we come dead last – and by a long way.

This is to my mind the single most dispiriting chart of all, suggesting as it does that we have simply lost touch with what the judges at Cannes are looking for in a way that many comparable countries clearly haven’t (I’m looking at you, New Zealand and Australia).

The truth is that we have become a lot better at entering Cannes than at winning there.

However you look at it, Canada under-performs at Cannes and has done for years. Given that we all see this show as the gold standard of what we do, why is this?

And, much more importantly, why are we not talking about it? Why did the article in Marketing last year not lead to a wider conversation? Do we really not care about how we do at the world’s premier creative gala? Or are we afraid to ask ourselves what is really going on?

Here at the Account Planning Group of Canada, we don’t know the answers to these questions, but we do know that we should be asking them.

And we very much want to be part of the solution.

To that end, we will return to this subject after the 2015 Lions have been awarded and the dust has finally settled in the jury rooms. Then perhaps Canada can have the national debate about our consistently poor showing at Cannes that this great, creative (and greatly creative) country deserves.

Watch this space.

If you’ve a comment, please leave it below.

Or flip out a tweet with your POV to #CanadaCannesDebate

This is too important a discussion for us not to have.

About Mark Tomblin

Mark Tomblin has written 8 post in this blog.

Chief Strategy Officer @ TAXI