McDonald’s award-winning ads show that it’s more important to sell a product than to dazzle a judge

McDonald’s award-winning ads show that it’s more important to sell a product than to dazzle a judge

That ad is silly. That ad is sophomoric. That ad is just plain stupid.

That ad is sexist. That ad is racially insensitive.

Such are the common criticisms of advertising you can hear from consumers on any day of the week. They probably aren’t aware that ad agencies and clients can win awards for their advertising, and so they don’t know that another way to deride an ad that’s strong on artistic value and dismally weak on actually trying to sell the product is to say that the ad was created only to win an award.

I heard that complaint more than 20 years ago, when I began to write about marketing, but it has been around longer than that. Advertising agencies love to win awards, especially one of the Lions given out at the annual International Advertising Festival that takes place in Cannes, France.

Like everyone else who sees the work of the winners, I admire many of them. But for other ads, I wonder just how much absinthe the judges were drinking before awarding them a prize. What were they thinking?

The Cannes ad festival is the most prestigious advertising awards show in the world, but it’s not the one that does the best job of singling out ads that effectively sell a product and build a brand.

The Effie Awards do that. Not only does an ad have to be creative to win a gold, silver or bronze Effie Award, it also must demonstrate how effective it was for the client.

The awards are given out by the New York American Marketing Association. This year, McDonald’s [2] and its agencies won awards in four categories.

Leo Burnett USA of Chicago and client McDonald’s of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana won silver and gold awards for the “1-888-GoMcWakeup” campaign and a bronze for “Coffee Customization.”

DDB Seattle and McDonald’s USA [3] won silver and bronze Effies for the “We’re Up When You’re Up” campaign.

Leo Burnett’s TV spots for “GoMcWakeup” featured various Chicago White Sox and Cubs players sneaking into each other’s hotel rooms to startle sleeping players awake.

They weren’t complicated executions, but they generated more business for McDonald’s restaurants in the market.

To wit: Chicagoland consumers had a chance to call the toll-free number on the screen to receive a hotel-style wakeup call from local celebrities. The number of consumers who called was nearly eight times higher than what McDonald’s had projected, and sales at local McDonald’s restaurants grew 8 percent, the strongest in more than five years.

Leo Burnett’s “Coffee Customization” campaign targeted Hispanics and substantially increased sales of McDonald’s new coffee to them.

“We’re Up When You’re Up” won in the media-idea category for boosting late-night sales among young adults who wanted something to eat after partying at local hot spots.

As part of the campaign, drunken revelers even got free rides home in a “pimped out” cab.

The Effie Awards aren’t surrounded by the enormous hype that the Cannes ad festival gets, but it’s the award itself that matters.

Winning a Lion at Cannes doesn’t mean the campaign gave the client a sales boost or improved brand image. The winners don’t have to demonstrate proven results.

Brand differentiation, selling proposition, and an appropriate creative approach to reach the target market—all of this gets left out of an ad when a self-indulgent creative director wants his “work of art” to dazzle the judges.

Art is nice to look at, but in the end a client wants something a bit more practical. Clients don’t fire their agencies because they failed to win enough artistic awards. They let the agency go because the ads didn’t effectively sell enough of the product.