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Networks ‘carpet bomb’ Cannes and play the numbers game, says indie agency boss

Wayne ArnoldWinning at Cannes is a “numbers game” played by big networks that begins many months before the jury votes on the contenders in June, the head of the world’s largest independent digital agency has said.

Wayne Arnold, global CEO of Profero, told Mumbrella that the festival favours the big networks over indies, since larger agencies “drown out” categories by “carpet bombing” them with large quantities of expensively produced entries.

“Cannes is a numbers game that begins nine months before voting begins,” he said. “The odds are stacked in their [the big networks] favour.”

“They spend a lot of money putting together beautifully packaged submissions that most indies simply cannot afford to produce,” said Arnold, who recently shifted Profero’s global headquarters to Singapore.

“Networks target the categories they think they can win, and drown them out by carpet bombing them with large quantities of submissions,” Arnold said.

“There is favouritism within the judges, no doubt,” he said, referring to a scandal last year in the media category, where it was alleged that networks block-voted for agencies that belong to their own holding companies.

“Everyone plays that game, and it’s much harder for lesser-known quantities to win at Cannes,” he said.

“Is it wrong for a holding company you work for to say you should support your own company? No,” he said.

“But is it open and fair? No, it is not.”

Some executives working for the big networks are remunerated according to the number of lions they win at Cannes – which fuels the race to the top of the awards rankings, Arnold added.

He said that while it is rare that a bad idea wins at Cannes, some very good ideas get lost in the scrum to reach the podium.

“Every so often something great from an unknown rises to the top and wins. But sometimes something very good gets drowned out too,” he said.

“This isn’t the IPA Effectiveness Awards [a UK effectiveness awards show that is judged by the impact of a campaign on the client’s business]. You don’t win at Cannes for being effective,” he said.

“You need to be on the right side of the curve of what is fashionable in advertising. This year it’s mobile. Last year it was Twitter,” he said, referring to trends in the Cyber Lions category.

However, Cannes doesn’t reflect what is really happening in the industry – or the real value of advertising, Arnold added.

“We’ve generated billions of dollars for clients such as Western Union and Marks & Spencer over the years, but none of that work would be reflected here,” he said.

“Lions build careers. Effies build businesses.”

“Cannes should not be about everything. It’s about creativity. But does it really reflect what we do every day? No, it does not,” he said.

“But it’s still a wonderful showcase for our industry.”

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