06/10/2013 05:00 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2013

The Business of Creativity

In a couple of days the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity kicks off for its 60th edition. It began as an advertising festival celebrating the ads before the movies, and is now the global meeting place for anyone in the marketing or advertising industries, where 36,000 pieces of work vie to win a coveted Lion trophy.

It used to be a place that agency people honored the best creative work of the year. It is still that of course, but the huge change in recent years has been the engagement of client marketers, who now make up around a quarter of the 12,000 attendees. Why would it be that CMOs and indeed CEOs are attending a Festival of Creativity, something that they used to leave to their agencies?

In his book, The Case For Creativity, James Hurman tracks the stock price of Cannes Lions' Advertiser of The Year winners during the lead-up to their success. Without exception, they enjoyed their highest share price, biggest gains, and most competitor-smashing results when they were producing their most creative work -- P&G, Nike, Volkswagen, Swatch, Honda, the list goes on. Clients have simultaneously come to the compelling conclusion that given the choice between creative work and work that sells their stuff, they will have both. It is the amplification effect that imaginative work has on the effectiveness of a campaign that is so compelling. And these guys have measured it.

"At McDonald's," says Matt Biespiel, Head of Global Brand Development, "we have seen ROI 54 percent higher with creative that wins Lions than creative that doesn't. We believe in the power of creativity to drive our business. We believe down to our bones that great McDonald's advertising drives the business and wins awards."

It's just a few short years ago that this was a minority view among marketers. Now most big advertisers agree. Diageo's CMO Andy Fennell: "Creative excellence is pivotal to driving business performance. I can prove that ten-out-of-ten creative work drives business that seven-out-of-ten doesn't." Jonathan Mildenhall, VP Global Advertising, Coca-Cola: "I get very frustrated with the ongoing debate about creativity versus effectiveness because I don't believe you can have one without the other." Alexis Nasard, Chief Commercial Officer, Heineken: "Award-winning work builds the business disproportionately". And so on.

In a sense it's nothing new: "good ads are more effective" is not exactly revolutionary. What is new however is the fundamental change in the options open to marketers, the shifting consumer patterns, and the need now for marketers to take creative control of their brands. The argument about whether creativity is valuable for a brand and a business has been won, and the clients who are not embracing it are losing to those who do. In a sense, it is the only remaining true competitive advantage.