Cannes by the Numbers: The Agencies

Tim RichDirector of Date Science

by Tim Rich
Director of Data Service

Much ink is spilled and treasure spent on the annual advertising awards show circuit. Here at Publicis, we wanted to understand how agencies have approached these award shows in the past, so we crunched the data from the Cannes Lions festival from 2000 to 2012 to see what we could find.

We began our exploration wanting to know which agencies have submitted the most pieces to Cannes. As many in the industry will recognize, some of the agencies listed here are housed under larger holding companies or are region-specific agencies. For this analysis, we have kept the original advertising agency name used in the Cannes submission application. This methodological choice, while obscuring some of the larger mega-agency forces at play, allows for a more granular look at the Cannes submission process and the agencies involved. This is seen most notably in entries for DDB, Paris and DDB, Chicago. As these are distinct agencies with their own client rosters, keeping them separate for this analysis portrays a more accurate picture of this complex award space.

One more note on method: In this analysis we defined a “win” as any entry that is shortlisted and or receives an award. Submissions that were not at least placed on a shortlist in their category are classified as not winning.

Below we see a simple graph showing the count of submissions for a given agency, as well as their count of “wins.”

graph 1

Saatchi & Saatchi submitted the most entries during this time period with 5,458 submissions, followed by BBDO New York with 3,446 entries. In third place was Ogilvy & Mather, submitting 3,267 entries. Scanning over this chart the natural question is: What is the percent of ‘winning’ entries to entries submitted?

graph 2

AlmapBBDO, DDB Paris, and DDB Chicago all have win percentages above 40%,  followed by TBWA\Chiat\Day, Goodby Siverstein & Partners and Jung von Matt out of Hamburg.

So what are these top three agencies doing to earn such a high win rate? What kinds of categories do they submit to? Do they seem to have a posting pattern—either the old ‘spray and pray’ method or a focus of their efforts on specific categories?

To get a better idea of Cannes submission behavior, we will look in depth at three of the top 20 agencies based upon winning percentage, as well as the bottom three of these top 20 agencies to find patterns of category submission behavior over time and determine if there is a submission method associated with greater success.

It’s also important to note that over time there has been a consistent growth in the available categories at Cannes. As the award show grows and is bought and sold, more categories are created to drive new revenue and create more opportunities for agencies to apply.


With AlmapBBDO we see a steady increase in submission categories which follows the overall increase in Cannes categories during this time. This indicates that as new categories were created, AlmapBBDO took advantage by entering in these new spaces. However, when we look closer at the amount to entries into these new categories we see something different.

graph 3

When we look at the number of ads AlmapBBDO entered in these new categories, we see they only submit a few choice ads into these novel areas. The vast majority of AlmapBBDO’s entries each year are submitted in the Press Lion category. Second to the Press Lion, AlmapBBDO put their efforts towards the Outdoor Lions, and then toward Film Lions. We don’t know if this decision is based on the type of work put forth, or if the agency feels more comfortable competing in this space, but what they’re doing seems to be working in terms of the submission to win ratio.

graph 4

DDB Paris, France

Turning to the agency with the second-highest ratio of submissions to wins, DDB Paris. While this agency did enter into newly created categories but they don’t have the same linear growth relationship in this space as AlmapBBDO.

graph 5

DDB Paris submissions show a strong concentration of Press Lions over the years, with a smaller reach into Outdoor and Film Lion. That being said, DDB Paris is spreading its entries more widely than AlmapBBDO. Interestingly, there are very few Radio and Design Lions entered. Whether this is dictated by the type of work they are entering or another internal decision we won’t know, but what is clear is they are more focused on select categories.

graph 6


DDB Chicago

Another DDB agency in our top three is DDB Chicago, which did not jump on the new category bandwagon much as other agencies. From 2000 to 2008, the number of categories submitted remained pretty constant with a large spike in 2012.

graph 7

DDB Chicago decided that Film Lion was the category to win and they put all their weight and submissions into this category. We see a smattering of entries in the Radio Lion category, but by and large, each year DDB Chicago put their resources to bear against the Film Lion category. Their high win to submission rate speaks to the effectiveness of this approach. However, other agencies have also focused their submissions with different results, so other factors may be at play. More analysis would be needed to understand the causal mechanism.


So what about those agencies in the bottom of the top 20? What are the submitting habits of these agencies?


graph 9

The number of categories Lowe has submitted for has fluctuated each year since 2002. Some years they reached out to all the new categories available, while in other years they pulled back.

graph 10

Lowe primarily focused on Film, Outdoor, and Press Lion categories. What this may indicate is that their spend on Cannes has differed over the years, and they wanted to maintain a strong presence in these big three. While there are certainly bragging rights that come with winning in these three categories, and Lowe put in a consistent effort to win here, other factors may have been at play preventing a lot of big wins for Lowe.

Ogilvy & Mather

graph 11

Ogilvy & Mather have a very linear approach to new categories at Cannes. It seems from this data that whenever there was a new category available, they sent in a piece to represent them. This approach begs the question: Are they focusing on each new category or maintaining a method to their approach?

graph 12

In the search for method, we do see a focus on the Film, Outdoor and Press Lions. There is also a smattering of ads across all categories, even Media Lions and Branded Content and Entertainment Lions. It is interesting to note this focus is the same as Lowe and many other agencies. We know these three categories are the most sought after, and with so many agencies competing in this space, the amount of entries lowers the odds for any single agency to pull away.

McCann Erickson

graph 13

McCann Erickson also shows a growth relationship with these new categories, meaning that over time they are applying to more and more categories, or at very least, maintaining their category spread the same as last year.

McCann Erickson also submitted to the same big three categories: Film, Outdoor, and Press. There is also noticeable activity around the Promo & Activation Lions, but was the decision to enter these categories driven by the content of the work, or by what the agency sees as “the category to win.”

So what can we take away from all this? It doesn’t take a data scientist to tell you that the categories to win are the Film, Press and Outdoor Lion. It is interesting that the agencies with the highest win to submission percentage also focus on these big three categories. So if everyone is focused on these three categories, does that mean actually winning is a function of “good creative?” The festival and the advertising world at large would like to think so, and this analysis does not offer up any conflicting points.

From an award show perspective, what can be done to spur submission into new, “smaller” categories? Is there a way that Cannes can increase the caché of new categories to encourage more agencies to apply for them?

From the agency perspective, how does application cost play into all of this? Do the agencies that have a higher win rate spend more money? Is there a sweet spot where the amount spent on submissions in relation to wins is most cost effective?

Considering the amount of time and money agencies spend each year to compete in the industry’s most prestigious awards shows, it would be beneficial for each agency to determine how much bang they’re getting for their buck.

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