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Creativity in automotive

The changing fortune of car brands at Cannes Lions

The automotive sector has traditionally been a strong performer in terms of Lion wins. But how, and why is this trend changing? Using data from the Global Creativity Report, we take a look at the ups and downs of car brand creative performance.

created on Tuesday 7 Mar 2017

"The brand to beat in terms of Lion wins is, without doubt, Volkswagen."
('Cops': VW's 2004 Grand Prix winner in Print & Publishing)

Every year after the Festival, the Cannes Lions Awards team crunch the numbers from all the Lion-winning work to produce a mammoth collection of data known as the ‘Global Creativity Report’. Within this compendium of tables, which ranks the best performing individuals, agencies and countries from the Festival, it is also possible to track the creative performance of different product sectors.

The unbeatable car brand
Looking at the automotive sector over recent years makes for interesting reading. The brand to beat in terms of Lion wins is without doubt, Volkswagen. In 2008, the German car manufacturer was ranked the most successful brand at that year’s Festival. Since then, VW has placed in the top three best performing brands on four more occasions. 

The only other automotive brands to come close to this success are Honda (ranked #3 in 2014, and winner of a Titanium Lion in 2012) and Volvo, which picked up an impressive four Grand Prix trophies in 2014, thanks to Volvo Trucks ‘Live Test’ series – which featured Jean Claude van Damme.

"2014 was a golden year for automotive creativity, with Volkswagen, Honda and Volvo appearing in the top five of the most successful brands at Cannes."
Is automotive creativity losing power? 
On the face of it, the auto sector is one of the consistently stronger verticals in terms of winning work: if you look at the average Lion wins over the last five years, automotive averages 75 Lions – compared to alcohol (43 Lions) and consumer electronics (64 Lions).

2014 was a golden year for automotive creativity, with Volkswagen, Honda and Volvo appearing in the top five of the most successful brands at Cannes, taking home a combined total of 65 Lions, including three Grands Prix. But in 2016 no auto brand made it to the top five. They didn’t even make it to the top 10. In fact in 2016 you don’t see a car brand until Volkswagen appears 16th on the list, followed by Volvo in 20th. 

The reasons for this perceived decline are complex. While the number of Lions for auto brands has had broadly upward trajectory over the past five years, this has been outpaced by other sectors like consumer electronics, and financial services. 

('The Other Side': Honda's 2014 multiple Lion winner)

A new creative generation 
It’s also interesting to note the different types of companies that appear at the top of the Global Creativity Report tables. Between 2008 and 2011, the brands that dominate the top three spots are various combinations of Volkswagen, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Ikea, Pepsi and Nike. In 2012, all this changes, and Google comes out of nowhere and takes the top spot. Four years later and tech brands are really taking home Lions: at the top of the Global Creativity Report are Samsung, Burger King and Microsoft. 
Is automotive losing its creative mojo? It’s probably too early to say. But it's definitely true to say that as more sectors switch on the power of creativity – and get better at it – , automotive brands need to work harder to keep pace with the rising bar. 

('Epic Split': The multiple Lion-winning campaign for Volvo trucks)

The Global Creativity Report is available on the Cannes Lions Archive. 

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