Laughing Lions: The Cannes Jury are Seeing the Funny Side

The waves have settled, the sand has been shaken out of shoes, the luggage perhaps unpacked and the rosé bottles are in the bin. But before we move on from the marketing industry’s biggest and buzziest week, let’s take a look back at the key highlights and themes from Cannes Lions 2024 and discuss what we’d love to see next.   

Each year at System1, we take a deep dive into the Film Lions shortlist and winners to understand how consumers feel about the work. We do this with the help of our Test Your Ad platform, which collects viewers’ emotional responses to ads and assigns a score of 1.0 to 5.9 Stars based on long-term brand-building potential. Ads that make people feel intense, positive emotions like happiness and surprise score high on the scale. That’s often easier said than done, as usually only 1% of ads in our database of more than 100,000 ads secure a 5-Star score.  

Winning Laughs & Lions  

In total, 132 entries were shortlisted for Film Lions, with 58 awards given out: 2 Grand Prix, 12 Gold, 16 Silver and 28 Bronze. This is in line with last year’s figures of 118 shortlisted and 53 awards.

One of the most exciting trends is a laughing matter – the return of humor in advertising. Cannes Lions winners in the 2010s were often known for promoting brand purpose in inspirational and heart-warming ads. Laughs were in short supply. Our analysis on the 2023 awards noted a decline in awards for purpose-led work and a rise in funny adverts getting the gold, silver and bronze.

This year, 75% of US or UK winners used humor, up from 52% in 2023. Meanwhile, only 13% of the winners fit the description for a purpose ad.

Notably, Cannes Lions made an important commitment to humor by introducing a humor category to the Cultural & Context sections that sit across the Lions. It’s a smart move considering a recent YouGov and Spikes survey of more than 3,500 US adults found that humor contributed the most when participants were asked to recall their favorite ad of recent months as well as all-time favorite. Adweek also reported that award submissions tagged with “humor” increased 48% in 2023 compared to 2022. So it’s perfect timing that a category now exists to honor ads that entertain for commercial gain.

Some of the brands awarded for humor this year include Apple, Uber, IKEA (for Outdoor work), Sammakorn and Sabina. Let’s take a closer look at a few.

The Commercial Impact of Humor

But first, what’s the impact of these findings for brands?

The swing toward more humorous winners has driven a small uptick in the effectiveness of the award-winning ads. From 2021 to 2023, the UK and US Lions winners scored a flat 2.1-Stars on average with the public – roughly in line with the effectiveness of the average TV ad. In 2024, we saw a small rise in that average, to 2.3-Stars. We know that funny ads tend to be more effective, and it’s likely the increase in laughs is helping the Star Rating rise slightly.

Silver Lion-winning “Best Friends”, from Uber One and agency Mother in the UK pairs Asa Butterfield and Robert De Niro together. They become best friends based on their love of “eating food” and “going places”. The ad scored 3.8-Stars in Test Your Ad, which predicts “Good” brand-building potential.

The top-scoring international ad from Thai underwear brand Sabina also brought the laughs. It’s a farcical, blouse-ripping domestic drama that reflects the country’s changing social norms while also making audiences grin. The Bronze Lion winner is a 5-Star result in Test Your Ad.

Other Key Trends

The Sabina ad also points to another trend we noticed. The 2024 Film Lions winners were more international – 73% of awarded film ads this year came from outside the US and UK, compared to 51% last year. We’ve previously taken a closer look at Brazil’s dominance at Cannes. This year, the Film category featured winners from 16 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Singapore, Italy, France and Germany. Meanwhile, Brazil boasted 92 winners in categories such as Audio & Radio, Outdoor, Print & Publishing, Creative B2B, Film Craft and more.

Lastly, we examined the prevalence of different types of creative features in the winning US and UK ads. As outlined in Orlando Wood’s books, Lemon and Look out, right-brained features capture broad-beam attention and contribute to long-term growth. Left-brained features are more effective at engaging narrow-beam attention, appealing to those who already have an inherent interest in the brand or product. The good news is that judges have favored ads with more right-brained features. Specifically, characters with agency, storytelling and betweenness that conveys connection among characters. The average number of right-brained features is 6 and left-brained features (voiceover, split-screen effect, strong product focus) are less than half.


Looking Ahead

When we look more closely at the types of humor being leveraged in the awarded ads, much is driven by awkward or uncomfortable situations. These scenarios can certainly yield laughs, but they also run the risk of making viewers experience the discomfort too. Remember that happiness and surprise yield lasting commercial impact, especially when viewers feel those emotions intensely.

The next step is for marketers to ensure their ads tap into the many other ways to get laughs – surreal ads, slapstick ads, and character comedy like that top-scoring Uber winner. Tide’s “You’re Gonna Need More Tide” is another brilliant example. It leverages user-generated content and comedian Kumail Nanjiani to highlight messy situations that can benefit from the laundry detergent. The result is an ad that surprises and delights audiences.