Tis the Season of Shortlists

As we eagerly anticipate the 2024 Cannes Lions shortlist, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the champions who have made it onto the System1 effectiveness shortlist. Since 2010, we have been testing and analysing Cannes winners, highlighting exceptional campaigns that have excelled in long-term commercial effectiveness, as measured by System1’s Star Rating. As Mark Ritson aptly noted in Marketing Week, “perhaps there is something we can learn from the Lions” after all. 

Without further delay, let’s dive into six of the top Cannes award winners that have truly resonated with consumers over the years and explore the valuable lessons they impart to our industry. These campaigns are listed according to their Star Rating, which ranges from 1.0 Stars (low brand-building potential) to 5.9 Stars (exceptional brand-building potential). 

 6. Cheetos “Can’t touch this”

  • Advertiser: Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
  • Award: Grand Prix
  • Year: 2021
  • Market: US
  • Star-Rating: 4.3 Star Rating

Kicking off the System1 shortlist with a roaring start is the comedic “Can’t Touch This” campaign by Cheetos, featuring 90s icon MC Hammer. As Cannes launches their first-ever humour category this year, there’s no better ad to reflect on than this one, which infused humour back into the Lions in 2021. This ad single-handedly stole the show at the 2021 Super Bowl, marking the brand’s first return to the NFL scene in over a decade.

Pairing the utterly irrational with the totally relatable—fingers so thick in Cheetos seasoning that our protagonist can do nothing but watch babies cry and work pile high—Cheetos hit the nail on the head with this one. The campaign rightfully earned its spot as a Grand Prix champion, showcasing the power of humour and nostalgia in advertising.

To learn more about how your advertising can win the Superbowl, read on here.

 5. McDonald’s “Raise Your Arches.”

  • Advertiser: Leo Burnett
  • Award: Bronze
  • Year: 2023
  • Market: UK
  • Star-Rating: 4.7 Star Rating

In 2023, McDonald’s demonstrated the power of their brand and product without actually showing any product. The campaign leaned heavily on their distinctive assets: the golden arches and McDonald’s colour codes, which have been consistently built into their brand portfolio since 1953. In the ad, a troupe of hungry office workers raise their arched eyebrows to fellow colleagues as they march out of work, leaving the audience with no doubt about what they are all after: a Big Mac and fries!

The campaign cleverly engages audiences for several reasons. Firstly, the product itself is nowhere to be seen; instead, people take centre stage. As outlined by Orlando Wood in his books Lemon and Look Out, this is a right-brained feature known to captivate and hold the attention of audiences. Additionally, the ad taps into humour, one of the most effective forms of happiness for long-lasting business impact—no wonder 2024 has introduced a humour category!

As the scene unfolds, some humorous moments might be missed upon first watch, rewarding repeated viewing—an advertising Easter egg, if you will. This layered approach not only entertains but also encourages viewers to engage with the ad multiple times, enhancing its overall effectiveness.

 4. Nike “You Can’t Stop Sisters”

  • Advertiser: Wieden + Kennedy
  • Award: Bronze
  • Year: 2021
  • Market: USA
  • Star-Rating: 4.7 Star Rating

In their ‘You Can’t Stop’ campaign, Nike introduced a series of empowering videos that shed light on athletes’ extraordinary journeys from humble beginnings to remarkable victories. Throughout the years, Nike has amassed more winning campaigns than any other brand, but one standout at Cannes truly struck a chord with consumers: “You Can’t Stop Sisters”. This ad beautifully traces the inspiring tale of the Williams sisters, intricately weaving a narrative rich with challenges and triumphs. With relatable moments of sisterhood and personal growth, the ad deeply resonated with viewers, earning an impressive 4.7 Star-Rating. Its emotional depth and compelling storytelling not only captured the hearts of audiences but also impressed judges alike.

Beyond its commercial significance, “You Can’t Stop Sisters” is a powerful example of diversity and inclusion in advertising. This campaign features real people with compelling stories, highlighting two key themes identified in the Feeling Seen USA report: authenticity and storytelling are at the heart of effective DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) advertising. Nike exemplifies these principles, embedding diversity and inclusion into their marketing strategy and demonstrating a strong commitment to these values.

 3. H2oh! “Braids” 

  • Advertiser: BBDO Argentina
  • Award: Gold
  • Year: 2011
  • Market: Argentina
  • Star-Rating: 5.0 Star Rating

In this delightful ad from soft drinks brand H2oh!, a young girl nervously invites her new boyfriend over for a family dinner. The product takes a back seat as storytelling, characters, and humour take centre stage. As her boyfriend impresses with his talents and charm, the whole family grows a pair of braids, even her harder-to-please father! This one has me twiddling my own braids, because of its sheer simplicity, wit, and total uniqueness – and consumers agree too, with a winning score of 5.0 Stars that predicts exceptional brand-building potential.

 2. Volkswagen “The Force”

  • Advertiser: Deutsch
  • Award: Gold
  • Year: 2011
  • Market: USA
  • Star-Rating: 5.1 Star Rating

The automotive category is often relegated as one of the most mundane sectors for advertising, characterised by a ‘sea of sameness’ where most brands adhere to dull and feature-led codes. But not this one! Volkswagen’s “The Force” still stands out as one of the most effective ads in the automotive sector on System1’s database, speeding past the category average of 2.1-Stars with flying colours. “The Force” imparts valuable lessons on how to drive commercial effectiveness in the automotive sector, which you can read more about in The Road to Brand-Building, an actionable guide to steer your advertising towards commercial success.

This fantastic campaign taps into a familiar reference: Star Wars. And as we all know too well, familiarity breeds contentment among consumers. It’s mischievous, endearing, and utterly unique to the category, securing the second spot in the System1 shortlist!

 1. Procter & Gamble “Thank You Mom (Best Job)”

  • Advertiser: Wieden+Kennedy
  • Award: Gold
  • Year: 2012
  • Market: USA
  • Star-Rating: 5.4 Star Rating

Looking forward to the 2024 Paris Olympics, one brand taking the spotlight is P&G, thanks to their unforgettable 2012 Olympic campaign. Instead of focusing solely on the athletes, P&G turned the spotlight on the unsung heroes: the mums who supported them every step of the way. In the fiercely competitive world of sports, where passion can sometimes breed division, P&G took a different route by celebrating the one thing that unites us all: family and friends.

The message behind the campaign is refreshingly simple yet profoundly resonant, tapping into universal human truths. By highlighting the role of mothers, P&G humanised the athletes who might otherwise seem distant and unrelatable to viewers. The ad not only celebrates victories but also underscores the reality that success is not achieved overnight and is rarely a solitary journey.

Despite the tendency for ads exceeding one and a half minutes to lose consumer engagement, this two-minute film defied expectations, holding viewers’ attention until the very last second. It’s no wonder that it clinched the highest award for creativity among both judges and consumers alike, making “Thank You Mom (Best Job)” our proud Cannes champion!

If you would like to learn more about how you can level up your Olympics advertising, download our actionable report: The Gold Standard.

What can we learn as an industry?

As we anticipate the shortlisting of this year’s Cannes nominees, it’s worth reflecting on the role of awards season. While it’s often criticised for celebrating shocking or boundary-pushing work, these campaigns demonstrate something different. The winners we’ve spotlighted here adhere to universally accepted foundations that resonate deeply with consumers.

As we observe the campaigns highlighted above, centred on themes of family, friendship, universal human truths, humour, and the triumph of individuals, a common thread emerges: the power of craft and creativity to unite people. In essence, isn’t that what awards season should truly be about?

We’ll be sharing more on creative effectiveness at Cannes – head here or to the links below for more information on where to find us!