Canes Lions 2011

Big Cannes advertising award for driving sales of Walkers potato chips

Recruiting Pamela Anderson to hand out free potato chips and beer may sound like a cheap publicity stunt, but for Britain’s top potato crisp brand, Walkers, it dramatically helped boost sales.

Judges at the annual Cannes advertising awards just held in France were asked to evaluate marketing campaigns for the first time on how much product they sold, not just whether they made people laugh, cry or cringe.

The grand-prize winner, a UK campaign for PepsiCo’s Walkers potato chips, brought Pamela Anderson and other celebrities into the sleepy British town of Sandwich, Kent, to illustrate the tagline: “Walkers can make any sandwich more exciting.”

In the days following the event, footage of the surprise appearances and the residents’ shocked reactions got spread around on sites like YouTube.

The new prize for effectiveness, handed out at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, signals a shift toward greater accountability for ads. It also comes at a time when advertising agencies are fighting for every dollar they can get.

Corporate marketing budgets were slashed by 8 percent during the Great Recession, and that spending still hasn’t come back, according to Zenith Optimedia, a research division of communications giant Publicis Groupe.

“You have to prove you got someone to pay attention and act, particularly in this economy,” said Chris Kempczinski, Kraft Foods’ senior vice president of marketing, who helped judge the category.

The Walkers campaign did just that.

To win in the effectiveness category, an ad had to show a proven impact on “consumer behaviour, brand equity, sales, and where identifiable, profit.” Judges combed through more than 150 nomination forms audited by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

For Walkers, the U.K. office of advertising giant BBDO devised a one-day event featuring famous athletes and artists. Formula One winner Jenson Button drove a taxi around town, Chelsea soccer star Frank Lampard popped into a school soccer game, a Michelin-starred chef made sandwiches for everyone, and Anderson poured drinks at a local pub. The events were recorded by professionals and by locals armed with smartphones, who posted the photos and videos online.

The spectacle delivered results. The videos drew 1.6 million views. Media outlets including the BBC and MTV reported on the event. Local supermarkets devoted more space to Walkers in the potato chips aisle. And revenue increased 26 percent on the sale of 1.5 million additional bags of chips, according to a case study compiled by the agency.

“The unique and exciting nature of the campaign really captured the imagination of our sales teams and our customers,” said Jason Richards, vice president of sales for PepsiCo UK, in the company’s nomination form.