Close-Up: Live issue - Why couldn't the UK cut it at Cannes?

Is Britain's poor awards tally at Cannes just a blip or a sign of worse to come, Kate Nettleton asks.

The suitcases of the UK creatives returning from Cannes won't have been pushing the weight limit this year. With just 39 trophies compared with the 73 the UK scooped two years ago, it appears that the UK's position as the centre of global creativity has slipped a bit.

For the past three years, the UK has bagged the film Grands Prix for Sony PlayStation "mountain", Honda "grrr" and, most recently, Guinness "noitulove".

This year, without a Grand Prix in any category, the UK has slipped from its pedestal, taking overall second place alongside Germany. So what's gone wrong?

Many in the industry think that the UK's lack of awards is indicative of a decline in boundary- pushing creative output. Jeremy Craigen, the executive creative director at DDB London, says: "We're not as brave as we used to be. I certainly didn't see any work from the UK that made me think: 'How did we get away with that?'"

Mark Cridge, the chief executive of Glue London, agrees: "If you look at the Cyber Lion winners such as Nike+ and Dove, they've used a simple idea and taken it as far as they can. I haven't seen many examples of that in the UK work."

Others, including Steve Stretton, the creative partner at Archibald Ingall Stretton, argue the UK's inability to break creative barriers is a result of the need to over-regulate creative output, both by regulatory bodies and agencies, which have an obsession with being "on brand". "We're gaining a sense of ownership of the clients through these guidelines but in doing that we are restricting our own creativity."

Mark Hunter, the executive creative director at Euro RSCG, concurs: "The countries that are successful aren't over-regulated by pre-existing rules. The BACC is restricting the creative thinking in this country."

Perhaps, though, the British ad industry is hiding behind regulatory restrictions as an excuse for its inability to keep up with the standards being set by the US.

Malcolm Poynton, the executive creative director at Ogilvy London, says: "I don't think regulation is any tougher here than in other markets. Clients and agencies need to push each other to experiment."

In the race for creative success, the UK has taken the role of the hare. While the industry has been pre-occupied with squabbling over who owns what medium, it's been overtaken by tortoises from Australasia and Latin America.

Hunter asserts: "Because they don't have their own national awards with the international clout of a D&AD, they're all gunning for Cannes. They are hungrier to take their place on the world stage. They have a fanatical passion for advertising that you don't see from Brits these days."

Mark Wnek, the creative director at Lowe New York, suggests those agencies are overtaking the UK because agencies here are taking creativity too seriously: "It's no accident that the freshest and most interesting work the UK is producing is coming out of Fallon's creative director, Juan Cabral, a Latin American. For those countries, fun and creativity are inseparable."

With more non-UK creatives operating out of British agencies, Robert Senior, the Fallon founding partner, says the UK's nationalistic focus on success is outdated: "It should be irrelevant which country the work comes from. Instead, our creative assessments should be based on agency brands."


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AGENCY CHIEF - Robert Senior, founding partner, Fallon

"I don't think we really ever had a grip on Cannes. The UK enjoyed a disproportionate share of creativity for a while, that's true, but that doesn't constitute a grip on Cannes.

"The world is changing and we're becoming more globally aware. Agency teams are more mobile, and those teams have an eclectic mix of different nationalities. It really is becoming a different market.

"Therefore, I would look more at the agency brands rather than the geographies. I think that's a more interesting viewfinder through which to view Cannes. And it's better for the industry to view it that way."

CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Jeremy Craigen, executive creative director, DDB London

"Having been on the jury, I think that Cannes is always a lottery. Sometimes you benefit and sometimes you don't. I do think the UK standard was quite low this year. The standards weren't that high at the other UK awards either. But I think it's a hiccup rather than the end of the world. Cannes should be treated with a pinch of salt; it's not the be-all and end-all.

"The UK's creative output has influenced other countries and now they've caught up with us. With more entries from Asia, Australasia and other areas, it's really become truly global, whereas three or four years ago it was a UK and US thing."

DM CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Steve Stretton, creative partner, Archibald Ingall Stretton

"It seems to me the UK is grown-up and mature and the industry is healthy. But what we've lost, which I saw in Germany, India and Brazil, is a real freshness. We're so grown-up and responsible and protective of our brands that we're afraid to do anything risque and it's stifling our work.

"In the DM industry, we're producing composite creative work that's restricting our creativity. We have to make clients aware that we need to do something that steps outside the formula and refresh brands and startle people into a reaction."

DIGITAL AGENCY CHIEF - Mark Cridge, chief executive, Glue London

"It's fair to say that the UK had a disappointing showing. But then I don't think anyone dominated Cannes this year. I don't think we should panic. It's an interesting time at the moment. The digital industry is at a crossroads: you're seeing some agencies that are moving up stream and competing head on with bigger agencies, and you've got some agencies that are emerging with very good craft skills but that aren't generating the ideas. The UK isn't quite through that divide yet and I think that's having an impact."