It's the same story the world over - this year has been one of the toughest in advertising. A global recession, combined with the events of September 11, has hit creative departments hard. Clients have been slashing budgets, demanding more tactical work or abandoning advertising altogether.
The US, traditionally a strong performer at creative award shows, has suffered more than most. Even Cliff Freeman & Partners, which had a storming year at Cannes last year with the Fox Sports campaign, has been forced to make redundancies along with Fallon, TBWA Chiat/Day and Wieden & Kennedy Portland.
Says creative director Eric Silver: "The US is deathly quiet. Everyone is waiting for spending to return but the only thing I'm hearing about is more lay-offs. I'm sorry to sound so depressing but it's been a tough year and I've not seen that much that I've thought is incredible."
Many believe it will be Britain's turn to shine in Cannes this year. Silver continues: "Creative supremacy hangs in the balance between the UK and the US. Last year, it was definitely the US. This year, work from Britain is fresher and more engaging."
Among those singled out for praise is Nike 'Tag', a sort of US/ UK collaboration. It was conceived by Wieden & Kennedy Portland and directed by Frank Budgen.
"It's fantastic. In fact, I think all Frank's stuff this year is a Cannes contender. Like other Nike campaigns such as 'Freestyle', 'Tag' is great for its simplicity and its choreography," says Tony Barry, copywriter at Lowe.
Barry also cites both Levi's 'Twist' and 'Odyssey' as among the best work this year.
"They're cool, there's no other word for it," he says. "They make you feel good; there's something magical about them."
Dave Droga, creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, also believes the UK has the edge this year, adding Lowe's Reebok 'Sofa', Mother's Supernoodles 'Face Off' and and Stella's 'Doctor' to the list. The latter he describes as "an epic, a mini-drama - gripping and beautifully shot".
Mark Tutsell, the former joint creative director at Leo Burnett London and now executive creative director at the agency's Chicago office, points to a US campaign which is making waves across the globe - a Fox Sports campaign created by TBWA/Chiat Day San Francisco. The ads are brilliantly funny and, with humour always scoring well with the judges, this promises to be a winner. It is also likely to stand-out in a year which has been low on comedy.
Yet creative directors are reluctant to say that the year's events have caused a drop in standards. There may be less work being produced, but what has been made is of a high quality, they assert.
"There are fewer brand-building campaigns, so the volume of interesting work has declined, but there's still some good stuff around," says Fillip Nilsson, creative director of Forsman & Bodenfors.
He and fellow Scandinavian Anders Lidzell, creative director at Paradiset DDB, say the region's Fristad campaign, by ANR.BBDO, will do well at Cannes. Lidzell also rates a cheeky Hennes & Mauritz campaign.
Meanwhile, Michael Robert, at Denmark's Robert/Boisen, notes that the Norwegians usually have something funny up their sleeve and this year it may be Leo Bunnett Oslo's SAS/Flytoget campaign, 'Mr Larson'.
It has been a disappointing year in Australia, according to Jonathan Kneebone, writer/director at The Glue Society. However, he believes M&C Saatchi Melbourne's ANZ work is among the most noteworthy. The campaign, which has an honest approach in the style of a VW campaign, has been consistently strong.
Like Australia, South Africa has been stronger in print than in TV, according to Brett Wild, group creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Johannesburg, but he nominates his own Osram campaign as a contender.
Osram has a simplicity that Wild is confident will appeal to the Cannes judges. It shows a beaker of beans placed on a table in between two lamps and the beans gradually growing towards the natural lightbulb that is being promoted.
Brazil has a contender for Pepsi from Almap BBDO, as well as a brave commercial, 'Saint', which plays on a religious theme. A spot for Sky from Jodaf is also garnering attention in the local press, which has credited it with being a simple idea with great production values.
Another spot for the region from Blockbuster again demonstrates a simple idea, executed with humour.
In France, Olivier Altman, creative director of BDDP et Fils, points to the Ikea 'Tidy Up' campaign and notes the trend to provoke in France.
It's always impossible to predict Cannes winners, so we wait with bated breath to see if any of our creative directors have actually got it right.