The Insider's Guide to Cannes: Battle of the clients

With so many clients invading la Croisette this year, it might be more work and less beach. What do they bring to the festival and which client has won the most Grand Prix? Robin Hicks reports.

Last year the ad community was hit by some shocking news. Cannes, every creative's summer playground of beach, booze and bravado, was being besieged by, gasp, clients.

Cannes diehards bemoaned the end of the 50-year party. "Clients? At Cannes? It'll be like going on holiday with my in-laws and bank manager at the same time," one groaned.

Flying in from Cincinnati was Procter & Gamble's chief marketing officer, Jim Stengel, and a troupe of his most senior marketers to see what all the fuss was about, and seek creative inspiration. It was a first for such a major advertiser. He's doing the same this year but bringing a bigger team, and the organisers say more clients, including McDonald's, are following suit.

The big story this year is that clients will sit on the jury. Another first. Bernard Balderston, the associate media director of Procter & Gamble UK, joins the global media director of Hewlett-Packard, Scott Berg, and Nils Larsson of Ikea among the panel of Media Lions judges.

Festival organisers say there are no plans to have client judges on any of the other panels yet. Clients, they explain, are more closely involved with media than the advertising process. As one observer rather cynically puts it: "This is a reflection of the fact that clients are more comfortable with figures. They can do the same sums as the media people."

Both moves will help the festival in its bid to become "all work no beach".

Indeed, some are rankled that the paymasters for all this wonderful advertising have been shut out for so long. They'll bring some hard, business-headed reasoning to balance out the creative bias of the judging process, they argue.

But others point out that Cannes' appeal is that the winners are recognised by their peers. Not, they say, by people who have less understanding of what great advertising is all about. If you're only interested in advertising that shifts toilet cleaner, there are plenty of effectiveness awards for that. Cannes, they say, has always been about creativity above all else.

But looking back at the most successful advertisers at Cannes over the years, it's obvious that the best ads have been inspired by the most creative marketers.

Before the 90s, when the Press, Poster, Direct, Media and Cyber Lions were introduced, General Motors was king of the clients. It won in 1959 with its Chevvy station wagon, in 1961 it triumphed again with "magic ride" and in 1963 with "truck egg test". The only other advertisers to win more than one Grand Prix between 1954 and 1991 were Volkswagen, Pepsi-Cola and Procter & Gamble.

Post-1992, with more chances to scoop more prizes, one advertiser has started to dominate - in new media and old. Nike won its first Grand Prix in 1998 with its "tennis", "golf" and "running" films. And went on to win the cyber Grand Prix in 2000, 2001 and 2002, the film gong again in 2002 with "tag", and picked up yet another cyber award last year.

After Nike comes Sony with three, then Stella Artois, Diesel and Levi's with two. The table reads like a who's who of powerful world brands with glittering creative heritages. Surely talent worth welcoming to Cannes with open arms.

"It's good to see clients seeing how their work stands up against the competition," another observer says. "And I don't think they're just here to spoil all the fun. In fact, I think they expect a bit of raucous behaviour from a bunch of art directors getting excited in the sun. Besides, creatives are not as naughty as people like to think we are."

CLIENTS WITH THE CANNES WINNING FORMULA 1954-2003

ADVERTISER CATEGORY Grand Year won

Prix wins

Nike Sportswear 6 1998 (film), 2000 (cyber),

2001 (cyber) 2002 (film),

2002 (cyber), 2003 (cyber)

General Motors Automotive 3 1959 (cinema), 1961

(cinema), 1963 (TV)

Sony Consumer

electronics 3 1999 (press & poster), 1999

(media) 2003 (press)

Volkswagen Automotive 3 1970 (cinema), 1988 (cinema

& TV)

1998 (press & poster)

Diesel Fashion/apparel 2 1997 (campaign), 2001 (press

& poster)

Levi's Fashion/apparel 2 1972 (cinema), 1992 (press &

poster)

Pepsi-Cola Soft drinks 2 1969 (cinema), 1985 (cinema

& TV)

Procter & Gamble Consumer goods 2 1970 (TV), 1973 (TV)

Stella Artois Alcoholic drinks 2 1992 (press), 2000 (press &

poster)

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