The Insider's Guide to Cannes: The real Kings of Cannes

Winning a Cannes Grand Prix means instant recognition for a network and competition is more fierce than ever. Pippa Considine looks back over 50 years at the festival's trends and multi-Grand Prix winners.

Winning at Cannes has never been more important. As the ad world divides into holding companies and networks, the need to prove that creativity has not been subsumed into the corporate monolith is crucial. It's equally crucial to show creativity on a global scale and where better to show that credibility than at the world's most high-profile advertising awards?

But it's not easy. When the first Grand Prix winner, Chlorodont Toothpaste's "il circo", climbed the podium in 1954, it was cheered on by some 217 delegates. The Italian film, winning in Venice where the festival began, saw off 186 other entries. Now there are more than 15,000 entries each year across different media and around 8,000 or so delegates.

Despite that change in odds, there are some films that won in the early days of Cannes that could, arguably, win again today. It all depends on whether they were Ad of the Year or of the Decade. Donald Gunn, the president of the festival in 1998 and 1999, says: "Sometimes people boo the Grand Prix, sometimes it gets grudging applause and occasionally the audience erupts with pleasure and approval from the first frame."

Jacques Seguela, the vice-president and chief creative officer of Havas, has been at Cannes for 40 out of its 50-year existence. Despite the natural imperfections of the judging system, he describes the winners as "a sociological photocopy of our consumer society, decade after decade".

In Cannes' history, there have been a handful of obvious heroes and regular winners. The US, unsurprisingly, has dominated almost from the start.

Even when the festival was a young Italian-French co-production, the US saw a good thing and got in there. Italy, France and Britain managed to keep the Grand Prix on European soil for just five years before the US picked up the first of its 25 Grand Prix (out of 69 ever awarded). "When it comes to film and TV, it's the usual suspects: the US and Britain have the budgets and the opportunities," Dave Droga, Publicis' worldwide creative director, says. As the world economies have changed, so too have the countries in the limelight. Over the decades, the festival has seen more and more countries competing. Notably, Japan, which won its first Grand Prix in 1974 and has since won three more, including Hakuhodo's much-celebrated film "a menu of lights" in 1982.

The winning ads have changed in subject and execution over the years.

Advertising in the 50s reflected the post-war spirit of new-found freedom and it was frontline advertisers that won at Cannes. "Advertising set the tone. Groceries, cars and drinks led the ball," Seguela notes.

As the festival became more international through the 70s and 80s, ads became more sophisticated. Seguela describes the decade as "the passing from adolescence to maturity".

The 80s saw some of the highlights of the century. It was the age of the special effect - there were acclaimed film extravaganzas, including Pepsi's "archaeology" and Apple's "1984".

Forget bells and whistles - being clever and funny, whatever the budget, is the most well-trodden route to the big prize. DDB has more Grand Prix on its shelf than any other agency network and humour has been the key to its most successful ads, such as those for Volkswagen and Anheuser-Busch. "Past winners have shown effective humour can be subtle, ironic or over the top," Keith Reinhard, DDB's chairman, says. "Anheuser-Busch used natural humour to win the Grand Prix in 2000 with 'whassup?'. Then Fox Sports won the top prize with over-the-top depictions of outrageously obscure sports. One of my favourites among the humorous winners is the 1992 Grand Prix from Spain, the wonderful story of young nuns in a convent who discover a male statue with a severed member."

Some things are just funny the world over. Over time, it seems that universal appeal has become more important as more countries join the fray. Gerry Moira, the former chairman of Publicis, suggests that Lego's "kipper", which won in 1981, would now be too Anglo-centric. "That would never have won an award now," Moira says. "Now, I think it's a more multinational act," he adds, pointing to the universal appeal of last year's Grand Prix winner, Crispin Porter & Bogusky's "lamp" for Ikea.

It's arguable that the new breed of international networks are best placed to make such universal advertising. But aren't the best ads really down to one man - the director? The cult of the ad director has strengthened across the decades and there are several names that have stood out at Cannes, including Hugh Hudson and Ridley Scott, as well as Joe Pytka, John Perkins and N Lee Lacy.

To win a Grand Prix is a ticket to advertising fame. Clearly, a winning director has to do more than be able to direct a funny ad. According to Reinhard: "Humour or not, the element common to all the winners is probably the most important word in advertising. It's certainly the single best word of advice for those who aspire to win at Cannes. Surprise."

In the early days, it was possible to generate surprise with nutty product demo ads such as the 1963 winner, the Chevrolet "truck egg test", but, over the years, product USPs have become less physical and more about emotional appeal. While Honda's "cog", which was pipped to the post last year, is arguably a product demo, they have mostly given way to more sophisticated appeals. "First, it was about who can tell a story; then who can tell the biggest story and now who can tell the best story," Droga says.

Seguela is not entirely impressed with the winners in the past decade.

He believes that the 90s recession took its toll. "The era of poets gave way to that of the financiers," he says. Although there have been great Grand Prix winners in the recent past, Seguela argues that some more recent winners have been ruthlessly crude in the pursuit of publicity.

Marie Catherine Dupuy, the president and creative director of TBWA\ Paris, defines two different types of Cannes winners. There are the UFOs, which become cultural phenomenon - Fox Sports and Nissin Cup Noodle, for example.

Then there are simple but perfect executions. She includes Rolo "elephant" in her list of ads that have a "classic recipe - it's absolutely simple, direct and well crafted".

Dupuy takes issue with the focus on individual bits of work. Cannes has tried to accommodate the changing times. In 1992, it launched a press and outdoor section; in 1998, the Cyber Lions arrived; a year later, the Media Lions, and the Lions Direct in 2002. This year, the Radio Lions have been added to the accolades.

All of these have Grand Prix potential. But for Dupuy, it's time multimedia campaigns were given more attention. "There are more and more categories, but in fact it's one brand talking in different ways to people."

Meanwhile, Cannes still looks for the big one-offs. So what is the jury likely to be looking for in 2004? Droga thinks that winning at Cannes is now about ads with "attitude", while Seguela hopes sanity prevails: "It remains to be seen which of the decade's extremes will win in 2004: vomitworthy or phantasmagorical."

AGENCIES WITH THE MOST FILM GRAND PRIX

DDB

Title: "Supermarket" (1965)

Advertiser: Laura Scudder's

Title: "Dance" (1967)

Advertiser: Burlington Industries

Title: "Have a cigar" (1969)

Advertiser: United Cerebral Palsy Fund

Title: "Kaferkiller" (1970)

Advertiser: Volkswagen

Title: "Launch II" (1988)

Advertiser: Volkswagen UK

Title: "5am Mono Village"/"Little Rock" (1997)

Advertiser: Diesel

Title: "Whassup?" (2000)

Advertiser: Anheuser-Busch

CAMPBELL-EWALD

Title: "Chevrolet"/"Station wagon" (1959)

Advertiser: General Motors

Title: "Aspen Chevrolet" (1960)

Advertiser: General Motors

Title: "Chevrolet" (1961)

Advertiser: General Motors

Title: "Truck egg test" (1963)

Advertiser: General Motors

Title: "The proposal" (1973)

Advertiser: Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken

Title: "Free" (1975)

Advertiser: Expressen

J. WALTER THOMPSON

Title: "Who says beer is a man's beverage?" (1962)

Advertiser: United Brewers Association

Title: "Sunrise, sunset" (1966)

Advertiser: Eastman Kodak Company

Title: "Un story" (1972)

Advertiser: The Seven-Up Company

Title: "Black pot" (1976)

Advertiser: Guinness

HAKUHODO - TOKYO

Title: "A menu of lights" (1982)

Advertiser: Matsushita Electric

Title: "Moa"/"synthetoceras" (1993)

Advertiser: Nissin Food Products

OGILVY & MATHER

Title: "Tourist"/"Vern and Earl" (1979)

Advertiser: Blitz Weinhard

Title: "Le lion at la lionne" (1991)

Advertiser: SGGSEMF

YOUNG & RUBICAM

Title: "Walking behinds" (1972)

Advertiser: Levi Strauss & Co

Title: "Executive lunch" (1975)

Advertiser: Dr Pepper

FILM GRAND PRIX BY COUNTRY

US 25

UK 12

France 10

Italy 4

Japan 4

Sweden 4

Argentina 2

Germany 2

Spain 2

Australia 1

Belgium 1

Denmark 1

The Netherlands 1

TOTAL 69

DIRECTORS WITH THE MOST GRAND PRIX

ROBERTO GAVIOLI

Title: "In tutto il mondo" (1958)

Advertiser: Distillerie Stock

Production company: Ferry Mayer/Gamma Film Sas di Roberto Gavioli

Title: "La bibbia" (1963)

Advertiser: F.lli Fabbri Editorie

Production company: Gamma Film Sas di Roberto Gavioli/Ferry Mayer

HUGH HUDSON

Title: "Walking behinds" (1972)

Advertiser: Levi Strauss & Co

Production company: RSA

Title: "French lessons" (1978)

Advertiser: Coty

Production company: Hudson Films/Hilary Hutchinson

N LEE LACY

Title: "Supermarket" (1965)

Advertiser: Laura Scudder's

Production company: N Lee Lacy Associates

Title: "Counting" (1968)

Advertiser: National Provincial Bank

Production company: N Lee Lacy Associates

BERNARD LEMOINE

Title: "Opera boeuf" (1957)

Advertiser: Potages Maggi

Production company: Cinema et Publicite

Title: "Magic ride" (1961)

Advertiser: General Motors

Production company: Cinema et Publicite/Arco Film Productions

JOHN PERKINS

Title: "Black pot" (1976)

Advertiser: Guinness

Production company: Perkins St Clair/Roger Holland

Title: "Scooter"/"suitcase" (1989)

Advertiser: TVE

Production company: Nebraska/Perkins and Partners, London

JOE PYTKA

Title: "Archaeology" (1985)

Advertiser: Pepsi-Cola

Production company: Pytka New York

Title: "Bill Heather" (1986)

Advertiser: John Hancock

Production company: Pytka Venice, California

GERALD SCHNITZER

Title: "Chevrolet station wagon" (1959)

Advertiser: General Motors

Production company: Lawrence-Schitzner Productions

Title: "Money talks" (1966)

Advertiser: Midland Bank

Production company: Cammel Hudson Brown John Associates

RIDLEY SCOTT

Title: "Idees-Elle" (1976)

Advertiser: Elle

Production company: RSA

Title: "1984" (1984)

Advertiser: Apple Computer

Production company: Fairbanks Films

PRODUCTION COMPANIES

CINEMA ET PUBLICITE

Title: "Serie rouge" (1955)

Advertiser: Vin du Postillon

Title: "Opera boeuf" (1957)

Advertiser: Potages Maggi

Title: "Magic ride" (1961)

Advertiser: General Motors

Co-producer: Arco Film Productions

FERRY MAYER

Title: "Il circo" (1954)

Advertiser: Chlorodont

Title: "In tutto il mondo" (1958)

Advertiser: Distillerie Stock

Co-producer: Gamma Film Sas di Roberto Gavioli

Title: "La bibbia" (1963)

Advertiser: F.lli Fabbri Editorie

Co-producer: Gamma Film Sas di Roberto Gavioli

GAMMA FILM SAS DI ROBERTO GAVIOLI

Title: "In tutto il mondo" (1958)

Advertiser: Distillerie Stock

Co-producer: Ferry Mayer

Title: "La bibbia" (1963)

Advertiser: F.lli Fabbri Editorie

Co-producer: Ferry Mayer

HAMSTER FILMS

Title: "Les velos"/"winter sonata"/"Simon says" (1979)

Advertiser: Cacharel

Co-producers: J J Grimblat Ideodis/Michele Siritsky

Title: "Love story" (1983)

Advertiser: Darty

Co-producers: Major/Claudie Ossard/Jean Jacques Grimblat

N LEE LACY ASSOCIATES

Title: "Supermarket" (1965)

Advertiser: Laura Scudder's

Title: "Counting" (1968)

Advertiser: National Provincial Bank

RSA

Title: "Walking behinds" (1972)

Advertiser: Levi Strauss & Co

Title: "Idees-Elle" (1976)

Advertiser: Elle

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