Media Forum: Should we care about Cannes?

Should media agencies worry about the UK's showing at Cannes?

Grande Bretagne, nul points. How resonant this sounds - and how proud we should feel when we hear those words. We all know many international beauty contests inhabit a surreal, pantomime-like space where the really cool stuff never wins. Arguably, in fact, it should never be entered in the first place.

But actually, this time around at the Cannes Media Awards, we did a little better than nul points. Our boys and girls brought home two bronzes and a gold - the latter for an OMD campaign for Hasbro. It involved a London-wide Monopoly game with Monopoly-branded taxis as the pieces (tracked on their daily journeys by GPRS) but played online. Participants snapped up properties in the time-honoured way and earned "rent" every time the real-life cabs went past these properties.

A big idea if ever there was one - and actually, in stunt-value terms, not a million miles away from the Cannes Media Grand Prix-winning entry this year, a campaign for Lynx courtesy of Universal McCann Sydney. Embracing press, outdoor, TV and ambient media in an attempt to engage with 17- to 25-year-old men, it also created a semi-fictional Lynxjet airline complete with supremely accommodating trolley dollies and a Lynxjet Mile High Club.

OK, it's true: the airline was, as it turned out, completely fictional.

When one of the aircraft belonging to the low-cost Australian Jetstar was repainted in bright yellow Lynxjet colours, the cabin crew threatened to go on strike and would only go back to work when the Lynxjet livery (and its implied threat to their dignity) had been removed.

But still, douze points to the Aussies. And, let's face it, it's never nice trailing in after that lot. So maybe it is time to wake up to the fact that, despite picking up one or two baubles, the UK's performance was again underwhelming.

We used to affect an air of effortless superiority where our media product was concerned. By George, we basically invented the business, didn't we?

We could always face the world confident in the knowledge that our specialists were not only the most rigorous but also had the most flair. So, no matter what you think of awards, shouldn't it be worrying that we struggle to trouble the scoreboard when we play away?

Simon Francis, the managing director of OMD Europe, agrees there could be more than a little misplaced arrogance at work here. He says: "There's still a certain sense of cultural superiority in British adland - and that results in it not recognising international awards as strongly as it could or should.

UK agencies should take Cannes more seriously - but, of course, that's not to say that they would win. There was previously a perception that Cannes Media Awards were about trinkets, trash and tricks. But that has changed."

Has it really, Nick Emery, MindShare Worldwide's chief strategy officer, asks. He is not at all convinced. "It's the stunts that tend to win the awards," he argues. "So I can see why some people might not want to enter good-quality work. Other markets, many of which don't have their own prestigious (national) advertising awards, see Cannes as a far higher priority. Personally, I think it would be interesting if we all came to a joint decision to pull out (of Cannes) altogether."

Sue Unerman, the MediaCom chief strategy officer, would not go that far.

On the other hand, she maintains, Cannes still trades on a debased currency.

She explains: "Whereas in the UK there's more emphasis on long-term strategic work, that's likely to be marginalised at Cannes, where there's a greater likelihood that drastic step-change ideas will be awarded. It is obviously important for media agencies to be able to do both, but I think it's true that (at Cannes) complicated work doesn't always get recognised."

And in any case, Ivan Pollard, a partner at Naked, argues, these things go in cycles. He explains: "Many UK agencies have moved things on to the next level, but that work isn't yet being entered for awards. In some cases, that's because we're still collecting the results, but in others it's a case of not wanting to share it yet.

"But it's also true that the rest of the world takes Cannes more seriously. It's brilliant that Cannes exists as a showcase and helps champion the brightest and best work, but it is by no means the only arbiter of the good work that is out there. I really don't think people make judgments about the state of the UK market on basis of what happens at Cannes."

YES - Simon Francis, managing director, OMD Europe

"It does reflect badly. We're in an international community of clients and when price is no longer a differentiator, then the focus is on creativity. For the UK not to be able to deliver against that doesn't look great."

NO - Nick Emery, chief strategy officer, MindShare Worldwide

"We need a format that better rewards quality of thinking. Do we really want to have our work judged on the basis of a 200-word entry by people who are desperate to finish the judging so they can get pissed on the beach?"

NO - Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer, MediaCom

"Cannes tends to recognise big step-change ideas. I don't think anyone believes a lack of success at Cannes means UK media is less good. Maybe we're just not as good at constructing entries. I don't think we need to worry about that."

NO - Ivan Pollard, partner, Naked

"UK agencies led the way and inspired other countries to do the sort of work they're now doing. What's happening in the UK is we're now looking to do more imaginative stuff that is even more effective. It is being done, it's just not being entered for awards."

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