There's something a little schizophrenic about the Cannes International Advertising Festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next week.
On the one hand, it is a fantastic celebration of advertising creativity, set in beautiful surroundings, with the great and the good of global advertising in attendance. On the other, it's a grubby money-making scheme that costs a fortune to attend and has an unrealistic bias towards ads with gags.
It makes a staggering amount of money. This year's income from the sale of delegates passes and entries alone is 20 million euros. Although entries are down by 5 per cent this year, figures such as 4,577 entries in the film category at 550 euros a pop still add up. Delegates, of which there will be in the region of 8,000 this year, each pay 1,695 euros.
This money goes into the pocket of Roger Hatchuel, who runs the festival as a privately owned company. As the managing director of Media Vision, Hatchuel became involved in Cannes in its early years. It was founded in 1954 by a group of European cinema advertising contractors including Pearl & Dean and Cinema et Publicite. Inspired by the Cannes film festival, they wanted to celebrate great advertising, attracting advertisers to their medium.
The declining cinema audiences and advertisers of the 70s (a by-product of the rise of commercial television) led Hatchuel to suggest turning the event into a profit-making enterprise. He felt it was an under-used resource that lacked proper funding and was handed the reins of the company in 1986.
The festival alternated between Cannes and Venice until 1984, when Cannes became its permanent home. Venice's legacy is the Lion award, which was inspired by the city's famous lions in St Mark's Square.
Hatchuel's son, Romain Hatchuel, was the chief executive of the festival and was seen as the heir to the lucrative event until 18 months ago. However, a split with his father saw him quit his role as the chief executive and take a job with Euro RSCG in January 2002. Hatchuel senior says they fell out over Romain's desire to move the headquarters of the festival from London to Paris. Whatever the reasons, the divide leaves the future ownership of the festival in question and Hatchuel doesn't rule out an IPO. He says: "I turned 70 last month and my son left 18 months ago, so I have no successor. The time will come when I have to look at the exit and that's a fact."
Before he retires, though, expect the introduction of more and more categories as Hatchuel expands the festival's ability to make money under the guise of making it a truly integrated event. He lists PR, sponsorship and sales promotion without drawing breath.
Many delegates resent the cost of attending the festival. To ensure the maximum amount of sales of delegates passes, the festival organisers control the booking of hotels, making it very difficult to stay in Cannes during the festival without shelling out for a delegates pass.
There is no doubt that the cost of the event to delegates has led to reduced attendance during the current advertising recession. Justification of the cost of flights, hotels, entries and so on has become difficult. Mark Wnek, the joint chairman of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, who for the second consecutive year is attending Cannes in a private capacity, says: "My philosophy is that if you're doing well take people there and say: 'Hey. Enjoy yourself.' But if you've fired people and then go to Cannes, you've got to examine your soul."
Nevertheless, the sheer volume of delegates, despite the cost, demonstrates that the festival really has something to offer. Many networks use the event as a backdrop for a global convention. Getting people to turn up to a worldwide meeting is notoriously difficult, but throw in a week in Cannes and the attendance rate soars.
Robert Campbell, a co-creative director of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, says: "Cannes is a handy thing if you use it intelligently. A huge amount of this business is about contacts, which can be built there. We also do a lot of European conferencing down there."
Hatchuel believes its value lies in enabling networks to assess their rivals as well as to meet and exchange ideas. He calls it the "Harvard of advertising" because delegates are exposed to both good and bad work, shedding light on what makes a great ad as well as how ideas can go wrong.
Dave Droga, the worldwide creative director of Publicis, thinks the Cannes experience is invaluable. He says: "You can't leave there and not be inspired. You look at ads, meet and greet and soak up the lectures. Even if you don't win you get something out of it."
Droga also believes in the festival's value as a team builder for creative departments. He says: "For 51 weeks of the year we are beaten up and for this one week of the year we beat ourselves up out of choice. The fun is out of control."
But it's Cannes' creative significance - the kudos of the gold Lion - that really persuades networks to dig deep and turn up every June.
They don't attend without complaint, however. Detractors are frustrated that the festival had a tendency to favour funny ads as humour tends to transcend the language barriers of an international jury. Wnek calls it the "30-second joke" festival. Another criticism is that it awards work for obscure brands rather than visible work for consumer brands. Last year's outdoor Grand Prix went to an ad for a piercing studio in Oslo, for example.
This year, however, Procter & Gamble's wholehearted support of the festival may signal the involvement of more FMCG brands. Jim Stengel, P&G's most senior marketer, and his team are attending the festival and then congregating at its close for a debrief on what struck them.
Despite the numerous criticisms, as the only truly global advertising festival Cannes has no competitor. Wnek says: "It's the foremost arena for creative people to challenge themselves." Hatchuel terms it the "Olympics of advertising" and few would disagree. Campbell compares it to the Royal Family: "We throw stones at it, but would miss it if it wasn't here."
1954: European cinema contractors launch the festival to celebrate great cinema advertising. The first Cannes Grand Prix goes to a spot called "il circo" from Italy's Ferry Mayer for Chlorodont toothpaste.
1959: A TV spot, "tired dog" by Foote Cone and Belding Chicago, wins the Grand Prix for the first time.
1970: Procter & Gamble takes the Grand Prix for the "small store" commercial for Camay soap by Leo Burnett USA.
1980: No Grand Prix awarded by the jury, which was chaired by McCann & Co's Barry Day. He defended the decision saying no single entry was head and shoulders above the gold entries.
1981: Lego's "kipper" by TBWA in London nets the Grand Prix.
1986: Roger Hatchuel takes the helm of the event having relaunched it as a profit-making venture.
1990: Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury's "the Israelites" for Maxell Tapes takes the Grand Prix.
1992: The Press and Poster category introduced. McCann-Erickson Milan is awarded first Grand Prix in the category for its Levi's campaign.
1994: "Snow covered" by Bozell North Advertising for Chrysler Jeep wins the Grand Prix.
1998: The inaugural Cyber Grand Prix is awarded to photographer Frank Herholdt's website.
1999: Sony PlayStation nets the first media Lion for a media strategy devised by 141palaceplus in New Zealand.
2002: Lions Direct introduced and Nike's "tag" by Wieden & Kennedy Portland gets the Grand Prix.
2003: The festival celebrates its 50th anniversary. The president of the jury, Dan Wieden, introduces the titanium Lion to award work "that causes the industry to stop in its tracks and reconsider the way forward". It also launches the Academy training scheme for young creatives, naming the former Leo Burnett worldwide creative director, Michael Conrad, as the dean.
WHY I LOVE CANNES - JAMES LOWTHER
Cannes. Donchaluvit? Well, yes. But why?
Actually, what I really like is judging it. But hey. This is Cannes and that's a bit heavy to be starting with. So let's start with the superficial bits. I love:
The Carlton Her corner domes are based on the breasts of a well-known courtesan.
The Martinez Bar Actually, only because it is where I heard a German say: "If assholes were airplanes, this would be the biggest airport in the world."
The Gutter Bar Brit refugees from airport above ... all flying erratically.
The Eden Rock Infinity pool. Infinity bills.
Lou Maschou A little treasure in the old town, where the magnificence of their grills is only matched by the spectacular performing lav, which rotates, sprays you intimately and quite often succeeds in flooding the restaurant.
Les souvenirs Little memories that remain in whatever is left of your mind at the end of the week ... such as the sight of a distinguished eminence-bald of a major London agency being tattooed against his will on the Croisette at two in the morning.
But back to the serious stuff.
Yes, I like the judging. Not because of the mind-deadening five days (often 14-hour ones) of watching ads in every known tongue from Swedish to Swahili.
Not because, in your occasional breaks from Serbo Croat electrical goods advertising, you can look down from your lonely eyrie in the Palais des Artes and see everyone else getting browner and drunker on the beach while you get paler and rattier.
But because, you get to realise that there is this strange phenomenon that exists outside London W1 called quaintly " The Rest of the World".
Because, contrary to the accepted wisdom of our London-centric universe, I have met many brilliant, passionate and committed judges from this terra incognita, whom I admire, who have the same values as I do, and whose countries produce great work that challenges our insularity and our too-easily assumed ascendancy.
And because, out of the booze, bollocks and bitching and the sweltering tide of mediocrity there usually emerges work that reminds me that this messy business of ours can produce stuff that makes me proud and jealous in equal measure.
And because it reminds me, that if we want to restore London to its place as the undisputed centre of the advertising world, we've got to be quite a lot less arrogant and quite a bit braver.
James Lowther is the chairman of M&C Saatchi
WHY I HATE CANNES - ANDREW CRACKNELL
I'm not "anti-Cannes" - how can you be anti such a grand institution?
It's just that I'm agnostic. Maybe it's because when I first heard of it it was held in deep contempt by all the better agencies in the UK, for very good reason. The award winners were by and large lowest common denominator, visually dominated, language-free, glossy extravaganzas: Martini - that sort of thing. And the attendees were almost always from the big indifferent agencies and production companies, long on expenses and bunny but short on genuine talent.
Now the quality of the reel is light years better and pretty well does reflect the very best of the world's output, but there's still plenty about the whole farrago to raise a sceptical eyebrow.
Being on the jury not that long ago when one juror mistook another as being someone friendly to his previously formed cartel of jurors and handed him a list of the commercials "we're going to vote for" did nothing for my respect for its integrity.
There's the city of Cannes, and the surrounding area for that matter, which must be one of the most over-inflated and overrated spots on earth.
That excludes the Colombe D'Or.
There's the utterly cynical attitude to prices, by the hoteliers and restaurateurs. For just that reason alone, it would be a good idea to take Cannes "on the road". It's supposed to be international anyway, so why isn't it one year in Tokyo, the next in Sydney, the next in Rio, the next in San Francisco? And then, if they promise to behave themselves, we might bring it back to Cannes for a year. It's not as if Cannes is a creatively stimulating backdrop, the vibrant seedbed for a creative festival that New York - or even London - would be.
But for ultimate cynicism, there's the arrogance and greed of the organisers.
Examine just this fact alone; we make the commercials, we then pay completely unjustifiable and ever-inflating entry fees, out of which the festival makes an astronomical profit, it then puts them on a reel - and sells them back to us! And just to make absolutely certain we all know who the mugs are, not only do we go along with it we even sign a waiver indemnifying the festival against any claims for residuals from artists.
Maybe I'm just jealous.
And anyway, it usually clashes with the Lord's Test Match.
Andrew Cracknell is a creative director at Bates Europe.