Cannes Lions gives thumbs down to (most) British agencies

Are Cannes Lions an accurate guide to the health of an agency, even a whole industry?

Not everyone enters of course and some enter more than others. Publicis agencies won’t be entering any next year.

There’s also the point that lots of top awards go to things that aren’t really advertising, like MRM/McCann’s ‘Fearless Girl.’

But, with all such caveats, the UK’s creative agency performance at last week’s festival was dismal, maybe the worst in decades.

As ever the shining exception was adam&eveDDB: not a stellar year by its high standards (no Grand Prix) but even so it hauled in 24 Lions, three Gold, ten Silver and 11 Bronze; for mainstream clients Mars, H&M (below), Harvey Nichols, VW and that other well-known department store.

Next best was Grey with seven (two Silver, five Bronze). And, er, that’s about it.

A&E has been in a league of its own for some years now and seems to have managed the transition to a new executive team pretty seamlessly. It’s also very good at the business of entering awards, especially effectiveness ones although the Cannes Creative Effectiveness GP went to Leo Burnett Chicago this year.

But the gulf between A&E and its rivals has grown to a chasm, at least according to the judgement of Cannes jurors.

The only British ads to really make waves at Cannes this year were Channel 4’s Film and Integrated winner ‘We’re the Superhumans’ and that was produced in-house by 4Creative with the considerable help of production company Blink (4Creative calls it a ‘trailer’ not an ad). The other was FCO’s 32-year old anti-smoking effort which stymied Clemenger BBDO’s ‘Meet Graham’ in the Integrated and Titanium categories.

British agencies – and, indeed, their clients – need to look hard at their output. You rarely see a terrible British ad, not from a big name agency anyway, but very little is exceptional. Is a combination of client caution and the dreaded data leading to mediocrity? Or is just that most of them of them aren’t very good at it?

Whatever, the rest of the creative world doesn’t seem unduly impressed.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.