Post-mortems of the Cannes International Advertising Festival often focus on the trans-atlantic battle for supremacy between the UK and North America.
But as non-Anglophone countries continue to carry off few of the top honours, there is a feeling among some of Europe’s leading creatives that failure is less to do with creative inferiority than with jury bias towards internationally familiar Anglo-Saxon work.
Commentary in Europe’s business and advertising press before, during and after the event clearly highlights the concerns of Euro pean agencies, especially those whose work is developed primarily for local consumption.
Characteristically, at the forefront of the protest against the Anglo-centric spirit of Cannes is France’s Jacques Séguéla. “This is an Anglo-Saxon festival where no French is spoken, which is against the law,” he complains. “It is impolite and a crime not to speak French, and a weakness on the part of the French professionals to tolerate it.”
Séguéla does not, however, blame France’s indifferent showing entirely on anti-Gallic prejudice. But he does have an equally imaginative explanation. Even before this year’s festival began, he predicted that the French harvest would be meagre because “a country in crisis cannot have any creative spirit”.
Similar frustration at failure to return from Cannes in triumph has led Italy’s agencies to question not the quality of Italian submissions but the way in which they are presented to the jury. One Italian juror, Guido Cornara, comments: “I realised that the other countries, whether Nordic, French, Spanish or South American, made sure they presented their work in translated form. Not literal translations or overlays, but truly copy-translated.”
Meanwhile, in rationalising Germany’s persistent inability to gain international recognition, juror York Fanger comments: “There’s that thing of the German language and the German cultural back drop. You can’t explain that to the Japanese.”
His compatriot, André Kemper has another explanation: “We Germans simply can’t convey emotion in a simple way.”
Whether or not this is really a German trait is open to question. But it is certainly true that simplicity is often the key to success at Cannes. There is little doubt that non-Anglophone countries are at a disadvantage in an event where one spot in five comes from the US and one in ten from the UK.
Yet many overcome this handicap by focusing on powerful, often humorous and, above all, simple ideas.
Agencies that focus on these key elements over and above national concerns frequently find themselves in contention for the top prizes. And, in the words of Guido Cornara, “the jury doesn’t even know where the ad comes from”.