As Brexit looms, the UK needs to be more creatively daring after Cannes disappointment

UK reigns over creative effectiveness at Cannes Lions

As the Mediterranean sun sets on Cannes Lions for another year, our industry can look back at the 2019 edition of the world’s greatest festival of creativity with a sense of achievement, tinged with an acknowledgement that – with Brexit approaching – we face ever stiffer competition from around the world to remain the world’s leading global advertising hub.

However, it was reported that a somewhat alarming slump took place, with our agencies’ awards haul down 24% year-on-year.

UK advertising thinktank, Credos, has been running the rule over the Lions awards data. The number of Lions trophies UK businesses won, at 90, was certainly down on last year. It’s important to recognise first though that the total number of available awards to win dropped from 1,186 in 2018 to 932 this year. Actually, the UK’s average win percentage in an awards category was 10% this year, up from 9% in 2017 and 2018.

That said, UK agencies won zero Grand Prix trophies this year against seven in 2018 which is a disappointment. The Gold Lions haul was down by nearly half at 41%. As in previous years the US won the lion’s share of trophies, and our American colleagues performed even more strongly this year. So congratulations to them on their success.

Before we all see signs of some inevitable slump, there are clear positives in the data. The UK has, again, won the most Lions of any European market – and we retain that position by a clear distance – and we are second in the world. This is no cause for complacency, as we’re being chased hard by Brazil who are close behind in third place.

Impressively (and to my mind, most importantly) we over-performed best in Creative Effectiveness where we picked up a third of the Lions awarded. This is vital territory for our agencies as the UK can rightly claim to be the world centre of effectiveness thinking and skills. We have unmatched long-standing success in combining British business smarts and intelligence with the ability to make inspiring creative leaps. And this track record of award winning creativity delivering commercial results was landed powerfully with delegations from China and South Korea last week.

Other categories where we outperformed the rest of the world included Film Craft (26%), Glass – The Lion For Change (25%), Creative Strategy (23%), Pharma (18%), Entertainment Lions For Sport (17%) and Titanium (17%).

Conversely, we under-performed by some margin in the following – Industry Craft (0%), Creative Data (0%), Radio & Audio (0%), Media (3%), Outdoor (3%) and Digital Craft (4%).

At an event I attended in Cannes, one of the judges who was acting as a panellist said there was a clear sense that entries from the UK were too safe and that other countries showed more daring, energy and confidence in their offerings; they were more willing to push boundaries in the competition.

Cannes Lions winners are a goldmine for creative inspiration from around the world. For my part, it was exciting to see campaigns like Droga’s New York Times, FCB’s 'Whopper Detour' for Burger King and W&K’s 'Dream Crazy' for Nike recognised. All are bold, and in two cases quite profound, but importantly, all ultimately have a commercial objective – not just a display of corporate virtue.

With all this in mind and the continued approach of Brexit, if there is one thing we have to be it is daring. I have spoken before of the need for a ‘Buccaneering Brexit’ and the need to embrace the opportunities of leaving the EU, even for those of us who didn’t relish the prospect in the first place. We need to make clear that although we are leaving the EU we are going to more open than ever to talent from across the globe.

The UK, and particularly London, are unique as hubs for business. In this country we have an unrivalled critical mass of domestic and overseas talent when it comes to advertising, with a wealth of ad and tech skills we can draw upon and which attract global clients to come to us for their campaigns. It is essential that the Home Office’s immigration regime post-Brexit should build on this, not inhibit it.

We should also encourage the Government to look at the UK’s tax regime to ensure we are as attractive as possible for global businesses looking to open up an overseas HQ or hub. By making ourselves as competitive as possible we can offset any challenges or damage that Brexit may bring.

The government seems to understand and support the vitality and vital contribution of our industry. We had outstanding support from the Department for International Trade for our industry’s presence in Cannes as part of their 'Creativity is Great' campaign. This backing for our industry is very welcome and it is heartening to see how much we are valued and how much our recent stellar performance as an industry has been recognised in Whitehall.

The Advertising Association recently released figures which showed that exports of advertising services grew 18% in the latest ONS figures to £6.9bn – a figure that has nearly tripled in less than a decade. UK advertising is a success and we need to ensure that we do everything in our power to remain the global hub for our industry.

Once we have certainty surrounding our future, I believe we can boss our way through Brexit. Cannes Lions will remain the premier global platform to show our strength and creativity to our competitors and peers from across the world - its importance to us as a showcase will remain preeminent in the years to come.

If we can retain our position as number one in Creative Effectiveness, the rest of the world will look to us for the very best work, that works.

James Murphy is the founder of Adam&Eve/DDB

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