Cannes’s problem with Design

Is the Cannes Lions Design category a credible showcase of the best design work of the year? And why were so many design consultancy creative directors unhappy with this year’s selection?

Is the Cannes Lions Design category a credible showcase of the best design work of the year? And why were so many design consultancy creative directors unhappy with this year’s selection?

You may ask whether any paid-to-enter awards can be entirely representative of an industry when, by definition, it excludes those who haven’t entered but, in advertising, a Cannes Lion is, for many, the ultimate prize. Winning one can be hugely significant, both personally and professionally, advancing both career and bank balance. And for ad agencies, the awards have become a significant benchmark by which they are measured, both internally within the networks and externally by potential clients, employees or business partners.

For these reasons, the Cannes Lions winners are entered by almost every ad agency and (with the odd exception) offer a reliable guide to the best work of the year in advertising. Of course there is always debate over who won what but, largely speaking, the good stuff is represented. But their position in terms of design is not so clear-cut or credible.

Above and top: From Anti’s brand identity scheme for the Bergen International Festival, winner of this year’s Design Grand Prix at Cannes


The Design category was introduced in 2008. As we warned at the time, “Cannes is likely to prove a pull more for the large branding firms than the kind of smaller, independent operations from which much of the genuinely innovative work emanates.”

Cannes is pricey – €500 per entry in Design this year. There are many smaller design studios who do not believe in the value of awards at all: even those who do see their worth will find such a price hard to afford.

Why enter? For many it may remain an expensive irrelevance but there is a commercial rationale at play. Cannes’s promise to the design community was that here was the chance to be positioned alongside the big ad agencies as a vital component of modern marketing and communications. To win the respect (and budgets) of those higher up the corporate ladder. When Rodney Fitch announced the launch of the Design category in 2007, and chaired the jury in 2008, he talked of the importance of design being recognised at Cannes. There was even optimistic talk of renaming the event the Cannes International Advertising and Design Festival.


When Turner Duckworth won the Grand Prix for its Coke work that first year (above), it laid down an important marker for the potential of the award. It was a demonstration of the huge value design could bring even to the biggest brands. And, for Turner Duckworth, the win opened a lot of doors. Other consultancies, it was assumed, would benefit similarly in future.


This year’s Design Grand Prix went to a brand campaign for the Bergen International Festival by Anti. It’s a beautiful piece of work with a clever central idea that has been developed into a thoughtful and playful scheme. Lovely.


Mother Book for Kishokai Medical Corporation by Dentsu Nagoya, Gold winner in both the Books and Promotional Item categories at Cannes Lions


But looking beyond the Grand Prix at this year’s Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, where are the design consultancies? The winning entrants are almost exclusively ad agencies: Dentsu, TBWA, O&M, M&C Saatchi, Lowe, Y&R and Adam&EveDDB all won in the Design category.

Harvey Nichols campaign by Adam&Eve DDB, silver winner in Promotional Item


Partly this is a function of the industry in other countries: in India, for example, ad agencies take on a great deal of the work that in the UK would be the preserve of design or branding consultancies. And partly it is as a result of Cannes’ history. It has a much longer relationship with ad agencies who recognise its value, are highly motivated to win awards in whatever category is open to them and have the budgets to enter.

But it puts Cannes in a double bind – it doesn’t have the relationship with, and is beyond the means of, many of the smaller studios while failing to award the work of those larger consultancies that actually do enter.


The Beautiful Black List, Gold Lion in Posters for Dentsu


:{ to 🙂 ClefttoSmile, Gold Lion winner in the Large Scale Logo category for Ogilvy & Mather Mumbai


Al Private Label packaging, Silver Lion winner in Own Label packaging for TomatDesign, Moscow


Paper Prison for the Mandela Poster Project by Interbrand NY, Gold Lion in Posters



An awards scheme ought to reflect the industry it claims to represent. Speaking to many of the creative directors of design consultancies at Cannes, not many of them looked at this year’s Design winners and recognised their industry in them.


So, given the mixed experiences design consultancies have had with Cannes, should they enter?
What does Cannes need to do to make the Design category more credible?
Does Design even belong at Cannes at all?


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