Is Cannes Lions an Unparalleled Inspiration, or One Big Boondoggle?

Ad veterans choose the best and worst thing about the festival

The Cannes Lions festival opens this weekend, and if you’re feeling conflicted, you’re not alone. Does it really celebrate the best in creativity, or is too much mediocre work getting through? Has it gotten too big, and too client focused? Or is it still the best way to see the greatest advertising, and the greatest agency talent, in the world?

We asked some Cannes veterans to name the best and worst thing about Cannes today. Here’s what they told us.

The Best Thing About Cannes

“It is the greatest class reunion of all time. Imagine the best class reunion, except it was from every class you ever graduated from for your whole career.”
—John Matejczyk, creative director and founder, Muh-tay-zik Hof-fer

“When I go, I’m reminded of all the incredible colleagues that I work with, and not just within the company that I work with, but within the industry. We spend so much time tearing ourselves down as an industry. And I feel like at Cannes, we actually focus on the good and celebrate the potential of what this industry can do. And it makes me quite proud.”
—Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB

“The person who did your favorite ad in the world, and you never met them before, is just walking down the other way. I was there a couple of years ago. Never met Bob Greenberg. I was walking down the street, and there he is! … The people that crowd into that space, it’s great.”
—Gerry Graf, chief creative officer, Barton F. Graf

The Worst Thing About Cannes

“The expense of it. What I worry about, between the entries and how many categories there are now and playing the numbers game, especially if you’re a big network, it’s about those numbers. And if you don’t enter, you don’t get the numbers. If you want to play that game, it gets very expensive.”
—Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB

“I don’t like the importance that the award has right now. It’s my experience that many clients—not all client, but many clients—have no idea what creativity means. That’s why, about eight years ago, more and more clients started going to Cannes. To learn what a creative ad is. And all of a sudden, the Lion lets them know what creativity is. And many times it’s not. There’s a lot of great stuff that wins there. There’s a lot of mediocre stuff that wins there. And there’s a lot of stuff that shouldn’t win there. But that’s the way award shows go.”
—Gerry Graf, chief creative officer, Barton F. Graf

“Creativity itself is not celebrated and rewarded as much as it should be. I think there are too many categories. The problem with too many categories is that you then get too many judges. And when you have too many judges, the quality of judging will go down. It has to go down, because you’ve just got more mass. It’s a vital part of our industry, make no mistake. I fervently believe in Cannes. I fervently believe in awards, providing the intent is always to do great work first and worry about the awards afterwards. But I think, as an event, I would really love it to get back to that high, high-quality event all about brilliant creativity.”
—Matthew Bull, chief creative officer, mcgarrybowen New York