Jeroboams of rosé being quaffed on the Carlton Terrace. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian discussing their brand on stage. And those shiny trophies that will boost any creatives’ career.
The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is so firmly ensconced in adland’s consciousness that it’s hard to remember a time without.
Come with us, then, back to a September day in 1954 where it all began – not on the French Riviera but in St Mark’s Square in Venice.
The London-based Screen Advertising World Association (SAWA) had been plotting how to promote the importance of cinema advertising. Commercial TV had yet to reach Europe, so cinema was the only audio-visual medium available to advertisers outside the US at the time.
Inspired by the Cannes Film Festival, which had been running since the 1940s, SAWA set up the International Advertising Film Festival.
It started small, with only 130 people attending and just 187 entries from 14 countries. There was only one category for film advertising and it was a three-minute Italian film for Chlorodont toothpaste that took home the Grand Prix.
A movable feast
The second festival took place in Monte Carlo, and then Cannes. For years, it alternated between Cannes and Venice until it finally settled on the French town in 1984. The Venice association, however, remains in the Lions name and trophies – a winged lion is the symbol of the city’s patron saint St Mark.
The festival’s character began to change in the early nineties. It was then that the first seminars in the week-long event were added. The single film category was expanded in 1992 to include press and outdoor advertising, and "film" was dropped from its name to become the "International Advertising Festival".
In subsequent years, this trend accelerated with categories added for digital (1998), media (1999), direct (2002), radio (2005), design (2008) and PR (2009). The Creative Effectiveness Lions, which recognise work that has been both creative and effective, were launched in 2011. A branded content category was added two years ago, while last year saw the creation of the Glass Lion award – recognising ads that demonstrate "culture-shifting creativity".
The delegates have swelled to more than 15,000 from 100 countries, and entry submissions are now more than 40,000.
To recognise the changed industry, the festival organisers dropped "advertising" from their name in 2011 to become: "Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity".
It's the big digital players that make a real impact on the festival now – with Google and Facebook prominent on the Croisette beachfront.
What hasn’t changed is the perception from those left behind that Cannes is a week-long party. Agencies would tell you that the increase in the number of brand marketers attending has dampened their ability to really let loose, while business deals are increasingly struck during the festival. Omnicom chief executive John Wren and Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Levy famously agreed to their ultimately unsuccessful merger in a secret meeting at the Carlton Hotel during the 2013 festival.
But despite the increase in business activity, the industry still knows how to have a good time. Just head down to the Gutter Bar before the sun rises to see the morass of ad executives letting off some steam. A votre santé!
About The Trade Desk, Inc.
The Trade Desk is a technology company that empowers buyers of advertising. The Trade Desk provides a self-service platform that enables ad buyers to manage data-driven digital advertising campaigns using their own teams across various advertising formats, including display, video, and social, and on a multitude of devices, including computers, mobile devices, and connected TV.
Headquartered in Ventura, Calif., The Trade Desk has offices across the United States, Europe, and Asia.