In case you missed my last post, I’m writing you this week from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
It’s my first time at the festival and my first impression is that all the clichés are true. On one hand, it’s all too much—the spectacle, the competition, the over-the-top parties, the self-promotion, the celebrity cameos, the postcard setting along the French Riviera, etc. On the other hand, it’s inspiring to see the world’s best work, to hear from marketing’s top-thinkers, and to get away from your day-to-day responsibilities long enough to dream about the future of the brands you oversee.
Cannes veterans talk about the festival with an insider’s shorthand. But as a first-timer (and for those of us who haven’t had a chance to attend) it’s helpful to understand a little bit about the history of the festival and how it became the “Oscars” of the marketing world.
The festival was born (perhaps appropriately) from envy. In the early 1950s, members of the Screen Advertising World Association looked at the International Film Festival that had been staged in Cannes since the late 1940s and said, “advertising films deserve their own show too.”
The first festival was held in Venice, Italy in 1954 and it attracted 187 entries from 14 countries. There were two categories: TV and Cinema. 130 people attended, according to event archives.
Who was the big winner at that first festival? This toothpaste commercial from Italy:
During the early years, it alternated locations (Monte Carlo, Venice and Cannes all hosted) before Cannes became its permanent home in 1984.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the festival programming expanded to include seminars and added categories beyond film. With the addition of press and outdoor categories in 1992, the “film festival” was rechristened an “advertising festival.”
As the years rolled on, and advertising’s footprint morphed from traditional media to the hydra we have today, additional categories were added: Cyber (1998), Media (1999), Direct (2002), Radio and Integrated (2005), Promo (2006), Design (2008), PR (2009), Film Craft (2010), Effectiveness (2011), Branded Content and Mobile (2012), Innovation (2013), Product Design (2014).
There are also now two-day mini-festivals for Health and Innovation that extend the festival’s reach.
To say that the festival has grown over the years is an understatement.
The numbers for this year’s weeklong festival are staggering: 40,133 award entries, more than 12,500 delegates from more than 95 countries (and many more non-registered attendees are floating around town). There are 130 official seminars -- and that doesn’t include the hundreds of additional sessions sponsored by agencies, brands and vendors. The festival will almost certainly surpass the record 542 million Twitter mentions set last year. And there are more numbers that tell the tale.
Cannes is such a big, sprawling beast that it spawns numerous “How to Survive Cannes” articles every year in the days leading up to the festival.
Another telling number: 25%. That’s the percentage, according to Cannes organizers, of registered attendees last year who were marketers, like myself. If my presence is any indication, that number is going up this year. While Cannes may have been a private party for agency creatives back in the day, there is no doubt that brands are reveling alongside them these days.
I’m looking forward to seeing what we all learn together this week.