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Cannes Lions 2024: Here’s How The International Festival Of Creativity Evolved To Become What It Is In Its 71st Edition 

As the 71st edition of Cannes Lions takes place at its usual spot at the French Riviera, Marketing Mind in this story gives a sneak peak to its readers on how the festival inspired from International Film Festival transformed to being the International Festival of Creativity that it is today.

| Published on June 18, 2024

Cannes Lions 2024: Here’s How The International Festival Of Creativity Evolved To Become What It Is In Its 71st Edition 

Looking at how the International Film Festival was being staged in Cannes since the late 1940’s, it was in 1954 when a group of worldwide cinema screen advertising contractors (SAWA) felt that the makers of advertising films should also receive similar recognition to colleagues in the feature film industry and decided to establish the International Advertising Film Festival.

In order to promote the Cinema medium, the first Festival took place in Venice in September 1954 with 187 film entries from 14 countries competing for The Lion of Piazza San Marcos trophy and about 130 delegates attended the first Festival.

This was furthered by the conduction of the second edition of the Festival in Monte Carlo and then in Cannes in 1956.

After that, the Festival took place alternatively between Venice and Cannes.

In the earlier editions of the Festival, the Films in the competition were split into two categories: TV and Cinema and were judged according to technical crafts. They were divided into categories such as- commercials of different lengths, live action and animation, etc.

But as time progressed, the TV and Cinema ads were split into product or service categories in 1967. However, the same was short-lived as the split between Cinema ads and TV ads was abandoned and replaced with a new single category- Film in 1983.

And then the Southern French city of Cannes became the Festival’s permanent home in 1984.

After a couple years, in 1987, the management of the Festival was taken over by Roger Hatchuel, French businessman and former member of SAWA.

That being said, up until the first Gulf War in 1990, the worldwide advertising industry was prosperous which is why the Festival also remained a Film-only competition. But in response to the advertising crisis at the time of the war, the Festival added value to the event by complementing the showcase of all Film entries with a developing seminar programme of high profile speakers, organised by and featuring some of the biggest names in the industry.

It was in 1992 that The International Film Festival had to undergo a name change and be known as The International Advertising Festival as the organisers broadened the event to reflect the multimedia approach of advertising campaigns, which incorporate both audio-visual and printed media. In the same year, the Festival also added Press & Outdoor Lions.

Then in 1995, the Young Creatives Competition was included in the Festival programme wherein teams from different countries globally had just 24 hours to produce an ad for a charity or non-profitable organisation.

Moving forward, in 1998, Online communications (websites, interactive campaigns and online advertising) were introduced in the Festival and the Cyber Lions were born.

A year later, in 1999, the Media Lions were also launched to allow media planners to join the Festival with their own competition and to celebrate the creative use of media. Then, in 2022, the Festival added the category of Direct Lions to honour creative direct marketing solutions, followed by the introduction of Titanium Lions, thought up by Dan Wieden, in 2003 to reward ground-breaking and innovative concepts in advertising and marketing.

But in the summer of 2004, Emap Communications, the international B2B publisher and events organiser, acquired the Festival from the French businessman- Hatchuel.

And in 2005, a new category- Radio Lions was introduced to raise the profile of radio creativity alongwith a relaunch of Titanium Lions to include integrated campaigns. Additionally, two new awards were also introduced in the same year, namely- Direct Agency of the Year and Interactive Agency of the Year to honour the top scoring agencies in Lions Direct and Cyber Lions competitions.

After this, in 2006, the Festival added Promo Lions to award creative excellence in the areas of Sales Promotion, including retail marketing, environmental design and in-store advertising, and introduced a separate Outdoor jury. It even added a new specialist award for Media Agency of the Year owing to the incredible growth and success of Media Lions. And to complement the existing Print and Cyber competitions so far, the Festival launched The Young Creative Film Competition with the ads being filmed on mobile devices in the same year.

Following this, in 2007, Titanium Lions also evolved into the Titanium and Integrated Lions, allowing the jury to award Integrated Lions to the best integrated campaigns using three or more different media as well as awarding the most sought after Titanium Lion honouring breakthrough ideas. And another specialist award- Network of the Year was launched in 2007 to honour the most awarded network worldwide by assessing their agencies’ success across all categories.

In 2008, the Festival also began awarding Gold, Silver and Bronze trophies following the success of the Promo Lions competition and to enhance and complement the celebration of creativity, the Design Lions were launched to celebrate the creative and innovative use of design as an aid for the communication of brand and product messages in categories such as Packaging Design, Brand Identity and Environmental Design.

As part of necessary changes, the Festival also introduced Film Lions to include categories for films created for transmission on screens other than TV and cinema, such as Internet film, Mobile film and Integrated film.

In 2009, the Festival also added PR Lions to its recognition lineup to honour the creative use of reputation management by the building and preservation of trust and understanding between individuals, business or organisations and their public. And, as a result of increase in entry numbers, Gold, Silver and Bronze Lions were awarded in the Integrated Category instead of the single Integrated Lion.

In the same year, the Media Lions category was also revised and changes were made to the entry written submission, restructuring the way Media Lions are judged to reflect the three crucial elements of a piece of media work, placing more emphasis on the outcome of each media case, and the credits acknowledge the Media agency as well as the entrant company.

After further analysis with industry leaders, amendments were also made to the entry submissions and voting criteria of the Direct and Promo categories to place more emphasis on the results of the entry and digitally focused categories were introduced to the Outdoor, Design, Direct, Media and Promo Lions in 2009.

In 2010, a new category- Film Craft was added to honour and award the filmmaking process in categories such as Direction, Editing, Best Use of Music and Sound Design and The Grand Prix for Good was introduced to award entries previously ineligible to win an award in their sections because they were made for charities or public services.

In addition, the Festival also launched a new special award category- Independent Agency of the Year and renamed Promo Lions to Promo & Activation Lions to better reflect the essence of the category. The Festival also introduced amendments in the The Outdoor Lions Category to enable the awarding of two Grands Prix, one for Billboards & Street Furniture and Posters, one for Ambient.

It was a year later, in 2011, that the Festival changed its strapline to the ‘International Festival of Creativity’ to reflect the transformation of Cannes Lions from being a celebration of creative excellence in advertising to recognising creative excellence in all forms of communication and also added Creative Effectiveness Lions to honour creativity which has shown a measurable and proven impact on a client’s business with the eligibility for entering the same being- either getting shortlisted or being a Lions winner across all categories in 2010.

The year 2011 also marked the inaugural year of Lion of St. Mark, an award to recognise an individual’s long-standing contribution to creativity in communications and the first winner of the same was Sir John Hegarty, Creative Director and Founder, BBH.

In the same year, a new award for Holding Company of the Year was also introduced and given to the holding company to have amassed the most awards across all categories at the Festival and The Agency of the Year award included points from winning entries in Cyber and Titanium as the Interactive Agency of the Year was sunsetted.

In 2012, the Festival also added Branded Content and Entertainment Lions to reward creativity in branded content and entertainment which is defined as the creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand. Additionally, Mobile Lions was also introduced in the same year to award the best creative work which lives on, or is activated, by a mobile device, app or mobile web.

To celebrate its 60 years, Cannes Lions in 2013 collaborated with legendary artist Gerald Scarfe to create artworks that give a unique branding. As part of the same, a retrospective exhibition showcasing the ads and creativity that have changed the shape of advertising- Game Changers, was made available in the Palais des Festivals along with an accompanying book-Game Changers: The Evolution of Advertising, featuring campaigns from the 1950s onwards to celebrate the Festival’s 60th anniversary.

It was in the same year that the Festival also introduced Innovation Lions as a new category to reward technologies and innovations that make a creative idea happen.

In 2014, the Festival also introduced Product Design Lions to recognise the applied use of physical products in aiding the communication of a brand ethos as well as its use to have a positive impact on improving people’s lives and received 194 entries in its launch year.

In the 61st edition of the Festival, Bono was also awarded the inaugural Cannes Lion Heart Award in recognition of (RED), a creative fusion of branding, activism and philanthropy that had generated more than $250 million for the fight against AIDS in Africa. The LionHeart is Cannes Lions’ recognition given to a person or organisation that, through innovative use of commercial brand power, has made a significant and positive difference to people or the planet.

In addition to this, the specialist award for Regional Network of the Year was also introduced in 2014 to award the regional performance of networks alongside a new initiative for women- See It Be It, which invited 12 women to Cannes for an inspirational and educational programme aimed at furthering their careers within the creative industry.

Then in 2015, the Festival launched The Glass Lion: The Lion for Change to recognise the work that breaks through unconscious gender bias and shatters stereotypical portrayals of men and women and in its inaugural year received a total of 166 entries.

Apart from this, Lions Innovation Festival, a two day festival which explores data and technology as catalysts for creativity and features its own carefully curated content programme and awards in Innovation and Creative Data, was also launched in addition to the introduction of Cannes Lions Beach, an area exclusively made for delegates to network, take a break and enjoy exclusive talks.

In 2016, Lions Entertainment, a two-day event dedicated to brands and the entertainment industry was launched replacing the Branded Content & Entertainment Lions and its new categories included- Branded Content & Visual Storytelling; Talent; Brand Experience; Games; and Sports. Furthermore, Entertainment Lions for Music were also launched to include Fans, Social & Digital; Music, Craft & Composition; Music Platforms & Technology; Music Content; and Live Experience.

In the same year, the Festival also introduced Digital Craft Lions to recognise and celebrate the skill and artistry required in omni-channel digital creativity.

In 2018, as the length of the Festival reduced from eight days to five, running in line with the working week and three categories- Cyber, Promo & Activation and Integrated Lions were retired following a restructure of the awards. Additionally, more than 120 sub-categories were also removed from the Festival and new categories like Creative E-Commerce and Social & Influencer Lions were launched in addition to the reimagination of three Lions- Brand Experience & Activation, Social & Influencer and Industry Craft.

Furthermore, in 2019, the Product Design Lions was retired so that product design work could be entered into categories within the Innovation Lions and Design Lions, wherein all charity and non-profit work was judged separately from brand-led work and a new points-based special award, Creative Brand of Year was also launched in the same year to honour brands that successfully use creativity as a lever to drive their business forward.

To reflect the industry landscape of the day, two new Lions- Creative Strategy Lions and Entertainment Lions for Sport were launched in 2019. In its inaugural year, the former Lion received a notable 848 entries and recognises planners and strategists within their own discipline at the Festival for the first time and the latter was launched so as to honour creativity that taps into fan culture and uses the power of sports and eSports in connecting people to brands.

However, it was in June 2020, that Cannes Lions was cancelled for the very first time in history owing to the pandemic and therefore as the world fell into a deep global recession, Lions brought the global creative community together, virtually, with LIONS Live: a global meeting of minds to figure out the future of creativity which involved about 70,000 people from 145 countries.

Following its success, LIONS Live once again aired in October and included a week of practical learning on what it takes to make world-beating work with case studies on Grand Prix-winning campaigns.

And it was during the show that Cannes Lions announced the launch of LIONS | The Home of Creativity, marking the beginning of a new era for the brand that pledges to support those in pursuit of creative excellence at every step of their creative journeys. And then, LIONS brand values evolved to Community, Integrity and Excellence.

In 2021 as well, the pandemic progressed with time, forcing Cannes Lions to host another edition of the Festival in digital mode entirely. But this time, it was with a new category- Creative Business Transformation Lion, aimed at celebrating the creativity that drives businesses forward.

That being said, in 2022, the festival went back from digital screens to the French Riviera as restrictions were lifted, with another new category- Creative B2B Lion, poised to celebrate the game-changing creativity and effectiveness in work for products and services that are purchased by professionals on behalf of businesses.

Additionally, in 2022, the Festival also refreshed its Media Lions to reflect the evolving industry with the jury in the best position to award creative media ideas rather than pure creative ideas.

In 2023, as the festival celebrated its 70th edition, it also introduced the Entertainment Lions for Gaming Award to celebrate the creative work that connects people to brands through creative gameplay and in a tribute to the advertising icon Dan Wieden, the Titanium Lion was renamed as The Dan Wieden Titanium Lion.

In its bid to develop the entrants’ focus on Impact, Effectiveness and Growth, Cannes Lions also asked entrants to provide information that demonstrates the impact of their creative work across all the Lions, except for Digital Craft, Film Craft and Industry Craft.

Apart from this, the Festival also encouraged participants to outline their CO2 emissions as part of the production process, using AdNet Zero’s Five-Point Action Plan as a guide and to provide information about the composition of the teams involved, and any relevant information about the brand or agency’s DE&I agenda to drive Diversity, Equality and Inclusion and measure progress, rather than using the same as a contributing factor towards judging.

In 2023, the Lions Creativity Report also expanded with the addition of two new people rankings- Chief Creative Officer ranking, which recognises their role in providing creative leadership that drives their teams and client’s to push their creative boundaries and the Chief Marketing Officer ranking which recognises the bravery and commitment that embeds creativity into their work, driving their brands forward. Both these rankings are based on points accumulated from the Lions Awards.

In the same year, the Festival also expanded its Regional Network of the Year award from four regions to seven. As part of the same, EMEA will now be awarded across three regions (Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and MENA) and APAC will be awarded across both Asia and Pacific, with North America and Latin America remaining as is.

Interestingly enough, in its 71st edition, the Festival not just introduced Luxury & Lifestyle Lions to celebrate the most impactful creative work, experiences and creative business solutions for the luxury sector, but also made a slew of changes in other Lions.

These changes include the retiring of Mobile Lions, renaming of Radio & Audio Lions to Audio & Radio Lions to reflect the growth and prominence of audio content and expansion of Innovation Lions to include spaces for environmental, societal and financial innovation amongst others.

Additionally, both the Social & Influencer Lions and the PR Lions have also undergone a refresh this year, with the Social & Influencer Lions expanding to celebrate the role that creators play in shaping and amplifying brand messages, and the PR Lions adapting to best reflect the current PR industry.

Lastly, the Festival, in its 71st edition has also introduced the ‘Use of Humour’ category to the Cultural & Context sections that sit across the Lions, to celebrate the art of humour in branded communications and to help the Jurors better understand the nuances of the work, the cultural context question has been made compulsory for the 2024 Festival, and an AI disclaimer has been introduced to determine if AI has been used in the work, and if so, how.

The 71st edition of Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity is currently taking place at its usual spot on the French Riviera since June 17 and will continue to do so till June 21, 2024.

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