1954 to 2024: How Cannes Lions Festival evolved over the years

Founded in 1954 by a group of international cinema screen advertising contractors (SAWA), Cannes Lions was inspired by the International Film Festival held in Cannes since the late 1940s. The iconic Lion trophy was modelled after the Lion of Piazza San Marcos in Venice. However, it wasn't until 1984 that the Southern French city of Cannes became the Festival's permanent home

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New Delhi: The world’s biggest advertising festival 'The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity' will be held between June 17-21 this year, at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, Cannes, France.            

This year, Cannes Lions introduced the Luxury & Lifestyle Lions, retired the Mobile Lion, and expanded Innovation Lions to include spaces for environmental, societal and financial innovation. 

The awards renamed “Radio & Audio Lions” to “Audio & Radio Lions”. In addition, Cannes Lions introduced the ‘Use of humour’ category to the Cultural & Context sections that sit across many of the Lions, to celebrate the art of humour in branded communications. 

Last year, the jurors found the cultural context section so valuable that they made it a compulsory element this year onwards along with making AI disclaimer mandatory.

The origin and evolution of Cannes Lions

Founded in 1954 by a group of international cinema screen advertising contractors (SAWA), Cannes Lions was inspired by the International Film Festival held in Cannes since the late 1940s. The iconic Lion trophy was modelled after the Lion of Piazza San Marcos in Venice. However, it wasn't until 1984 that the Southern French city of Cannes became the Festival's permanent home.

SAWA, the Global Cinema Advertising Association, believed in the need for standardisation in the film business and felt that those who create commercials deserved the same recognition as those who work in feature films. With this vision, the inaugural Cannes Film Festival was held in Venice in September 1954, attracting 130 delegates and featuring 187 film submissions from 14 countries. The second festival took place in Monte Carlo, and the third in Cannes in 1956. Subsequently, the Cannes Lions alternated between Venice and Cannes.

Initially, the competition's films were divided into Television and Cinema categories. In 1967, these were split into two further categories: product and service. However, this division was abandoned in 1983 in favor of a unified category, ‘Films.’

With Cannes becoming a big entity in 1987, Roger Hatchuel, a French businessman and former member of SAWA decided to take the reins in his hand by taking over the Festival’s management.

The global advertising sector was booming until the first Gulf War in 1990, but in the aftermath of the war, Cannes resorted to complementing and showcasing all Film submissions featuring some of the industry’s most renowned faces in seminars to meet the advertising crisis of 1990.

It was in 1992 that the nomenclature of the Festival changed from International Film Festival to International Advertising Festival in order to reflect the multimedia approach (audio, visual and print medium) used in advertising campaigns.

The Press & Outdoor Lions were added to the list in 1992, followed by Cyber Lions, after the introduction of online communications, riding on the digital-oriented wave in 1998. Media Lions was then launched in 1999 to allow media planners to join the Festival and celebrate the creative use of media.

To honour the creative direct marketing solutions, Direct Lions was added in 2002, whereas to reward ground-breaking and innovative concepts in advertising and marketing, Dan Wieden came up with Titanium Lions in 2003.

Following this, in 2004 Emap Communications, an international B2B publisher and events organiser acquired the Festival.

In 2005, Radio Lions was introduced to raise the profile of radio creativity and Titanium Lions was re-launched also to include integrated campaigns. Two new awards- Direct Agency of the Year and Interactive Agency of the Year were also introduced to honour the top-scoring agencies in Lions Direct and Cyber Lions competitions.

A year later, in 2006, Promo Lions was launched to award creative excellence in the areas of Sales Promotion, including retail marketing, environmental design and in-store advertising and a separate Outdoor jury was introduced.

Due to the incredible growth and success of Media Lions, the new Media Agency of the Year Award was added in 2006. In 2007, Content Showcase for creators was introduced in addition to Titanium Lions which evolved into Titanium and Integrated Lions, allowing the jury to award Integrated Lions to the best-integrated campaigns using three or more different media and awarding the Titanium Lion to the ones who had breakthrough ideas.

Moreover, the Network of the Year Award was launched to honour the most awarded network worldwide by assessing their agencies’ success across all categories. Following the success of the Promo Lions competition, the awarding of gold, silver and bronze trophies began in 2008.

Design Lions was also launched to celebrate the creative and innovative use of design as an aid for the communication of brand and product messages. A few minor changes were also made to Film Lions by making it inclusive of Internet film, Mobile film, and Integrated film.

In 2009, PR Lions was launched to honour the creative use of reputation management by the building and preservation of trust and understanding between individuals, business or organisations and their audience.

Changes were also introduced to the Media Lions including a revision of the categories, changes to the entry written submission, 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 acknowledging the Media agency as well as the entrant company.

However, with a major increase in entry numbers, it was decided that Gold, Silver, and Bronze Lions were to be awarded in the Integrated Category instead of the single Integrated Lion in 2009. However, amendments were made to the entry submissions and voting criteria of the Direct and Promo categories to emphasise the results of the entry in 2009. Also, digitally focused categories like Outdoor, Design, Direct, Media and Promo Lions were introduced in the same year.

In 2010, Film Craft was added to award the filmmaking process in categories such as Direction, Editing, Best Use of Music and Sound Design. The prestigious Independent Agency of the Year award was launched, and the Promo Lion was renamed Promo & Activation Lions to better reflect the essence of the category in 2010.

The Grand Prix for Good was also introduced the same year, to award entries previously ineligible to win an award in their sections because they are made for charities or public services. However, the Outdoor Lions Category awarded two Grands Prix, one for Billboards & Street Furniture and Posters, one for Ambient.

In 2011, 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.

It was in 2011 that Cannes introduced Creative Effectiveness Lions honouring creativity which showed a measurable and proven impact on a client’s business.

In 2011, Sir John Hegarty, Creative Director & Founder of BBH, was awarded the inaugural Lion of St. Mark owing to his long-standing contribution to creativity in communications.

A new award for Holding Company of the Year was introduced and given to the holding company that amassed the most awards across all categories at the Festival. The Agency of the Year award also included points from winning entries in Cyber and Titanium which meant that the Interactive Agency of the Year no longer existed.

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

In 2013, Cannes Lions celebrated its 60th anniversary and collaborated with legendary artist Gerald Scarfe to create artworks that gave a unique branding to the Festival. To reward technologies and innovations that make a creative idea happen, Innovation Lions was also introduced.

However, in 2014, Product Design Lions was introduced to recognise the applied use of physical products in supporting the communication of a brand ethos and its use to have a positive impact on improving people’s lives.

Bono was awarded the inaugural Cannes LionHeart Award in recognition of (RED), a creative fusion of branding, activism and philanthropy that generated more than $250 million for the fight against AIDS in Africa. The Cannes LionHeart recognises a person or organisation that has positively impacted people’s lives through innovative use of commercial brand power.

A Regional Network of the Year Award was also introduced to award the regional performance of networks in the same year.

In 2015, The Glass Lion: The Lion for Change, which recognised the work that breaks through unconscious gender bias and shatters stereotypical portrayals of men and women was launched.

In 2016, Lions Entertainment, a two-day event dedicated to brands and the entertainment industry was launched, replacing the Branded Content & Entertainment Lions. The new categories were Branded Content & Visual Storytelling; Talent; Brand Experience; Games; and Sports.

Entertainment Lions for Music Categories included Fans, Social & Digital; Music, Craft & Composition; Music Platforms & Technology; Music Content; and Live Experience. The new Digital Craft Lions was also launched in the same year to recognise and celebrate the skill and artistry required in omnichannel digital creativity.

In 2018, the Cyber, Promo & Activation and Integrated Lions were retired following a restructuring of the awards, as well as the removal of more than 120 sub-categories. The Creative eCommerce and Social & Influencer Lions were also launched in addition to the reimagination of three Lions, Brand Experience & Activation, Social & Influencer and Industry Craft.

In 2019, the Product Design Lions was merged within the Innovation Lions and Design Lions wherein all charity and non-profit work was judged separately from brand-led work. 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.

The Creative Strategy Lions was launched in 2019 to recognise planners and strategists within their own discipline and the Entertainment Lions for Sports to honour creativity that taps into fan culture and uses the power of sports and eSports in connecting people to brands.

Owing to the pandemic, Cannes Lions was cancelled for the very first time in 2020, forcing it to go fully digital in 2021, too. The awards returned on-ground in 2022 and were held in person from June 20- June 24, 2022.

In 2022, a new Creative B2B Lion was launched to celebrate the game-changing creativity and effectiveness in work for products and services that are purchased by professionals on behalf of businesses.

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

Last year, the Festival introduced the Entertainment Lions for Gaming Award. The award celebrates the creative work that connects people to brands through creative gameplay.

In tribute to the advertising icon Dan Wieden, the Titanium Lion was renamed the Dan Wieden Titanium Lion.

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