CANNES, France—The 59th edition of the Cannes Lions festival is now under way. (Check out Adweek's full coverage at adweek.com/cannes all week long.) But when the festival debuted in 1954, it wasn't called the Cannes Lions. It wasn't held in Cannes. And while the big prize was a Lion trophy, it was inspired by a monument in a different city entirely—the lion of Piazza San Marcos in Venice, where that first festival took place.
The motivating emotion for having a festival at all, of course, was envy. The International Film Festival had been staged in Cannes since the late 1940s, and members of the Screen Advertising World Association (SAWA), a group of cinema screen advertising contractors, felt that advertising films deserved their own show.
So, they held the first International Advertising Film Festival in Venice in September 1954. It drew 187 entries from 14 countries. A three-minute cinema spot for Chlorodont toothpaste from Italy (below) won the Grand Prix. This year, the show, now called the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, welcomed 34,301 entries (some 10,000 more than last year) from 90 countries.
The festival moved to Monte Carlo in 1955, then Cannes in 1956. It alternated between Venice and Cannes until 1984, when Cannes became its permanent home.
Initially, the films being judged were divided into two categories: TV and Cinema. They were further divided by technical craft—for example, there were categories for commercials of different lengths, live action and animation. In 1967, the TV and cinema ads were split into product or service categories—a move to honor ever more specialized work that would be repeated over the next half century. (In the one bit of consolidation, cinema and TV ads were merged to become the Film Lions in 1983.)
It wasn't until the early 1990s that the festival added seminars—intended to help redress the advertising crisis at the time of the first Gulf War—and expanded beyond film. In 1992, the Press & Outdoor Lions competition was added, and the International Advertising Film Festival was officially renamed the International Advertising Festival.
The Cyber Lions were added in 1998, and the Media Lions a year later. The Direct Lions debuted in 2002, and the Radio Lions in 2005. Also in 2005, the Titanium Lions were added, recognizing campaigns that excelled across a range of media channels.
The Promo Lions debuted in 2006, the same year that Outdoor was spun off from Press. A year later, the Titanium Lions evolved into the Titanium and Integrated Lions, with the latter honoring integrated campaigns using three or more media, and the former reserved for breakthrough ideas.
In 2008, the Design Lions were introduced, and the Film Lions added categories for films created for screens other than TV and cinema, such as the Internet and mobile phones.
The PR Lions were launched in 2009, while new digitally focused categories were added in the Outdoor, Design, Direct, Media and Promo contests. New initiatives for 2010 included the introduction of Film Craft Lions and the Grand Prix For Good. The Creative Effectiveness Lions, designed to establish a direct correlation between creativity and effectiveness, were added in 2011.
Two new categories have been added for 2012—the Branded Content and Entertainment Lions and the Mobile Lions. The former recognized work defined as "the creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand." The latter will reward the best creative work that lives on or is activated by a mobile device, app or mobile web. In their inaugural year, the two new contests received 800 and 965 entries, respectively.
Judging by their recent history, the organizers are just getting warmed up.