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Cannes Lions: Creative Festival Turns Iconic

Cannes Lions: Creative Festival Turns Iconic


By John Ajayi

“Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life”. Harvey Firestone.

Above quote by Harvey Samuel Firestone, the American born business legend pioneer founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber company, first global maker of automobile tyres succinctly captures the essence and perhaps the motif of the founders and initiators of Cannes Lions International festival of Creativity. Established in 1954, Cannes Lions is a global campaign for creativity, with the international festival of Creativity as its epicenter. Though sixty-years old, the festival has continued to wax stronger, growing in leaps and bounds and have continued to attract higher equity rating amongst industries and their operators.

For the uninitiated, the Cannes Lions International festival of Creativity (formerly the International Advertising Festival) is a global event for those working in the creative communications, advertising and related fields. It is considered the largest gathering of worldwide advertising professionals, designers, digital innovators and marketers. The eight-day festival, incorporating the awarding of the Lions awards, is held yearly at the palais des Festivals et des congress in Cannes, France.

Each June of every year witnesses the gathering of about 15,000 registered delegates from 100 countries who visit the festival to celebrate the best of creativity in brand communication, discuss industry issues and network with one another.

The week’s activities include four award ceremonies as well as an opening and closing gala.

As it were, this year’s event, slated for 17th June to 24th June 2017 at its traditional venue will not diminish either in style nor grandeur for which the festival has been renowned for decades. Rather, the forthcoming Cannes Lions International festival of Creativity will no doubt be robust in terms of activities already planned for the yearly fiesta.

Some of the activities are: The talks, inspirational seminars, The Work and Awards, Fringe Events & Social.


The Talks

During the festival, legends from across the globe are welcomed to the stage of the global ceremony. The legends cutting across the savvy Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) to Oscar-winning story tellers and creative mavericks will be made to showcase new ways of working, unpick the latest industry trends and provide participants with the requisite creative awakening needed for today’s competitive market environment.


Inspiration Seminars

With the proposed China’s Day as part of plethora of activities planned for this year’s festival, participants at the event will no doubt be treated to the big ideas and the big names in industries and on the global big stage. Also in the menu list is the specialist event. Each one of these would take place during the festival and are of two days respectively with its own dedicated programme of talks and awards that focus on creativity in the healthcare, innovation and entertainment.


The Work and Awards

Slated for the Festival is the Lions Award. Undoubtedly, the Lion is the high-point of the festival as it is a global touchstone for creative excellence. During the awards, participants who would emerge in the works that have been entered and be awarded would have the singular priviledge and opportunity to learn from and be inspired by the very best ideas in branded communication.

Cannes Lions juries are drawn from experts in each field from around the world. Each jury is headed by a jury president. They judge submissions in Film, Film Craft, Media, Press, Outdoor, Cyber, Promo & Activation, Direct, Design, Radio, Mobile, Branded Content & Entertainment, PR, Creative Effectiveness, and Titanium and Integrated. In 2013, the Festival launched a new category called the Innovation Lions, which are supposed to “honour the technology and innovation which facilitates creativity”, including recognition of the ‘Top 10 Startups to Watch’. Additionally, global start-ups can apply for the Start-up Academy to receive festival passes and access mentorship sessions.

Other awards include Holding Company of the Year, Network of the Year, Media Agency of the Year, Agency of the Year, Independent Agency of the Year, Media Person of the Year, Advertiser of the Year and the Palme d’Or to the best production company.

Advertisements are generally entered by the agencies that created them, although technically anyone can enter any advertising creation, providing it ran within a specified time frame. The jurors are instructed to reward advertising that is deemed most creative both in idea and execution.

In an article in the Guardian in 2009 WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell said the Cannes Lions awards were too costly to enter. However, a year later, he also admitted that he had made sure that WPP was “very, very focused on Cannes” and wanted to be “the leader in terms of awards at Cannes”. In 2011, WPP won the first Holding Company of the Year prize at the Festival. Commenting on this industry recognition, WPP Worldwide Creative Director, John O’Keeffe, said:

“Cannes is the only global, cross discipline show, covering advertising, design, digital, media, promo, effectiveness, and everything else besides. It doesn’t aggregate the scores of other shows, so you can’t inflate your ranking on the back of just one or two pieces of work. If you are number one at Cannes, you’ve done it the hard way, the proper way, the only way.”

In 2013, the “Dumb Ways To Die” a campaign by McCann Australia for Australian company Metro Trains made history by winning a total of five Grands Prix awards, the most ever awarded to a single piece of work.


Fringe Events

Indeed, the delegates to this year’s festivals will not be restricted or limited in their exposure and exploration at Palais, they will get exclusive access to the best events in hotels Cabanas, Yatchs and beaches across the city.



As previous experiences have revealed, the 2017 festival will not degrade itself in status and scope when it comes to social, as the Cannes Community knows how to catch fun. Across the eight days, there are events and parties already planned to suit every taste, giving every participants the chance to meet and mingle with the best of the creative communications industry.



As expected, the essence of attending the festival would be a colossal loss if a participant fails to establish rightful contacts and connections during the fully loaded 8 days of festivities. As organizers of the Festival will proudly say, “it is impossible to leave Cannes Lions without new contacts; we are proud to welcome people from all walks of life, all corners of the world and from right across the industry”. It has been gathered that there is a whole programme of tools and activities lined up to make it easy for participants to get talking.


Nigerian Creative Agencies Involvement over the Years

The continued growth in global brand equity of The Cannes Lions Award has made it a do-or-die must win awards by the local advertising agencies. Over the years, the Nigerian creative shops have secretly applied and submitted entries for these awards but with little luck. Rather than be discouraged and lose hope in the pursuit of winning the coveted global awards, Nigerian agencies have continued to renew their interest in the celebrated yearly awards. Though the Nigerian agencies are reputed for their track record in creativity, their creative excellence against global benchmarks is yet to be confirmed by their ratings and outings at The Cannes Lions. In the last two decades, there have been a noticeable increase in the numbers of the Nigerian advertising agencies that apply for this contest.

Topmost amongst these are: DDB Lagos, Insight Grey now Insight Redefini, a publicis Agency, Noah’s Ark, Bates Cosse, LTC-JWT, Centrespread, SO & U, X3M-Ideas, MediaReach OMD etc. Of significant note is the fact that DDB, Noah’s Ark and Insight had at one time or the other made a remarkable appearance at The Cannes. Similarly, MediaReach OMD, a leading media specialist agency recently won the Young Lions Media Awards. The agency, also a leading media outfit in West Africa won the Young Lions Media “Nigeria Competition and Young Pro Media – West Africa Championship awards.

With this recorded feat, mediaReach OMD will represent Nigeria at the forthcoming Cannes Young Lions Media, Global competition. By winning the 2017 edition of the competition, MediaReach OMD will be representing Nigeria for the 8th time at the Cannes, since 2008.

Commenting on why Nigerian creative agencies have not been winning at The Cannes Lions, Mr. Biodun Shobanjo, foremost advertising practitioner and chairman of Troyka Holdings attributed it to the failure of the creative agencies to tell captivating stories that resonate with their clients’ brands. He revealed that story telling is a powerful strategy that lasts longer on the minds of the target market and also impact the brand’s bottom line.

His words:

“I wonder if our friends in the creative agencies in Nigeria understand that part of the reason they have not won awards at international creative festival is because they have not done well at storytelling. Storytelling, in a compelling manner, which sometimes elicits laughter, joy, a tear, annoyance or applause, tends to make more impact and leave a lesson in the mind of the audience”, Shobanjo posited.

In his own view, Managing Director of Noah’s Ark, Mr. Lanre Adisa, the problem with most Nigerian advertising agencies in winning the Cannes Lions Award has to do with the failure of the practitioners to take the business of creativity more seriously.

According to him, “the trend we see is people going to Cannes Festival and all that but it is also sad that people do all that but they still don’t seem to take the work as serious as we should. He specifically lamented a situation where only one Nigerian advertising agency – Noah’s Ark entered its work for last year’s Cannes Lions award, while there are many agencies who sent their representatives to the festival as tourists.

His words “I found it very strange and sad when the representatives of Cannes Lions Award in Nigeria, Chini Productions told me that only one Nigerian agency entered their work for last year’s Cannes and that was Noah’s Ark and I found that very disturbing, for a country, for an industry that is craving for international recognition. The question I ask is: why should we go there as Cannes tourists rather than being participants in the real sense of it by showcasing our works?” Lanre Adisa queried.

However, the Managing Director of DDB Lagos, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo has a different view as he stated that participation of creative agencies in international awards, especially The Cannes Lions is a question of choice and the creative philosophy of such agencies. He stated that as a matter of fact, DDB Lagos has been in the forefront of Nigerian creative agencies that have featured regularly and won laurels at local and international creative festivals.

He nonetheless was of the view that “the possibility of Nigerian creative agencies winning at The Cannes Lions will derive from their ability to engage the Nigerian reality more resolutely and resonantly – the same way as Nollywood and our musicians have done”.

He pointed out that “we will not stand out by being more western in our creative approach than the developed markets”.


Cannes history in brief

Inspired by the Cannes Film Festival, staged in Cannes since the late 1940s, a group of cinema screen advertising contractors belonging to the Screen Advertising World Association (Sawa) felt the makers of advertising films should be similarly recognised. They established the International Advertising Film Festival, the first of which took place in Venice, Italy, in September 1954, with 187 film entries from 14 countries. The lion of the Piazza San Marco in Venice was the inspiration for the Lion trophy.

The second festival was held in Monte Carlo, and the third in Cannes. After that, the event alternated between Venice and Cannes before settling in the latter in 1984. New categories have been awards in recent years: the Press & Outdoor Lions competition in 1992; the Cyber Lions in 1998; Media Lions in 1999; Direct Lions in 2002; Radio, and Titanium Lions in 2005; Promo & Activation Lions in 2006; Design Lions in 2008; PR Lions in 2009; Film Craft in 2010; Creative Effectiveness in 2011, Branded Content & Entertainment and Mobile Lions in 2012, and Innovation in 2013. However, in recent years there have been calls from within the industry for the Festival to simplify the entry categories to better reflect the current state of the modern communications world.

In the 1990s, the Festival also added a programme of learning in the form of seminars and workshops. Over the years, this side of the Festival has grown considerably and, in 2013 featured around 130 sessions over 7 days. These included talks from Christopher Bailey, Jack Black, Jenson Button, Nick Cannon, Shepard Fairey, Arianna Huffington, David Karp and Annie Leibovitz.

In 2004, British publisher and conference organiser EMAP plc (now called Ascential) purchased the festival from French businessman Roger Hatchuel – who had started managing it in 1987 – for a reported £52 million. In June 2014 the Wall Street Journal as well as Campaign Magazine reported on Nimrod Kamer‘s protestations at Cannes Lions.

Jose Papa is the managing director. Philip Thomas is the chief executive officer of Ascential Events, under which Cannes Lions operates. Terry Savage is the current chairman of the festival.

As stated by the legendary Harvey Samuel Firestone, the search for ideas to out-perform competitors has been the reason behind the success story of the Cannes Lions International Festival which has assumed an unprecedented height in brand equity rating as an iconic global festival in contemporary history.


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