Those that Cannes, Do - A look at the History and Importance of the Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity

05/07/2012 13:22 BST | Updated 02/09/2012 10:12 BST

You do not hear much about the people in advertising; the ad agencies? Yes, maybe - but hardly anything about the people. But are they complaining? Not at all. The men and women of advertising exist in a world of their own and they seem pretty sorted over there. It's almost like living in Hogwarts. Just replace the potions and spells with writing brilliant ad copies and coming up with iconic art briefs. They come up with ad campaigns and the best among such work end up in the minds of generations that follow. Just like the wizards have their Tri-Wizard Tournament or their Quidditch World Cup, the creative minds in the advertising world have their festival of excellence too. Mention 'Cannes Golden Lion' to any of these people and see them come up with the best work they have ever done just to win this award.

For those of you who are not aware of such awards, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is the biggest advertising festival in the known world. The seven day fest attracts advertising professionals and enthusiasts from all over the world. To most of the people working in that field, it is more than a mere festival which is dotted with seminars, masters classes and competitions. It is a seven day fiesta where they also get to let their hair down and simply have pure unadulterated fun. Of course it helps that the festival is hosted in Cannes, a city which boasts of having the best nightlife in France. If you look at the way the ad people lead their lives, always staying extra hours at the office, constantly trying to get their ideas pitched to the clients, having some of the best ones being rejected, the frustration that comes with said rejection, etc. you would agree that these guys do deserve their share of fun.

So how did it all begin? Well, if we want to know about the history of this festival then we cannot ignore the influence of the Cannes International Film Festival that has been hosted in the city since the forties. Back at that time, there was no known platform for advertisers to come together the way filmmakers could. A bunch of ad film makers of that era decided to organize a festival for the creative minds and thus the first International Advertising Festival was held at Venice, Italy in 1954. Later, the venue was permanently shifted to Cannes. Now this is when things got really interesting in the advertising world. As the fifties gave way to the sixties, advertising became a golden field for creative minds of the time. In fact, perhaps the only TV show about hardcore advertising, Mad Men on the AMC channel, is set in the early to mid sixties. The sixties did have some of the most pioneering campaigns ever, the effects of which can still be felt today. Volkswagen's famous phrase - "Think Small" as a copy line for the Beetle, is perhaps solely responsible for the popularity of the car even today.

The importance is of a festival such as this cannot be ignored. For example, the Young Lions award that the Cannes Fest gives out to a design and copy duo under the age of twenty eight, gives young people who are relatively new to the field a unique opportunity to be named amongst the best and the most experienced names in the industry. Take the case of Jonathan Mak for example. This twenty year old young Chinese lad from Hong Kong, won this year's highly coveted Grand Prix at the 59th Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity for his work in designing a new logo for FMCG giant, Coca Cola. In the absence of such a fest, a campaign such as this could easily have been just another approved pitch by just another copy artist. But now, everyone in the ad world will know and read about this young man from Ogilvy Hong Kong.

Coming back to the present times, the 59th Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity that was held from June 17th to 23rd this year, saw a surprise guest. It was none other than Jon Hamm, the quintessential lead actor portraying the ever-so-suave Don Draper in AMC's Mad Men. Although he is a prolific movie star in his own right, his master work will always be his portrayal of the creative genius, Don Draper. In this year's fest he was seen posing at the rooftop party at JW Marriott hosted by New York ad agency McGarry-Bowen. This is very interesting because by 1960, which is when the first season of Mad Men is set, the Cannes festival was already up and about in full swing and yet, so far, none of the cast from the show had ever made an appearance at Cannes Lions Fest. Until now.