The titanium Lion is evolving into the most intriguing prize because it awards ground-breaking innovative work that doesn't necessarily fit into neat categories. But the biggest change this year is in film, and the much-anticipated opening of the TV and cinema category to all screens, including mobile and internet.
"Dove ["Evolution"] winning both the cyber and film Grand Prix last year helped clarify the situation for us," said Festival CEO Phil Thomas. "It helped us realize films are being released on other delivery systems."
Only six mobile-phone and 23 interactive-TV films are entered. The biggest of the new categories is internet films, with 388 entries, followed by 73 for "other screen," such as digital outdoor. Each kind of film will be judged as a separate category, rather than against TV spots, although all 4,626 film entries will compete for the film Grand Prix.
"We have to be sensitive to issues of format," said Craig Davis, the film jury president and JWT's worldwide chief creative officer. "We'll see them on a large screen, but they may have been more intimate, like mobile or interactive. The user experience needs to be considered, and how the audience and content meet."
Somewhat surprisingly, Americans aren't deterred by the weak dollar that has pushed delegate fees above $3,000 and room rates at the beachfront hotels such as the Majestic and Carlton to close to $500 a night. Mr. Thomas estimated up to 800 of this year's 9,000 or so attendees will be from the U.S., up from almost 700 last year.
One of the biggest changes in recent years has been the discovery of Cannes by clients. A trickle turned to a deluge when dozens of Procter & Gamble executives flooded the south of France several years ago. This year, P&G's Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley and Global Marketing Officer James Stengel will return to collect the Advertiser of the Year award. Kraft Foods is hitting the festival for the first time, sending six high-level executives including its VP-global advertising and director-consumer insights and strategy.
"Without a doubt one of the driving forces is the number of clients," Mr. Thomas said. "Last year there were about 260 individual client companies. This year we'll probably get 320 or maybe 350."
Apart from the beach, the ads and the parties, Cannes has evolved into a major business opportunity. That's why the company that sends the most people to Cannes isn't an agency like TBWA (175 festival goers) but Microsoft (which won't give a number but is believed to be sending at least 300).
Like it's 1999
"We use it as a venue to share strategic initiatives [with clients]," said Bill Shaughnessy, general manager-international, MSN and Windows Live. Besides sponsoring the cyber Lions and hosting seminars, conferences and dinners, MSN throws a party at the Palm Beach casino rumored to cost more than $250,000 and meets with clients on a sailboat that will be anchored in the harbor.
And then there are the parties. Even agencies not known for their Cannes parties, such as Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Fallon and Avenue A/ Razorfish, are throwing bashes. Lowe has a penthouse, and Tribal DDB is borrowing Yahoo's.
On Thursday night alone, there's the Dentsu sushi party, cocktails on London agency CHI's boat and a Havas-sponsored Craig David concert at the Carlton after "portal Terra's late-night party at Pierre Cardin's lavish villa hanging over the ocean." Before-beach parties will be hosted at the Carlton by Young & Rubicam and on a stretch of sand Publicis has branded La Plage Publicis. Don't forget the hot-ticket USA Today dinner for the U.S. judges (if you don't have a ticket for that one yet, you aren't invited). And Thursday isn't even the big party night (that would be Friday). There are even a few new venues, such as the eccentric but cool boutique 3.14 Hotel, where each floor is a different continent and Goodby is doing cocktails.
One change few are likely to notice at Cannes: The festival has a new owner. U.K. parent company Emap was acquired in March 2008 for $2 billion by Eden Bidco, a joint venture between private-equity investors Apax Partners and Guardian Media Group, one of the U.K.'s leading newspaper groups.