Cannes Lions: The World's Largest Advertising Festival is About to Begin

Cannes Lions
The Cannes Lions flags in front of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès convention center in Cannes, France on June 23, 2010. This year, more than 15,000 people are expected to attend the weeklong festival. Sebastien Nogier/Reuters

On June 18, more than 15,000 people will descend on the French coastal town of Cannes. Their destination, the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès convention center. For seven days the white, modernist building will play host to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the largest celebration of the great and the good of the advertising world.

The festival, which is now in its 62nd year, began as a response to the Cannes Film Festival, which is held in May at the same convention center. Back in 1954, representatives from the Screen Advertising World Association felt that their cinematic adverts should received equal recognition as the films they preceded. They created the International Advertising Film Festival, which later became the week-long Cannes Lions.

This year, among the various presentations, workshops and networking events are four award ceremonies to honor the best advertising campaigns of the year. Creatives have submitted 43,000 entries for the 24 categories, which include awards for the best adverts for television, film, print and radio.

One entry to watch is Burger King's McWhopper campaign, which made headlines last year. Ahead of international peace day on September 21, 2015, the fast-food giant reached out to McDonald's in an open letter and asked it to collaborate on a joint burger.

McDonald's politely declined (and suggested that next time Burger King just call) but by that point the story had already trended around the world, generating 8.6 billion media impressions. Adweek, a website and magazine centered around the advertising industry, has already predicted that the campaign will dominate several of the awards categories.

This year's festival comes at a particularly lucrative time for advertisers. With the Rio Olympics, the U.S. presidential elections and the Euros football tournament taking place over the coming months, total global advertising spend for 2016 is predicted to rise by 4.6 percent to $579 billion. In April, Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, the world's largest advertising company, was forced to defend his pay package, which is now worth $98 million.But it's not all champagne and caviar. The advertising world is in a continual state of change as new content-delivery platforms continue to emerge. Advertisers have to reach audiences on mobile phones, tablets and computers while thinking about the creative potential of rising technologies such as virtual reality.

A lot of the time, their offerings are unwelcome. Over 40 million people use AdBlock, a Google Chrome extension that does exactly what the name suggests. Millions more use similar software across other browsers.

To capture people's increasingly distracted attentions, adverts have to be more and more creative, in the hope that they end up going viral. Advertisers also face growing and diverse audiences as millions more people join the online world. Working out how to best target these demographics is another challenge that agencies face.

Many of these issues will be addressed at the Cannes festival, which features guest speakers from leading advertising agencies, alongside Hollywood royalty such as the film director Alejandro González Iñárritu and the actor Will Smith. Also in attendance will be U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the power of advertising to promote social change.

With some of the world's leading creatives at the festival, the coming week is likely to provoke new developments within the advertising world. And for the audiences it targets, this could mean surprising changes to the way we experience ads.