Since the Cannes Lions international ad festival gave out its first Cyber Lions in 1998, the interactive category has for the most part huddled in the shadow of TV commercials. Relegated to the early part of the week, well before the all-important Titanium and integrated Lions are awarded, the Cybers were ignored by attendees and press alike.
"It used to be none of the bigwigs would allow the recognition," said Lars Bastholm, chief digital creative officer, North America for Ogilvy. Bastholm is the winner of three Cyber Lions Grands Prix awards, as well as the president of this year's Cyber Lions jury.
Much has changed since those early days. For one, the Cyber Lions award night was bumped up to Wednesday in recent years, making it possible for larger crowds to show up to celebrate digital campaigns.
"Now everyone comes in on Wednesday to see the Cyber awards," he said. "It's become something people are willing to travel and be here a few extra days to see."
Additionally, most of the seminars last year and this year are focused on digital, or some aspect of digital. This year's event -- which happens here this week -- includes sessions led by Twitter, Razorfish, AKQA, and Digitas to name a few.
Perhaps as a result, Cannes vets says those seminars -- historically not a big draw for attendees -- are now routinely packed because of the focus on interactive.
Conor Brady, chief creative officer at Organic, agrees the interactive category has reshaped the festival.
"Cyber Lions, when it launched, felt like a side show," he said. By contrast, he said, the most exciting work last year was in the Cyber and integrated categories.
Cyber Grand Prix winners last year included Projector Tokyo's "Uniqlock" site for client Uniqlo and an alternate reality game 42 Entertainment built for Nine Inch Nails. Crispin Porter + Bogusky was awarded a Gold Lion for its Whopper Freakout TV and online video effort.
CPB and Burger King are once more favored to win in 2009, this time for the fast food chain's Whopper Sacrifice Facebook app. Also certain to be a major subject of discussion is Barack Obama's historic online-offline presidential campaign. Indeed, campaign manager David Plouffe is scheduled to talk here about how he used social platforms to connect diverse constituents.
Despite the rising role of digital at the show, some aspects of online marketing may never have their moment in the French Riviera sun. Some feel the impact of digital won't truly be felt on Cannes until the day awards are handed out based on that most Internet-driven criteria -- performance.
"When I go to Cannes, I still see a lot of our traditional brothers and sisters turn their noses up at the metrics of success [that have defined Web marketing]," said Brady.
Ogilvy's Bastholm isn't so sure about that. He argues a correlation has already been proven between award-winning quality work and work that sells. And besides, the Cyber Lion jury is looking at some metrics.
He said in a category like viral, if a video has done particularly well, that factors into the voting. In the case of banner advertising, if something had high click-through rates they'll include that in the case studies.
To date the degree to which campaign performance factors into the judging process is up to the juries.
"I'll give them some leeway on that," said Brady. "But I'd like to see that become part of judging criteria and judging the awards show."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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