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Oscars of the ad world kicks off in Cannes

Actor David Hasselhoff spoke at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on June 15.(Photo: Laura Petrecca)CANNES, France — What brings Google, Facebook, Time Warner, PepsiCo, McDonald's and a slew of other major companies to a resort town on the French Rivera?

It's the week-long 61st annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which draws more than 12,000 communications professionals to celebrate the ad world's biggest awards competition and trade show.

Oh, and don't forget Bono, Spike Jonze, Sarah Jessica Parker and David Hasselhoff, to name a few. The event is dubbed a "festival of creativity." And though champagne and rosé wine flow freely, this isn't a boondoggle.

It's a business trip, where the TV ads are called "films," and building strong brands is the mission.

Here, panels of judges evaluate campaign entries to select the most creative and innovative in 17 categories, including mobile, print, radio and outdoor. The 17 juries are comprised of 327 judges from 44 countries.

Festival organizers received 37,427 entries from a record 97 countries this year. The United States sent in the most, at 6,213. Brazil followed, with 3,321.

Last year's big winner was the "Dumb Ways to Die" public service campaign for Metro Trains in Melbourne. It promoted safety around trains and showed animated blobs that died in odd ways, such as swimming with piranhas or poking a bear with a stick.

The campaign, created by ad firm McCann Melbourne, took top awards in the film, integrated marketing, public relations and direct marketing categories.

By offering up a wide rage of speakers, as well as highlighting effective campaigns, festival organizers hope to inspire attendees, as well as to showcase new and effective communication tools.

This year, on the first day, Caroline Dettman, chief creative and community officer at PR firm Golin, talked of how people and brands can maintain relevance in this "overloaded" media environment.

Faced with so much clutter, it's as if everyone is living and working in a "mini Times Square," she said Sunday.

She demonstrated the dangers of not remaining relevant by playing an in memoriam-themed video that showed brands such as Atari, Borders and Blockbuster.

The Golin presentation also featured Hasselhoff, the former star of TV shows such as Knight Rider and Baywatch talking about his efforts to remain relevant.

One of his top tools: digital media.

"The best thing that happened to me was Twitter and Google," he said.

Hasselhoff has 512,000 Twitter followers and earlier this year joined with Google+ for an April Fools Day promotion in which his image was put on photos of others, in effect, "photobombing" them.

Golin suggests he could do even more to increase his relevance. They worked with him to create, which shows photos of Hasselhoff and a lookalike. Users are asked to choose which photos show the real Hasselhoff and which ones don't.

During the seminar, he and Golin executives encouraged the crowd to promote game using the Twitter hashtag #HoffOrNot.

"This is all about fun and making me more engaging," Hasselhoff said. "I engage you to engage me."

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