CANNES, FRANCE—The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing, and the key players from the film industry have jetted off to the south of France for 12 days of screenings, meetings and parties. But it's not just Hollywood A-listers who have made the trek out to the South of France.
Brands from Belvedere to Magnum ice cream have ubiquitous presences during the festival. They pay to sponsor everything from filmmaker roundtables to gifting suites.
Celebrities like David Hasslehoff and Justin Timberlake receive gifts from brands at a swanky villa in Cannes—gifts that they likely have no problem affording on their own.
The loot from a Cannes gifting suite called Hollywood Boudoir ranges from a four-star vacation package at the Sparkling Hill Resort to Essilor Prescription Sunglasses—gifts worth thousands of dollars. In return, the celebrities pose for photos with with their gifts. Photographers are on hand to document the events, and the hope is thousands of fans will see these images.
GBK, an events and marketing company that runs the gifting suite with events company Roaring Twenties Productions, charges the brands at the suites anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000 to have a presence during the festival. The higher prices are for so-called title sponsors, whose brand names are on the walls where the celebrities such as "War Horse's" Jeremy Irvine pose. This year, title sponsors include health drink company Pure Gold Collagen.
GBK CEO Gavin Keilly said the reason he comes out to Cannes is that "for clients that want to expand their international base, the Cannes film festival is probably one of the best venues to attend. Thousands of press outlets are here from all around the world."
The goal is to get the brand's image and product out in the public eye via the celebrities that receive the gifts for free. The return on investment in advertising dollars for brands participating in GBK's celebrity gifting suites typically ranges from a 5-percent to 25-percent multiple, Keilly said. The publicity from magazines and websites of celebrities posing with the products can replace thousands of dollars of traditional advertising.
Revitalash eyelash conditioner was one of GBK's clients last year, paying to be part of gift suites at the American Music Awards and the George Lopez Celebrity Classic Golf Tournament. Keilly told CNBC the brand received the equivalent of $2.3 million in advertising after spending $50,000 with GBK on gifting suites.
Beyond the gifting suites there are other opportunities. Magnum ice cream, a Unilever brand, took over prime beach real estate on the Croisette with an event that lets festival-goers create their own ice cream bars. They're also throwing the after-parties for some of the biggest films of the Festival, including the competition pieces "The Immigrant" and "Grant Central."
Magnum generated headlines when they hired A-lister Liv Tyler to premiere a short film in conjunction with the launch of the new Magnum 5 ice cream.
Car company Lexus is in on the action as well. The company is sponsoring a filmmaker roundtable with legendary producer Harvey Weinstein and director Tim Burton.
Jimmy Choo is running a gifting suite inside the exclusive Hotel Martinez, giving away shoes and bags to celebrities like China's Fan BingBing.
And it just may be that during the film festival, which runs from May 15 to May 26, the only sight more commonplace than film stars is the official Cannes black cars that shuttle around festival guests—sponsored,of course, by French car company Renault.
-By CNBC's Sarah Rappaport