Cannes is experiencing an invasion, and it’s not from giant alien robots. When I started going to the Cannes Lions festival in 2007, it was mostly about celebrating and honoring the best marketing creative in the world. Media strategy and activation was soon integrated into the event with its own Media Lions category. Then digital media took over, not only the award entries but also the major event sponsorships. This year, Cannes was marked by the world of ad tech transforming the industry. Ad tech was not just noticeable in Cannes -- it was there in force and in many forms.
A Trade Desk Brawl
One of the most talked about panels was Rubicon Project’s “Programmatic Future” event, which featured leaders from some of the largest agency trading desk operations in the world. Conversation arrows (and accusations) flew back and forth on issues like which operation has the best data, best access to inventory, best performance and greatest transparency. If the conversation seemed too hot, that’s because the stakes are so high for these holding company business units, which need to deliver significant profit levels and relevancy, or else face extinction. AdExchanger published a transcript of the panel “discussion,” showing how heated the exchange became between WPP and Publicis. What was missing from this panel was the advertiser’s POV, which could be found in more civilized environments like the main stage at the Pallisades.
Advertisers Embracing Ad Tech
You didn’t have to wander too far at Cannes before running into a seminar featuring a major advertiser talking about how it is using advertising tech to run its business. Wendy Clark from Coca-Cola presented on her team’s real-time marketing formula. Bonin Bough from Mondelez discussed the importance in owning and managing data to maximize brand advertising performance. What’s unclear from this advertiser mandate on technology and data is what role the media agency plays in the future.
Awards and Event Presence
More proof that ad tech transformed Cannes and the industry overall this year is the work that was awarded Gold Lions, plus the companies that had a big presence. Almost every major award winner had an element of technology in its campaign that made the submission Lion worthy. One of my favorites was from Nivea in Brazil that developed a tracking device connected to smartphones to monitor where your children are on the beach when playing. Data collected and repurposed from the campaign will build new and loyal Nivea customers in the future.
Who is laying down the big money for a presence at Cannes? The row of sponsored yachts looked like the Lumascape erupted on the French Riviera. Rubicon Project, True(X), Vibrant, and many other tech/data firms squeezed into a row of premier yachts for client entertaining. The FCB boat was the only non-digital, non-tech, non-data yacht in the line.
Yes, Cannes is a big celebration and it is an award show at the end of the day. But it is also an indicator of where the industry is heading. From the 2014 Cannes festival, I would say we are looking at a very automated and performance-driven advertising future. Just like television took us into the era of ad visualization and digital media took us into the era of campaign performance, technology will transform advertising into a continuous engagement with consumers focused on analysis and refinement. It’s a transformation we should all be excited about.