Cannes Lions started as an awards celebration, a kind of “Oscars” for the creatives of the advertising industry. Now in its 66th year, the event was held June 17-21. More than 15,000 executives from advertisers, agencies, media platforms, and advertising technology partners met and mingled in this sun-drenched corner of France.
Between the media platform-branded beaches (Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify, Twitter, Google, Verizon Media), the rows of ad tech company yachts, and the air-conditioned suites in the waterfront hotels, it would have been impossible for anyone to attend all of the events, but these are my five takeaways from this year’s festival:
1. Brands want to be aligned with corporate social responsibility. This was the first year at Cannes where “social responsibility” was no longer an award category. The theme was so integral and integrated across all the creative award winners, it no longer needed its own category.
HUGE agency teamed with Amazon Alexa and the Earth Day Network to do its second annual “Change for Good” hackathon bringing together top creatives to compete in designing solutions to address environmental challenges facing us in the 21st century. It was great to see major brands working together on the Earth Day Challenge 2020 in a collaborative and experiential way. These kinds of mission-driven marketing events highlight the industry’s natural evolution to more solution-oriented public service announcements.
2. Diversity and inclusion were big themes. The Female Quotient lounge had all-day programming with topics addressing how to get more diversity and inclusion when hiring. I spoke on a panel about “AI: Peril or Promise,” where we debated some of the “dangers” of applications that use artificial intelligence. Trainers program the algorithms with their own unconscious biases or they are based on non-representative or corrupted data sets. Our panel also discussed the potential promise of using AI technology, which has no emotion or ego, to enhance human capabilities exponentially. We talked about how simple actions during the hiring process, such as removing candidates’ names and addresses from resumes, can greatly reduce gender, ethnicity or socio-economic biases.
3. It’s all about data analytics in the cloud. Some advertisers want to upload their customer data to the cloud, do their own analytics, and make those insights actionable across their media buying platforms. Google’s main presence was a building space featuring its Cloud 4 Marketing platform with demo stations. Google’s Cloud Next conference in San Francisco in April had more than 30,000 attendees (mostly developers and data scientists) getting certified on this platform.
Salesforce and Oracle also highlighted their strengths in managing customer data in the cloud. Salesforce’s meeting area was called the “Datorama cabin” named after an Israeli company it acquired last year for $800 million that helps consolidate advertising and marketing data into a unified interface, making it easier for campaign managers and data analysts to optimize their marketing efforts.
4. OTT was all the buzz. OTT stands for “over the top,” originally named in reference to devices that go over the top of a cable box to give users access to TV content. In OTT channels, content is delivered via an internet connection rather than through a traditional cable broadcaster, i.e. Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, and Amazon. The shift of media spend from traditional TV to OTT makes sense as Millennials generally watch less live TV, instead opting for more niche content and viewing when they want. OTT platforms also have more information (IP addresses and emails) on who is watching their content, enabling advertisers to sequence ads from streaming media to laptops and mobile devices more fluidly than from linear TV to digital.
5. Blockchain is still in its infancy for advertising. Facebook made an announcement during Cannes about Libra, its soon-to-be-launched global digital currency. I had several chats about whether Libra will enable mass adoption of crypto and usher in a next generation “Paypal.” Despite Bitcoin’s recent rally from $3,500 to $11,000 in the last six months, companies that only a year ago had blockchain in their model downplayed that part of their pitch. While advertisers and consumers would like to create a way for consumers to own their own personal data and get paid directly by advertisers to use their personal data for marketing purposes, it remains a challenge to get enough people to participate to make it actionable for marketers even when financial incentives are offered.
Reflecting on Cannes, it’s amazing to think about how many resources go into this week for the industry to advertise to itself – media platforms and agencies to brands, tech platforms to media platforms and agencies, brands to consumers and businesses, and all of the above to the current and future employees who run this industry. Brands aligning with causes, the creation of more diverse workplaces, and the exploration of new technologies and business models are a few of the take-aways from this action-packed week.