‘They have a frugal mentality’: How Amazon pitches advertisers at Cannes

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Facebook and Google occupy large, noticeable spaces in Cannes — beachfronts where they host everything from meetings to concerts to lavish buffets and smoothie bars. But you’d be a little bit hard pressed to find the third leg of the so-called “triopoly” anywhere along the Croisette.

Instead, Amazon, which broke $3 billion in ad revenue this year and has an ever-maturing ad platform, prefers to keep things quiet when it comes to Cannes.

It’s an approach that shows that even at the advertising industry’s splashiest event, Amazon will maintain its frugal company culture. By eschewing the platform playbook of using beaches and parties to appeal to advertisers at Cannes, Amazon is telling marketers that even as it works to bolster its ad business it will continue to play by its own rules.

Other tech giants have used Cannes to show that they can branch out of Silicon Valley and speak agency and brand language, using everything from a giant Ferris wheel (Snap) to an immersive experiential offering about the power of storytelling (Instagram) to showcase their brands at Cannes. Even TikTok, which didn’t launch until August 2018, will have a presence at the festival this year.

Instead of big presences, Amazon has opted to court advertisers using a low-key approach, hosting behind-closed-doors meetings that sources say can offer a reprieve from the hubbub of the festival. While it’s typical for Amazon to deviate from hosting big soirees at marketing events, as the company tends to use industry events including the National Retail Foundation’s annual conference in this way, it has been working to beef up its advertising business lately, pitching its OTT offering and purchasing Sizmek to help play catch up with its ad stack.

Amazon declined to comment on the record.

And while Amazon as a company will have a more obvious presence at the festival this year — with Alexa and Amazon Web Services teams working with the festival and digital agency Huge on some initiatives — the company’s advertising team will once again be pitching advertisers at small hotel meetings.

“They choose to focus on smaller, more targeted meetings and event structures, which is in keeping with their culture — and it works very well for them,” said George Manas, president and chief media officer at OMD.

It’s at these meetings that Amazon will typically offer one-on-one time with executives where marketers can voice issues and talk about what’s working and not working on the platform. The company will also use that time to pitch marketers on what’s to come, explaining new ad units, data and targeting tools, updates to Echo, Kindle, Fire and more and how they can use Amazon as a brand-building platform. This year, it’s likely that pitch will include intel on its Sizmek purchase and what that means for advertisers, said one media agency source.

While the company uses the majority of the time to pitch advertisers on what’s to come it also uses the face time as a way to hear and assuage gripes — from backend tools to sales support issues —marketers have about the platform.

Shunning the splashy parties and beaches that its tech counterparts host for small meetings is in line with the company’s frugal and customer-obsessed culture, according to two former Amazon employees.

“They don’t have a boondoggle mentality,” said Melissa Burdick, a former Amazon Media Group employee and president at Pacvue, a company that provides software solutions for advertisers on Amazon. “They have a frugal mentality. The fact that they’d go [to Cannes] is indicative that they think it’s important, but I could never see them throwing a party.”

The company’s differentiation when it comes to Cannes has to do with its foundation, said Anthony Reeves, a former Amazon employee and current CCO of Wunderman Thompson Seattle. While Google, Facebook, Twitter and other big tech players that host large parties and rent out beaches at Cannes were initially built to sell advertising as a whole, Amazon was built as a retail platform first and that’s still where the majority of its business comes from. Net sales were $59 billion during the first quarter; advertising revenue was $2.7 billion during that same time period. In the fourth quarter, Amazon’s ad revenue was $3.4 billion.

“I don’t see them ever doing a big splashy circuit,” said Reeves, adding that the quiet and personal experience Amazon Advertising does offer can be an escape from the commotion of the festival. “If [I’m a customer] and I see them spending a million dollars on a beach at Cannes I’m thinking ‘that’s why the Prime is more expensive this month’.”

That being said, Amazon’s presence at Cannes will be slightly more pronounced this year than last. The company will showcase its new technologies and product offerings in the Palais as part of the festival’s new invite-only summit, CLX (Connect, Learn, Experience). It will also be part of three roundtables discussing Amazon Alexa, Amazon Pay and how it designs ethical platforms as well as host the second annual Amazon Change for Good Hackathon along with digital agency Huge.

But Amazon Advertising isn’t behind those initiatives. Other teams within the company like AWS and Alexa are behind the expanded Cannes presence.

Amazon’s advertising team is also notably tight-lipped at industry events, shunning main stage presentations as well as the party circuit. That’s also part of the company’s strategy. “Data is their most competitive asset,” said Burdick. “They won’t reveal any information or intel. They’ve set up their whole company not to answer questions and to be very secretive. [By doing that] then Walmart could never know what they are doing.”

Of the Cannes meetings, Reeves said, “It’s a very well-orchestrated event and knowing that Amazon has so much data on customers they are very careful about what they can and can’t share.”

While it would make sense for Amazon Advertising to change its strategy as it is working to court TV dollars as it competes with Disney, Univision and the like, Reeves believes the company won’t change its approach there either. “We won’t ever see them spend the money that the other ad platforms do,” said Reeves. “It’s not in the company’s DNA and not good for their brand.”


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