The pulse of Cannes: People-based, brand safety and smaller crowds

Looking past the rosé and the spectacular backdrop of the South of France, the Cannes Lions remain a forum for the media, advertising and technology industries to have face-to-face, productive conversations that shape business and direct billions in ad spend.  Cannes’ fabled extravagance only serves to inspire and enhance the creative atmosphere. What is discussed, observed and celebrated here helps set the tone for the next year.

This year has its differences from 2016, including slightly fewer yachts. As LUMA Partners’ Terry Kawaja pointed out, 10 out of the 32 companies that rented yachts last year have cashed out over the last 12 months. There’s still, literally, a lot of money floating around because of all those exits, but among fewer companies.

That being said, there’s no shortage of major themes being discussed this year, everywhere you turn. Here are a few:

Some of Last Year’s Conversations Have Grown Louder

The conversations around people-based data, brand safety and cross-channel campaigns have expanded. Brands and technology companies alike are looking to deepen their relationship with the consumer, and strengthen those one-to-one connections. Last year, this movement was being led by both registration-based platforms as well as marketing cloud companies that, at their core, leverage CRM or customer databases.  Now we’re seeing even more platforms have begun to follow suit and these conversations have grown louder.

Marketers Move From Discovering People-Based Marketing To Creating Differentiation

The conversation around hyper-personalization and creative has changed over the last year.  Brands and agencies are getting smarter as they invest in ways to enhance and differentiate their own data sets and increase their capabilities. In many cases, this means prioritizing targeting and measurement. This should come as no surprise, as the major consultancies at Cannes are emphasizing a combined approach of data, analytics and creative. However, as more members of the marketing ecosystem jump on the people-based bandwagon and look to differentiate their data sets, there is one thing most of them are missing: deterministic data at scale. Data is arguably the lifeblood of marketing and advertising, so there’s an acceleration towards this more personalized targeting strategy to reach individual consumers — but it won’t be easy.

Attendance Seems Down

Cannes seems noticeably less crowded than previous years. Perhaps this is due to market consolidation and the aforementioned exits of what used to be stand-alone startups. Or perhaps this is the combined impact of the major holding companies reducing their budgets for events like Cannes due to cost-cutting driven at least partially by the encroachment of consulting firms on their turf. In fact, Publicis Groupe said this week it would be taking next year off from “awards programs and promotional investments” including Cannes, to build its AI-powered professional assistant, Marcel. The yacht business, no doubt, hopes this is an aberration.

Keeping an Eye on Brand Safety and the Duopoly

Brand safety and transparency have been on the mind of nearly every attendee at Cannes, due to the content challenges YouTube has had recently along with the on-going measurement issues from Facebook. The lack of consensus on a solution or even a response by advertisers — to boycott or not to boycott — shows how challenging it will be to satisfy all parties. Brand safety has helped elevate the importance of private/premium marketplaces, as advertisers who are looking for premium, brand- safe content can invest their video ad budgets in alternatives to open exchanges.

Of course, there is plenty of conversation about who, if anyone, will be a serious challenger to Google and Facebook, as they double down on their control and increasingly seem inflexible with brands and agencies, causing pressure all across the market. While there are some who think the just-christened Oath (the combination of AOL and Yahoo under mobile giant Verizon) could be a challenger, they don’t seem too confident about it and more people think Amazon is really the one to watch.

 Attendees can debate whether it’s the beautiful scenery and weather, the familiar faces or the parties that makes Cannes Lions the sine qua non of industry events. I believe that while these things all help create an incredible experience, Cannes’ key value is in allowing players to focus, without distraction, on improving advertising, measurement and technology. We can expect the discussions we’ve heard here in the French Riviera — along with some conversations we may have missed — to spread across the globe, helping shape the future of this ever-changing business.

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