Postcards from Cannes: 15 performance marketers on why data is crashing the creativity party

As the sun sets on an eventful Cannes Lions, PMW quizzed some of this year's attendees at the French Riviera festival to get the scoop on the biggest marketing event of the year.

Postcards from Cannes: 15 performance marketers on why data is crashing the creativity party

From Greenpeace protests to ubiquitous Ryan Reynold’s selfies, Cannes Lions didn’t disappoint on its live return after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

While creativity was rightly at the centre of the festival, each year the use of data to validate and inform branding campaigns becomes a more essential part of the marketing cocktail.

Away from the Grand Prix winners and celebrity appearances, there were key announcements about brand safety and suitabilty and the awards shortlist for Creative Data showcased innovative work.

Amazon Ads sails into festival for the first time

One of the biggest new arrivals as an exhibitor was Amazon’s Ads, making a splash with an entire ‘Port’ dedicated to the e-commerce giant’s fast growing ad business.

Amazon Port was 18 months in the making. Its 27,000-square foot space included multiple indoor and outdoor stages hosting several concerts, including LCD Soundsystem.

Speaking with reporters, Alan Moss, VP Global Advertising Sales at Amazon Ads said: “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve had a few false starts with Covid and I think this is going to be a great opportunity to have that kind of connection with partners from around the world. We’re here to listen, learn and connect with our advertisers and our partners.”

“Cannes Lions is not the place for that hustle and bustle of everyday. We hope it’s an opportunity to step back and actually prioritise conversations about the future of storytelling, of innovation, to help us shape the future of the industry."

Ryan Reynolds on innovative ad planning

In a standout speech at the festival, Hollywood movie star and Chief Creative Officer at adtech firm Maximum Effort, Ryan Reynolds spoke to a full auditorium. He revealed how his venture into the performance marketing sector was largely sparked by circumstance rather than design, after a 10 year struggle to promote one of his films.

“Maximum Effort happened completely by accident,” Reynolds admitted. “I spent 10 years trying to get the film Deadpool made and it was hell. I kept rolling this rock up the hill every single day and it just didn’t work."

The star said he was forced to use some innovative and “fairly unorthodox” marketing ploy such as leaking test footage to finally get the green light from film executives.

“No creativity on a dead planet”

The biggest surprise of the festival occurred on day one, when Grenpeace staged a high profile protest to highlight the ad industry's negative effect on the climate crisis.

On the first night of the event that gathered over 15,000 people each year since 1954, Greenpeace activist and former Cannes Lions winner Gustav Martner, took to the stage and unfolded a banner that read “No awards on a dead planet, Ban Fossil Ads!”

He said: “As a former head of a creative agency, I know the power of advertising and sponsorship in mobilising people or distracting them from crucial issues. My job was to use my ideas to help polluters sell products that are killing the planet and the people. For too long, ad agencies have escaped their responsibilities towards the climate crisis, now they must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Cannes Lions claims to be the ‘Home of creativity’, I’m here to say there’s no creativity on a dead planet”.

During the festival, PMW spoke to some leading performance marketers to share their experiences of the week-long event.

“Technology is really emerging as an invisible enabler of creative effectiveness”

Mariam Asmar, Head of Strategic Consulting at Braze: “A key trend I've seen at this year’s festival is the marriage of how technology and creativity can be pushed even more together to drive standout customer engagement. Technology is really emerging as an invisible enabler of creative effectiveness, unlocking data-led creativity to launch campaigns without limits.

"Many conversations I've had this week were centred on finding new engagement approaches and the false tension that exists between performance and brand marketing, particularly for QSR brands. If marketers are serious about impacting the bottom line, prioritising first-party data to facilitate a creative, personalised connection with their consumers will help them stand out in a crowded marketplace and build long-term growth.”

“Live in the moment with echoes of the roaring 20s”

Rob Blake, Managing Director UK & Ireland at Channel Factory: “Diversity and inclusivity were at the centre of almost every talk I attended. Although it’s evident that more needs to be done to drive a healthier balance with diversity and inclusivity across all industries, it is also clear that we’re heading in the right direction and taking great strides towards a more inclusive way of working. Sustainability was also at the heart of the event. Numerous brands discussed what sustainability really means to them and what actions they are taking to enhance their practices. The environmental protests that have occurred during the week, led by Greenpeace activists, further confirmed the urgent need to place the sustainability agenda at the core of the creative industry – which seems to be happening.

Blake added: “Many brands shared their views on how to tap into the metaverse to provide a better service for clients, by offering the possibility to choose between online and in-person experiences. There has been a lot of chat around the Croisette about the importance of creating memorable moments and helping people enjoy these to the fullest. There was also a ‘live in the moment’ sentiment with echoes of the roaring 20s. As everyone in the world has had a tough couple of years, with lockdowns and government COVID updates looming over our lives, people are now looking for opportunities to celebrate life and take delight in the everyday moment. Brands are curating different ways to shape experiences that unlock these moments for their customers, enabling them to lighten up life and take a break from the heaviness of the world.

“Nike’s session was entitled, ‘There is no finish line’ and it certainly feels that that is the case”

Mike Follett, CEO, Lumen: “Brand creativity and effectiveness took centre stage as always, but there was renewed focus on meaningful metrics and attention. This was great to see. Nike’s session was entitled, ‘There is no finish line’ and it certainly feels that that is the case in this fast moving industry; with brands constantly seeking new ways to capture attention and engage audiences.”

“We are able to measure things we never thought possible”

Jessica Jacobs, Global Director, Partnerships & Growth, Incubeta: "Compared to 10 years ago, we are able to measure things we never thought possible. All marketing has become measurable, accountable, and predictable thanks to the convergence of media. This will probably become the focus for all performance marketing objectives, especially since the ecosystem has changed considerably – consumers want greater transparency on data usage and solutions that replace the heavily relied on third-party cookie. Increasingly, companies need to take a closer look at what operational steps will be needed to make measurement more successful in the digital and data transformation era – this topic will become a focus for agencies and advertisers to lead on and discuss."

“The modern purchase journey has changed beyond recognition’

Mats Persson, CEO at Cavai: “This year at Cannes, there was a focus on how tech can help us not only to generate interactivity at scale, but also how it can help us measure and reduce our carbon emissions. This brings new dimensions to measuring campaign effectiveness meaningfully and generating insights – but also how tech can remove friction from the modern purchase journey and from the often overlooked mid funnel. And, while we’ve seen plenty of business transformation over the past few years and this is always a hot topic at Cannes, the Festival of Creativity in 2022 saw a plethora of sessions looking at the changing face of retail. From ‘reconfiguring retail’ to ‘what’s next for digital commerce?’ This was a notable theme, and sessions were reflective of the fact that the modern purchase journey has changed beyond recognition.”

“Retail and travel are prime examples of industries taking on this first-party data initiative”

Daniel Clayman, General Manager, Northern Europe at Xandr: “Third party addressability has remained the central focal point for Cannes this year – shifts in consumer sentiment, data privacy legislation, and media consumption, have resulted in a significant reduction in identifiable traffic. Brands are working hard to rectify this problem through the activation of first-party data, finding new ways to monetise this resource efficiently. Retail and travel are prime examples of industries taking on this initiative, using first-party data to extend their audiences offsite and into the open web. Subsequently, advertisers face a more complex advertising technology environment than ever before. The only way to navigate these changes is through consolidation and a less fragmented supply chain, and this can be achieved with tighter, curated marketplaces that connect the buy and sell sides directly.”

“AI audio technology progressing in three key areas – making music, vocal tracks and AI voiceover”

Kim Aspelling, Director of Creative Production, A Million Ads: “This year, Cannes has seen a lot of talk about AI, in particular how we utilise the technology and data across buying and advertising. With the technology progressing in three key areas – making music, vocal tracks and AI voiceover – advertisers are looking to connect these areas for the first time. This is going to be a key future trend for innovation in audio advertising, and something that may surface in some of the awards this year.

"Context in advertising has also been a hot topic – geolocation data can now be used to map out a listener’s day, and work out people's habits to better target them in a personalised way. For example, if a person is often late for work, we need to think about how that impacts their purchasing behaviour. Someone who is late needs quick, easy purchasing options. As actionable audio ads allow listeners to interact and shop on the go, they provide a solution when a listener’s day doesn’t go to plan. It’s time actionable audio ads were tailor made, with audiences at the heart of strategies."

“Discussion around how brands and publishers can keep revenue stable in the face of the deprecation of cookies and a likely recession”

Travis Clinger, SVP, Addressability and Ecosystem at LiveRamp: “Understandably, discussion at Cannes was largely around how brands and publishers can keep revenue stable in the face of the deprecation of cookies and a likely recession. We believe a key answer lies in having strong consumer relationships and being able to use the identity from those relationships to enable marketers to personalise the consumer experience and measure the success of their ad campaigns. Publishers can find this is easier to do when they have a variety of titles that appeal to different consumer interests and platforms can benefit from efficiencies of scale.”

“Attention is more than a buzzword, it underpins the nature of a heavily-saturated digital economy”

Paul Coggins, CEO at Adludio: “Unsurprisingly, conversation this week was dominated by the attention economy and the serious implications it has for competing brands and publishers. The understanding has been that attention is more than a buzzword, it underpins the nature of a heavily-saturated digital economy that will soon face a reality with no third-party cookies to target consumers. But it’s more than just effective targeting, it’s about producing advertising that stands out and engages with customers. Our recent partnership with ad testing platform Realeyes validated this hypothesis, with ads with high-levels of interactivity scoring highly on capturing and retaining user attention. It’s likely we will see far more of these types of ads being run following Cannes, and attention-based metrics will be a bulwark for the industry as we navigate this impending recession.”

“We’ve seen leaders talk about the resurgence of community and the need to connect”

Timo Pelz, VP of Business Marketing at Reddit: “Throughout the week, we’ve seen leaders talk about the resurgence of community and the need to connect. As a community of communities, we wanted our space at Cannes to reflect this as we help brands find their people.”

"In-app is showing promising signs of growth"

Stephen Upstone, CEO & Founder, LoopMe: “It’s been great to see so much creativity at this year’s Cannes festival, with advertisers dipping their toes into a range of exciting and developing channels. In-app, in particular, shows promising signs of growth, highlighted by the success of Nike’s NikeSync app and Back Up Ukraine app, both of which won Grand Prix awards.

"As we see the impact of inflation and the ensuing cost-of-living crisis increase, it is more important than ever that brands tap into channels that engage the consumer through immersive experience and storytelling to maximise ROI. Marketers will be wise to take the gamification, AR and VR trends to be impactful and relevant in an evolving market.”

“How to invest where it counts, with less available data, all while working to reduce our carbon footprint. The answer lies in AI.”

Wandrille Leroy, VP of Partnerships at Scibids: “Cannes Lions is one of the best opportunities to connect with the whole market, and it’s exciting to see a strong turnout from brands and tech platforms alike. The key trend we’ve seen emerging is how to do more with less. How to invest where it counts, with less available data, all while working to reduce our carbon footprint. The answer lies in AI, which is no longer just a buzzword, but the solution for sophisticated use cases that can help advertisers do more with less resources. Customisable AI solutions, for example, can help brands mitigate this changing landscape by transforming data into its own usable and effective resource – without the need for third-party data and cross-site tracking to deliver performance. It’s time advertisers began to integrate this tech into their strategies.”

“Contextual technologies are needed in order to access new, emerging environments”

Phil Schraeder, CEO, GumGum: “It was great to explore some of the future-facing technologies and platforms – and to see increasing recognition of the fact that grabbing attention in the right context, and in creative ways, can be magical. Much talk on the metaverse centred around the need to make ads which reflect the environment they are in, to create something truly memorable. There was also increasing recognition that contextual technologies are needed in order to access new, emerging environments – from in-game advertising to CTV platforms. These all require understanding of the context and consumer mindset. There are always opportunities to reach the right audiences, even without the use of cookies.”

“The Metaverse must be built by creators, not techies and big business, or the community will never arrive”

Oliver Lewis, CEO of The Fifth: “Cannes has confirmed what we have long known - creators will shape the future of creativity, disrupting traditional advertising as their cultural role strengthens across both real world and virtual. Community is often the word missing from conversations in influencer marketing meetings. Qualitative metrics will begin to overtake followers, impressions and engagement rates as the value of the craft is realised and paid media and brand channel asset generation become the primary vehicle for audience acquisition. In the near future, we will see transactional campaigns replaced with partnerships as creators establish themselves as brands in their own right, boosting creativity.

“The Metaverse is the word on everyone’s lips; it must be built by creators, not techies and big business, or the community will never arrive. The vision for the Metaverse should be one of inclusion, human connectivity and blended reality. Brands will increasingly lean on creators when building their experiences in the Metaverse, creating worlds that represent and reflect their communities.” 

“Smart ways to use audio’s unique creative and targeting capabilities”

Charlie Brookes, CRO of Octave Audio: “Digital audio companies were rife at Cannes this year. Advertisers were discussing how the medium continues to evolve, as well as smart ways to use its unique creative and targeting capabilities. However, for the industry to progress, first-party data strategies need to be strengthened to ensure customers are offered the most innovative and scalable targeting capabilities and audiences. Furthermore, technology companies also explored how audio works within digital; where it needs to draw parallels to other formats, and where it should maintain its unique functionality. As digital audio grows at pace, it continues to attract more attention from advertisers and technologists who can see it has a key role in the wider ecosystem.”

“It was also great to see that context and creativity were king at Cannes this year”

Alex Ginn, VP Partner Sales, Adverty: “There was much talk of how brands should be exposed in the metaverse. Other recurring themes were transparency, community and connection. Emerging formats and environments – from virtual reality to in-game advertising – are rightly focused on this. It was also great to see that context and creativity were king at Cannes this year.”

“It gave us all a long-awaited boost of energy.’’

Michal Marcinik, Co-Founder and CEO, AdTonos: “Cannes is so much more than a business event: it’s an opportunity to build in-person relationships beyond what people are buying and selling. It was a marathon of face-to-face meetings in a relaxed and inspiring setting, with industry leaders who expressed a big interest for one of the fastest growing channels in ad tech - audio advertising. 

“Two things made this week memorable: the creative minds in attendance and the power of sound. What would an event be without live performances and music? The atmosphere and the people were buzzing! Getting to spend time with industry professionals has never felt more important. Standing shoulder to shoulder, a glass of rosé in hand, and having the chance to connect -  it gave us all a long-awaited boost of energy.’’

“Consented data can only stretch so far, conversations also centred around the role of ad tech in facilitating audience addressability and reach”

Jürgen Galler, CEO and founder of 1plusX, a TripleLift company: "As the digital advertising industry continues to address privacy and identity challenges, the need for post-cookie solutions was the subject of many discussions at Cannes. A major theme was collaboration, focusing on publisher partnerships to harness privacy-compliant first-party data.

"But as this consented data can only stretch so far, conversations also centred around the role of ad tech in facilitating audience addressability and reach. As part of this, machine learning will be vital in helping to maximise available data, predicting campaign outcomes, and creating similar audience segments to inform future strategies."

 “We might see more alliances – like TVMotik – emerge as a way to support TV channels in their digital transformation efforts”

Michael Nevins, Chief Marketing Officer, Equativ (formerly Smart AdServer): “The addressable TV market has made huge inroads since Cannes took place three years ago, with marketers keen to leverage the opportunity to push personalised TV ads to specific audience segments. But there are still many barriers to entry, so we saw a lot of panels (including ours) focus on the need for collaboration between all industry stakeholders.

"Moving forward, we might see more alliances – like TVMotik – emerge as a way to support TV channels in their digital transformation efforts, while helping advertisers extract the most value from their addressable TV investments.”

"The fluidity of video investment is accelerating, moving out of linear, into digital and CTV"

Natalie Bastian, Global CMO, Teads: “Cannes this year was clearly back and better than ever, and everyone seems more excited about what lies ahead. Hot topics included the need for brands to turn sustainable strategies from intention into action, from measuring their carbon footprint to building diverse teams. There is still a way to go but with the learnings being shared, we can start to build a collective playbook for developing sustainable strategies that drive better business results. 

“Another key discussion point was leveraging attention and earning it responsibly. Indeed, we still have a very fragmented ecosystem, but creating sophisticated media plans, which deliver high-relevancy campaigns in high-attention environments will ensure results. Cannes also highlighted that the fluidity of video investment is accelerating, moving out of linear, into digital and CTV. Attention, which can measure multiple drivers in order to better predict business outcomes across screens, will be the key to really unlocking success here.”

"Privacy is now non-negotiable"

Mark Pearlstein, CRO of Permutive: “Conversations at Cannes are further underpinning the fact that privacy is now non-negotiable. With consumers opting out of tracking and advertising at an exponential rate, advertisers need to develop responsible marketing practices that protect consumers’ data.

“This is not a future problem regarding Google’s introduction of a reject-all cookies button or the deprecation of third-party cookies; the way advertising is implemented now is already impacted because of privacy and consumer trust. In our own practice, we find consumers would be more likely to spend money with a brand that makes a commitment to protecting their personal data online. Collaboration with publishers is key; in this way, rich audience data can be leveraged for relevant advertising without being tied to consumer identifiers.”

“Strong interest in programmatic digital out of home (DOOH)”

Kira LeBlanc, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Hivestack: “There were many exciting conversations around the role of data, specifically in the context of how to drive more relevant and measured campaigns. With many brands and agencies shifting (or already shifted) to holistic, audience-based models, there has been a renewed emphasis on measurement. 

“There are concerns of potential recessions dampening pandemic recovery, making marketers increasingly focused on driving impact and demonstrating ROI to justify their spending. There is a strong interest in programmatic digital out of home (DOOH), being a channel that provides both the audience based targeting that brands want and the precise ROI measurement marketers need. The demise of cookie data was also widely discussed, and the opportunities that contextual, automation and optimisation solutions will provide in this space. With so many channels emerging as cookies become a thing of the past, notably DOOH, it will be interesting to see how companies adapt their marketing strategies to drive efficiency.”

“It felt like the industry was enjoying the bygone era of creative and adtech”

Charlie Johnson, VP, International, Digital Element: “While it was great to be back at Cannes and see many familiar and new faces, it was surprising to me to see the industry focusing on short-term solutions for long-term problems that are set to cause seismic change. With the money being spent on quick solutions, and on half-full panels on yachts, it felt like the industry was enjoying the bygone era of creative and adtech. Looking ahead, we should be focusing on building lasting solutions to create a more responsible and ethical advertising landscape.” 

“The importance of creativity and context was a key theme at the festival”

Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA, Zefr: “The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) celebrated its third anniversary at Cannes Lions by announcing guidelines to cover brand safety within the metaverse, along with new adjacency standards across a range of other formats, including In-stream Video, Feeds, and Stories.  The coalition’s continued drive to improve safety standards across all formats, shows the combined commitment of advertisers, agencies, platforms, and ad tech vendors to create the best advertising experience for consumers, and ensure ads are being placed in suitable environments to maintain brand reputation and maximise campaign effectiveness. 

“With the increased emphasis on consumer privacy in the digital space, the importance of creativity and context was also a key theme at the festival, as the industry moves away from traditional targeting methods and looks for alternative ways of reaching and engaging with audiences.”  

“Companies now dominating the Croisette are able to turn creative into a science”

Andrea Ward, VidMob, CMO: “This year at Cannes we saw an increased focus on the need to link creative and data to drive better performing ads and content.  This is becoming more important as ad performance is impacted by changes that have hampered our ability to target as effectively. Companies now dominating the Croisette are able to turn creative into a science, leveraging data at scale in order to meet business goals. Particularly within the creator economy, we are seeing an increasing number of luxury brands lean into new platforms and real-time data is a guaranteed must-have, if brands are to navigate what works on platforms that behave differently and to serve authentic, engaging ads to broader audiences.”

“While it was great to be back at Cannes and see many familiar and new faces, it was surprising to me to see the industry focusing on short-term solutions for long-term problems that are set to cause seismic change. With the money being spent on quick solutions, and on half-full panels on yachts, it felt like the industry was enjoying the bygone era of creative and adtech. Looking ahead, we should be focusing on building lasting solutions to create a more responsible and ethical advertising landscape.”

“Yes the weather and the rosé is nice, but it’s the diversity of the people from tech, media and marketing that makes it exciting”

Dominic Woolfe, CEO, UK, Azerion: “Overall, the best thing about being in Cannes this year is constantly being around a range of influential and like-minded people all in one place, whether it be from the agency, client or media side. Yes the weather and the rosé is nice, but it’s the diversity of the people from tech, media and marketing that makes it exciting and it’s great to see so many of our partners in real life again."


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