Day 1 at Cannes Lions “Don’t grade my homework… amplify my idea”

Day one of the world’s biggest festival of ad creativity unearths discussions around ads driving sales and leads, the performance marketing capabilities of the biggest platforms, and the tech solving marketing’s pain points.

As part of PMW's 'Cannes Versus Machine' series, each day this week, Robin Langford, Editor at Performance Marketing World, writes a travelogue from the ground (and sea) at Cannes Lions to ask the question: what is modern creativity in the age of big data and AI?

“Embrace the FOMO”. That has been the PMW motto since landing in Nice late on Sunday night.

It’s impossible to keep up with all the rock star marketeers speaking at the Palais by day and the actual rock stars playing the beaches by night. Instead, PMW is on a mission to speak to as many marketing experts as possible to uncover the evolving (and increasingly interdependent) relationship between creativity and performance.

Day one was a whistle-stop tour of Cannes by land, sea and air, from the lofty GroupM roof terrace to the Magnite Yacht, via Unilever at the brand village and Snap and TikTok’s residence in the hotels on the Croisette.

What was most striking on the opening day was just how many conversations at the world’s biggest festival of ad creativity are now geared towards advertisers driving sales, clicks and leads, as much as they are about winning shiny accolades.

“It’s all ad networks and walled gardens”

“It used to be all TV networks selling their commercial ad breaks. Now it’s all ad networks and walled gardens,” says Ted Prince, Group Chief Product Officer at Kantar, marking his 20 years of Cannes Lions attendance this year. “It's essentially the same thing that drives this every year – media owners with better business models.”

Some of those next-gen media owners include Snap and TikTok, both with heavy presence at this year’s festival.

Showcasing the company’s AR partnership with Disney, Ty Ahmad-Taylor, in his role of VP, Organic Growth and Product Marketing at Snap, was keen to emphasise the platform’s latest performance marketing capabilities, aligning key customer gestures within the app (swiping up and down or left and right) to ascertain better user intent, helping brands understand their audience even more.

Over at TikTok we saw a major brand harness of the platform’s sub communities, such as #gardenTok #DIYTok – user generated content centred around real life hacks shared with fellow enthusiasts and advocates. Unilever was at Cannes to launch its new #CleanTok campaign, incentivising users to engage with the brand via household cleaning tips – and even help at the product and development stage.

Marking another record year for revenue with a second stint at its own port near the Palais, Amazon Ads is also making further inroads in the performance space. Speaking to PMW on our first podcast of the week, Phil Christer, MD at Amazon Ads UK talked about the ‘Creative Alchemy’ that is being unleashed by its new adtech products such as Amazon Marketing Cloud.

Solving marketing’s ‘pain points’

As PMW ventured out onto the yachts in the marina to speak to the technology platforms, a pattern started to emerge. Every person we spoke to is passionate about solving a ‘pain point’ in marketing – using technology to measure what was once thought impossible, driving up performance and driving down ad supply chain wastage.

A conversation with Channel Factory at Stagwell Beach unearthed a ‘pain point’ of over zealous exclusion lists that left many talented and brand-relevant creators untapped.

Jovana Grujičić. Channel Factory’s Director of Client Solutions for EMEA and APAC revealed an eye opening stat – in 2022, 73% of LGBT+ content on video was not monetized due to advertisers being over cautious in their brand safety measures.

“We want to help the industry more into a state of media wellbeing – from unconscious exclusion to conscious inclusion,” Grujičić says.

Over at Magnite, which has seen supercharged growth since its rebranding from the Rubicon project back in 2020, the supply side platform (SSP) is cutting complexity. The scale of data Magnite sits on for the publisher side is jaw dropping – both across its vast display ad network and its newer but also vast CTV network after its SpotX acquisition. And there was a sense of renewed purpose on the Magnite yacht as its recent launch, Magnite Access, represented a consolidation of the company's endeavour to streamline its SSP business. 

‘One size fits all’ is no longer useful

Back on dry land, Matt Nash, UK Managing Director at Scibids chronicled how the company had successfully carved out a vital place within the adtech system for brands, sitting alongside the big programmatic trade platforms to deliver bespoke KPIs for advertisers away from the standard ones offered by the big demand side platforms.

While chatting to Nash, it dawned on me that the long-running debate about the need for industry standard unified ad metrics might be dead – and AI killed it. As AI tools like Scibids become more unified, one size fits all is no longer necessary or useful.

“Five years ago, maybe 10% of my conversations with clients were about custom KPIs,” says Nash. “Now I’d say it's about 50%.”

Taking to the skies on the seventh floor roof terrace with Wavemaker, PMW learned how the big marketing agencies were putting generative AI into practice. Fresh off the stage after giving a presentation on the subject, Oli Saunders, Global Head of Addressability and DCO outlined how Wavemaker was building generative AI onto its existing audience data tools, powered by its recent acquisition, enterprise AI system Satalia.

The ‘why’ of data

But what of the big creative thinkers at Cannes? Those that, as Tom Goodwin put it earlier this week, worship at the altar of the big idea, not the real time dashboard?

Ryan Barry, President at audience insights platform Zappi sums up the day nicely.

“We’re about moving up from the ‘what’ of data and into understanding the ‘why’ of data,” he says. “When we talk to creatives, what they like is that we don’t grade their homework. [They say] ‘amplify my idea’.”