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5 Key Takeaways From Cannes Lions 2023

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During her time at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, our CEO, Jennifer Silverberg, had the opportunity to meet with and learn from many thought leaders in the marketing and advertising space. Following are the 5 top themes from Cannes on the future of marketing and advertising:

1. AI: It’s probably not taking your job, but it’s changing it for sure

As one panelist noted in their opening: while science fiction may not have predicted the surge of social media, it certainly anticipated the rise of AI – and the outcome was never pretty. At Cannes, one major area of discussion around AI was on its potential impact on Sales/Marketing jobs.  On this, I think the best answer came from James Manyika, Google’s SVP, Research, Technology and Society, who likened it to the collision of art and photography, noting that photography, rather than replacing painting, ended up being complementary.  The consensus seems to be that creativity requires the application/activation of something that has not been done before, whereas AI is really a UI on the aggregation of what has been done before – so creativity, which is the required catalyst for innovation, will remain with the human resource.

One additional note: as we approach a future where the line between reality and AI is blurring, questions arise about distinguishing what is and isn’t genuine. This intersection poses both exciting possibilities and profound challenges for our industry … definitely creating new questions around the meaning of “authenticity.”. 

2. Platforms: with great power comes great responsibility (and opportunity)

16-24 year olds spend an average of 5 hours and 49 minutes a day on social media (Techjury.net) … for most, it is their primary social life.  And all of the evidence coming from researchers and the social platforms themselves point to this time contributing to (if not driving) our current teenage mental health crisis.  

Pinterest CEO Bill Ready cited their own research, which found that algorithms trained primarily on increasing time on platform (which is how most social media platforms work – understandably, as they make their money on advertising), tend to use disturbing and negative material to grab and hold interest … similar to how you “can’t look away” from a gnarly car accident as you drive by.  And noted that the aftereffects – how people felt when they left the platforms – was about the same sick, slightly depressed feeling as well.  

Noting that his audience at Cannes – who control media dollars and messaging – were the group that could actually effect positive change, Ready went on to challenge all platforms to join Pinterest in signing the Inspired Internet Pledge, designed to use content and algorithms to drive positive feelings, to make the internet a safer and healthier place for everyone, particularly young people.

3. Attention: don’t forget it’s earned (paying for media no longer avoids the need to earn attention)

There are more messages coming at us than ever, AND consumers have more filters (both internal and external) to ignore meaningless or annoying content. Marketers discussed the need to increase personal relevance by ensuring that timing and content of messages are highly personalized to the needs of the consumer, and openly questioned “spray and pray”-style advertising that just went after eyeballs.  Some panels focused on the value of leveraging influencers in increasing relevance as well, through authenticity (though some noted that influencer “authenticity” itself is an interesting discussion point, in light of “virtual influencers” like Miquela). 

4. Corporate social responsibility: now part of the marketing mix

While numerous forms of CSR were discussed (the environment was big), the hottest topics were around the need for change and accountability in inclusivity and media representation. In one of the more industry-star studded panels, Byron Allen of Allen Media Group joined Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble to convey how it was well past time to drive change in the industry.  The data are clear: while dollars going to black and minority-owned media  have doubled in the last two years (reflecting growth driven by huge advertisers like Verizon and P&G pledging change in 2020), even post-doubling, diverse-owned media still made up only 1.85% of total spending, and spending on Black-owned media comprised only 1.16%,” in 2022, measured by Standard Media Index.

Allen noted that a major issue limiting growth in this spending is the way media are measured, due largely to antiquated and skewed panels.  For marketers to efficiently and effectively reach their target, media measurement must accurately represent the audience.

5. Retail Media Networks: promising, but still finding their way

There was actually less RMN chatter at this conference than at recent ones like Grocery Shop … but it was still a hot topic, with many retailers in attendance taking a hot seat for questions from brands.  After 50 years as the primary link between the consumer and the brand, retailers have certainly amassed huge masses of data that can help brands reach highly-relevant audiences.  However, as they are relative newcomers to the world of media, most if not all are still struggling to find the right way(s) to add value – and it was nice to see some of the retailers noting that, and looking to deepen their brand partnerships to help co-author that future state.  Basically, for RMNs to be more than a tax or a new form of a slotting allowance, they will need to find their unique differentiation, and new ways of meeting and delighting consumers – while they are shopping, certainly, but also off-site.

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