Cannes Roundup: A Triad of Innovation is Capturing Advertisers’ Attention and Spend Right Now

Photo by Christin Hume.

It seems as if it’s now a given, every year, that industry journalists must open their Cannes Lions coverage with something snarky about yachts and chilled rosé wine. Certainly I get why this is the case, yet I can’t entirely agree with that predictable take on the festival. While it is true that, yes, there are boats in beautiful marinas and tasty beverages if you want them, it is equally valid — and it is more significantly true — that innovators take this time to gather and share the kind of change and creativity that moves the needle for their biggest and most ambitious clients.

This year, we saw the rise of three elements of technology-driven outcomes that, I’d suggest, represent a triad of innovation — and those elements are agility, speed, and the product-development capabilities to allow early-adopting brands to actually access emerging marketplaces (such as audio, as we saw this year). The first two terms are interconnected, and each fuels the drive for innovative products that big-name brands are beta-testing already. 

Quickly, to make the distinction clear, agility is your team’s ability to change direction and marketplace position with efficiency as new marketplace stimuli come along. When advertisers move on a new format, for example, agile teams have the balance, strength, and coordination to react to that demand without needing to, say, onboard a whole new department.

While speed is often a factor in being agile, it’s also important to note that your team won’t always need to change direction to meet new market demands — you might in fact already focus on the emerging device or technology, and so you only need to accelerate fast enough to win partners as the new demand comes to life. You want both agility and speed in your toolkit, but it’s reasonable to use them to different degrees over time.

Finally, the successful innovators, as we’ll see below, meet significant new market demand early — thanks to agility and speed — with installable, functional tools that all comers can look at and try. In other words, the teams that best represent this triad of innovation have the under-the-hood capacity to deploy new tools and tech that empower early-adopting brands to access the formats and environments in demand.

This is the triad of innovation that was very much in focus at Cannes this year. In the sections that follow, let’s look at how the distinct elements came into play.

Build marketing tech that innovates on factors of agility and speed … or lose business.

Traditional models will lose business — that’s the takeaway from Sir Martin Sorrell’s and Brian Whipple’s conversation at Cannes Lions. One way to think about their strong agreement that digital creative needs to be “super-slick, high-end” and “rendered in a more agile way” would be like this: If you’re not pouring your budget into the tech that will drive future formats — yes, AR, VR, and AI — and if you’re not leveraging the massive speed and capacity of 5G when it rolls out, then the 2020s are going to be the decade you could join the 41% of S&P 500 companies already gone since 2000.

Winning marketing strategy? Invest right now, and heavily, in next-era innovative technology.

When it comes to innovation, WPP and Kantar get it, and they were definitely showing off how well they get it at Cannes in 2019. From the ability to simulate campaign results in different environments — a “context lab,” they call it — to forecasting established ad unit performance in new geographies with AI modeling, this is about doubling down on their commitment to AI. That will take a lot of spend. So, by selling off the Kantar research and consulting component of WPP’s offerings and getting it picked up by private equity — but keeping a 25%–40% WPP stake in it — that kind of investment can proceed without rattling shareholders on the public side. It’s a smart strategy. It’s also attracting very significant attention. Coca-Cola and Hulu are already testing the new AI tools.

Join the audio-marketing conversation, or miss a giant near-term opportunity.

Sizable players are joining forces to put data and analytics to work in marketing to the massive interest consumers are showing around audio content. Cannes was the backdrop for iHeartMedia’s joint launch of Project Listen with WPP, for example. This move is about putting audio studio tools and planning and measurement in the hands of the brands that are racing to get in on the audio-consumer dollar.

Facebook and Google will continue to be the devil we know.

Here’s another essential takeaway: Advertisers will bemoan the state of affairs that come with the giant platforms’ vice grips on our ecosystem, but, as The Wall Street Journal reports, Cannes attendees were not clamoring for a US Justice Department intervention to break up the behemoths. “I cannot walk away from scale,” said Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar. And that, friends and colleagues, is likely to be the bottom line for brands that need mass marketing for some time. For better or worse, innovation will be about working within that world.

It’s not hard to summarize a core theme of Cannes Lions 2019. The message is this: Innovate on the creative and analytics tools that we know are already deeply embedded in advertising, but make them smarter and easier to access and more quickly operational in campaigns. It’s the only way to compete in a marketplace where the duopoly/triad giants hold most of the cards when it comes to scale.

Agility, speed, and access to tools to reach the new formats: You can raise a glass of rosé to that triad. The crowd at Cannes certainly did, watching each of those factors take center stage this year.

As chief marketing officer, Julie Bernard leads Verve’s brand strategy, marketing, analytics and creative services. Julie was previously senior vice president of omnichannel customer strategy, data science, loyalty, and marketing technology at Macy’s, where she was recognized as a customer-centric leader implementing data-driven approaches for strategic growth, including award-winning personalized communications at scale, first-of-a-kind loyalty programs, and modern media attribution techniques.  Julie previously held executive leadership positions at Saks Fifth Avenue and XRoads Solutions Group, a boutique retail consultancy.

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