Cannes Lions Roars Back

After a two-year hiatus, Cannes Lions came roaring back in a way that was more emotional than I would have ever anticipated possible.  Sure, all of the business that needed to be transacted was, there were innumerable speeches, fireside chats and panels, those who wanted to could dance the night away on the Plages teeming with Brigadoon like platform hospitality installations, each one more impressive than the next and, of course, the coveted Cannes Lions were handed out for the very best work across a litany of categories to the delight of the recipients.  

But this year felt different. WE were back. The marketing community. We came together as one from around the globe and we celebrated what I still believe makes this the best industry to work in. The people. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen each other in more than two years, it wasn’t important that we worked for competitors, no one cared that you downgraded from the fabulously expensive hotels along the fabled Croisette to an Airbnb “just up the hill” (a half a mile straight up). And it felt great. Personally, I am not a “hugger” per-se, but I hugged everyone – which had its own special rewards in the 90-degree heat that we had early in the week. Everyone hugged everyone, though, so it didn’t matter, we were together again – and it indeed felt great.

As for MMA Global, we were well represented on panels, in interviews, in important conversations behind closed doors or under a shady tree in an impromptu encounter while dashing between our next scheduled event. I clocked nearly 19,000 steps on Tuesday, and that was before dinner. “Hey, Lou!,” “Lou, is that you?” “Lou over here!” “Oh my gosh, Lou!” Shouts like these permeated the air for the last six days as we kept our appointed rounds and tried to balance the need to be on time with the need to be present in the moment when a friend, former colleague or casual acquaintance with a sharp eye and a keen memory flagged us down to catch up.

I shared a few thoughts with the Wall Street Journal’s Meg Graham about the big takeaways from Cannes and I will recap them here although I recommend reading her full account as it includes many other perspectives on critical issues our industry is facing.

  1. The creator economy may soon eclipse traditional creative in both marketer interest and marketplace impact.  The simple truth is that from one end of the Croisette to the other, the words “creator economy” were uttered more times in six days than rose.  Attention grabbing, audience obsessed, accountable and DE&I friendly, the creator economy seems to be the first marketing capability that breaks the rubric; ‘fast, cheap and good, you can only have two.’ The work that is coming from these often, but not always, young creators really resonate with their audiences because it’s the(ir) audience – and not the advertisers – those creators serve. Creators can turn briefs around in shockingly short-order with high quality, immersive and provocative work that wins the war for attention which can truly no longer be bought. And, in a resource constrained universe, creators produce real business impact (as much as 10x) at a fraction of the cost when compared to traditional creative approaches. See this piece from Adweek for some compelling research.
  2. Social commerce is hot, and it brings an element of discovery in context and “cool by association” that more traditional digital commerce would struggle to match. If the creator in the creator economy is the violinist, then social commerce may just be their violin. Everything in media is better in the right context and social commerce is the embodiment of that in the 21st century. This combination is chocolate and peanut butter good and everyone in Cannes can sense just how epically big it’s going to be in very short order. If there’s a platform that isn’t aggressively tilting toward enabling frictionless social commerce at scale, I am unaware of it.  

    See this WSJ article as an example of the trend.
  3. Customer experience design is becoming mainstream at Cannes as evidenced by the presence of the major, end to end, experience enablers like Salesforce, Oracle and others. Cannes is morphing into a tech and data event where the tech and data “fuels” creative. As Sir Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman of S4Capital, so eloquently put it: “Cannes has become a technology and data festival. The tech companies that now dominate the Croisette are attacking digital transformation through the CIO or CTO (not the CMO).” Agencies, however, are focused on the CMO. This is an interesting observation given the painful and protracted metamorphosis that marketing is going through in the hopes of emerging as a beautiful and relevant butterfly called Omni-channel Customer Experience. If the purveyors of end to end, ‘omni-channel’ customer experience are talking to others in the C-suite more than they are talking to CMOs, what does that portend for marketing’s standing in the business transformation that we are allegedly leading? If Sir Martin is correct, and the “visioneering” and enablement conversations with the architects don’t include marketers nearly as much as their peers at the leadership table, there is a risk to both the saliency of marketers inside the organization and the full potential of enhanced experiences to drive both the business in the short-term and the customer relationships in the long-run.
  4. Measurement is a mess. Truly. Outside of higher order ROI constructs such as CLV (customer long-term value), there appears to be mounting headwind for a common currency that reflects the unique superpowers of each channel and creative asset and yet allows marketers to make efficiency tradeoffs across channels. Maybe that’s OK. Let’s agree, an immersive experience created by a creator is far more impactful on the individual who receives it than any traditional ad could hope for on a one for one basis. In that context, reach based planning is having a dinosaur moment, it’s now mostly about responding at the speed of culture in the moment when that moment happens, as Google CMO, Lorraine Twohill, observed in a fireside chat (yet again, there was no fire) with The Wall Street Journal’s Thorold Barker to a packed Journal House audience on Wednesday. That said, at the MMA, we are working on an incredibly ambitious project, led by my friend and colleague, Joel Rubinson, to build a capability that enables best practice channel measures that reflect differentiated impact of stimuli to be brought together in a common framework that allows realistic measurement without commoditizing the “superpower” of an individual channel, experience or creative technique. Check out the video on this link.

And, among all the many luminaries that I was able to hear from, interact with and in some cases join on panels, it was Steve Silvers, SVP and GM Product at Neustar, a TransUnion Company (yeah, that’s their legal name) who made the quote of the week:

“The time for planning to make plans is over. The time to plan your data strategy is now! You need to decide who you are as a company. Your data strategy needs to reflect your company’s core values.”

Leave it to one of the world’s leading data architects and product designers to give us all a lesson on morality and our responsibility to walk the walk with respect to who we aspire to be as a company. Think about it. So much effort and energy go into crafting your values to ensure that you’re doing the right thing for your customers and your employees are proud to work for your company as a result. You live and breathe these values and recite them often; they are the “true north” that guide your teams in moments of important decisions. If you’re not harmonizing your data strategy with those values, and ensuring all of your external data partners are as well, you’re effectively letting the short-term data needs of the enterprise, as interpreted by your front-line SMEs and vendors who may not live up to your core values, effectively undermine those values and create real repetitional risk in the marketplace. A risk that some of you might not have realized that you had until reading the previous sentence. A risk that could put your company and your name on the front page of the Journal – and not in a way your board would find amusing. Welcome to the new realities of data driven marketing!

In the end, I am glad that MMA Global was able to participate in Cannes Lions and not only witness, but participate in, the reconvening of our industry IRL as we collectively take on many challenges and work together to innovate, inspire and architect the future of marketing and customer experience.

Marketing is back! And indeed it feels great!

Now, back to work.

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