I Went to Cannes Lions and All I Got Are These Hot Takes

In previous years, I’ve rolled my eyes as Cannes Lions came around following Ops. It’s long seemed like a soapbox for agencies to stand atop and make blasé statements on the industry. Tightly wrapped in my nest of publisher and agency ad ops, I casually read the coverage and nursed a local IPA, with no interest in investigating the nuances of rosé.

Yeah, so that changed.

I spent last week at the Cannes Lions festival, and I didn’t necessarily regret skipping out on the trip before, but hustling up and down the Croisette did hammer home how much the ad industry (and AdMonsters) has transformed… Really in the past few years.

What’s been the crux of this change? Consulting my astute industry observations, I’d say header bidding and the branded content revolution. By exploding the number of auctions occurring, header bidding made “spray and pray” scale-buying (or cookie-chasing) untenable. It also had a damaging effect on agency wheeling and dealing with media (some might call this arbitrage…).

Branded content has been on the upswing because consumer engagement is much more impressive than media creative. No surprise then that many major publishers were in high profile spots showing off the best of their creative studios. (However, the presence of venture-funded upstarts like Vox Media and BuzzFeed was noticeably minimal.)

Conversations with Cannes veterans confirmed the suspicion that agency (particularly media agency) presence was down, and consultancies and major publishers had bumped up their attendance. It was as if they could smell the agency blood in the water—the pubs and consultancies are coming for agency business (both creative and media-buying) and they are not constrained by the agency’s archaic billing model.

GDPR and Programmatic

But wait, wasn’t GDPR going to decimate programmatic efforts and return us to the bad old days of contextual targeting? While the European programmatic markets are snapping back from the initial GDPR hit, the real victim of good-intentions-lackluster-execution regulation appears to be programmatic product development. After developments seemed to be coming at a breakneck pace with S2S and programmatic, I noticed they’d slowed to a crawl.

My sources pointed to GDPR as a huge interruption in product development, with some saying it had set them back nine months to a year. However, now that the bomb has dropped, major prog players are excited to chat about new toys. I had a great discussion with Smart about their “Private Gardens”—basically it’s a platform for publishers to conduct unified auctions among their demand partners, something many of them had to build out themselves in the past.

AdMonsters and Smart discuss ‘Private Gardens’ from AdMonsters on Vimeo.

Also on the data front, the Advertising ID Consortium and DigiTrust announced they were joining forces, which is a huge win for data translation throughout the programmatic space—and could potentially be a thorn in the side of the infamous walled gardens.

Regarding viewability, I led a panel with Denstu, CBSi, and 33Across in which we debated the likelihood that minimum time in view could become a core transactional metric—and in that, I saw a path toward widespread transactions on engaged time.

A Different Landscape

Cannes Lions’ five-day program certainly seemed long enough—I couldn’t believe it used to go on much longer. I was told there were less people attending than before—particularly members of the C-suite—and fewer yachts in the harbor.

But perhaps that meant the right people—the ones knee-deep in the trenches, transforming the industry—were at all the parties. Cannes seemed representative of an increasingly diverse advertising space rather than some never-ending creative self-love-fest. The networking was on an unbelievable scale—the company was good, the conversations were hot.

It made sense for someone like me, who tries to broadcast the links between deep-in-the-weeds tactics and higher-lever strategy, to wade around and soak up all the insight I could. As our recent Ops conference showed, ops people have crawled their way into every aspect of digital advertising, including creative.

Cannes is AdMonsters territory now. Keep returning to this space for more Cannes-based hot takes on creative, small and medium-sized business advertising, the future of agencies, and more. I also strongly suggest you read our quite extensive Twitter coverage.

And I did mainly avoid the rosé—that sugary stuff might as well be called hangover juice—for the pleasures of Leffe Blonde. It goes particularly well with beef tartar.