The writer Henry Miller once said of travel that our destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things. Such was the case last week in Cannes, France, as leaders from across the advertising industry gathered to test their latest strategies and search for new ways of thinking.
After several rounds of conversations with CEOs, CMOs and global industry leaders about how the media landscape will look like as programmatic comes ashore, the topics below repeatedly came up last week at Cannes Lions. These discussions focus on the competencies and creativity of people as well as the innovation and consolidation of technology. Here's what I heard and saw:
1. Marketers must find 'a new way of seeing things'
The creator of "Mad Men," Matt Weiner, was at Cannes last week. His presence was a reminder that ads, at their best, are art. It was also a reminder that eras change, and that the most important thing in advertising is always what's new. Even so, we're often apprehensive about change. I heard versions of this repeatedly throughout the week—we know we need to change our business, but we're reluctant and moving too slowly. There's a need for us to get creative about how we catch up to the speed of technology.
2. Programmatic and creative are making amends
The creative geniuses at some of the biggest agencies and brands in the world are finally welcoming programmatic. In most cases, they wouldn't use the term "programmatic", but they understand that digital data opens up new possibilities. While data entering the creative process was viewed as inhibiting in the past, it is now a new form of validation and direction. It doesn't drive the process, but it's an input. Programmatic and creative are starting to play nice.
3. Consolidation is happening, especially on the buy-side
There are fewer players, and the need for big brands and big agencies to have an omni-channel media and data platform is shrinking the consideration set. This consolidation has been foreseen as inevitable, but the effects are just now starting to sink in as marketers get to know their platforms. Constantly switching and reevaluating point solutions is much less common than it was two years ago.
4. Ad tech is welcomed as a major player
We praise the Internet for spreading ideas and opportunities, and we criticize it for drawing a veil between human-to-human interactions. Similarly, the "ad tech armada" at Cannes signals not an invasion, but a welcome bolstering of support for leaders looking to grow their capabilities beyond their traditional realms. They're doing so in a few specific ways, of which ad tech is a major part.
5. TV is changing and everyone is trying to figure it out
Should I buy more over the top (OTT)? What can I do about programmatic TV? How do I get started? These types of questions were being asked all week long at Cannes. That's because the appetite to buy "new" TV and better video is everywhere, and everyone is searching for a tactic. Most in the business agree that TV represents the biggest opportunity in programmatic advertising today, but many are still trying to figure out how to approach it. Content owners are being especially careful. They view programmatic as an opportunity more than a threat, but know it is an opportunity that can be messed up. Nearly all of them have big plans that they are just beginning to roll out.
6. Brands and agencies are asking about APIs
"API" is perhaps the new Rosetta Stone for international business. Where many public conversations focused on the very real need for growing human talent in advertising, many offline conversations focused on the opportunity to build competitive advantage into traditional business models by leaning hard into the tech stack. In the past, tech-forward leaders who saw opportunities early and worked in earnest to unite disparate systems of people and machines found themselves on the winning team. That's why those who ride the programmatic wave will be rewarded handsomely, particularly as the $300B in television advertising arrives online.
The conversations we had on the coast of France will ripple back to Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney. While the threads that link us together are virtual, the connections are real and they are powerful. We are ready for a new way of seeing things.