Cannes Lions 2018 Reflected a Maturing Industry, But One Still at Risk of Ignoring its Demons

Facing a raft of criticism for its past excesses, last week’s 65th Cannes International Festival of Creativity was a far more focused affair. Fewer boat parties (yes, they were still happening) and less conspicuous rosé consumption allowed conversations to focus on what matters: value creation, how to embrace innovation, and how to build a sustainable industry fit for a post-GDPR world.

No matter how you slice the drop in attendance, last week’s event was much more productive than in previous years. Here are my key takeaways from the Riviera.

More conversations around value vs cost

After a rocky 12 months for the industry, many brands are facing squeezed margins and the pressure to do more with less. It’s tempting in this environment to focus on cost reduction. Across dozens of conversations last week, it was reassuring to see the smartest marketers seeking value and tangible benefits created by live insights, understanding real behaviour and delivering messages accurately and consistently. This focus on the outcome and not just the process is a healthy sign of maturity for our industry.

At the same time, we saw a greater level of honesty from agencies and brands on how they’re looking to improve on their use of technology to drive storytelling, impactful creative, and relevancy for consumers.

Technology is not to be feared

Much of the festival focused on the role of AI in the creative process, most notably P&G’s Marc Pritchard, who questioned the ability of machines to rival human creativity. This approach asks the wrong question. The question should not be what machines can do better than humans, but how machines can help humans do better.

Technology and data should ultimately free up the industry to unleash creativity, not get in its way. This was a key focus during Quantcast’s inaugural AI Creative Council session last week and Quantcast CTO Peter Day covered it in depth on stage in his keynote with Hollywood visual effects genius Kiran Bhat, the mind behind creating on screen characters including the Hulk in The Avengers.

Just as machines can crunch the data required to arrange millions of pixels and convince us that what we see on screen is living and breathing, AI takes the busy work out of making sense of consumer behaviour for creatives. It can supercharge how campaigns are distributed and measured by automating the automatable.

We need to recognize that this new era of creativity demands that people and AI should combine to deliver the best results. Doing so humanizes the process, freeing creatives to focus on storytelling and capturing the audience’s attention.

Ignore GDPR at your peril

Maybe no one wanted to spoil the party, but there was surprisingly little talk of GDPR last week. Only a month since the new regulations were passed, many seemed to lack a sense of urgency to act. Brands, agencies and publishers need to address this mindset without delay. Those not adhering to GDPR standards when it comes to consumer privacy are setting themselves up for failure, and their failure will reflect poorly on the rest of the industry.

At Quantcast, we fully endorses the IAB’s Transparency and Consent Framework (our own solution, Quantcast Choice is the first widely available implementation of the Framework). The industry needs to align their conversations and take this challenge seriously to ensure the health of our sector long into the future.

Reflecting on the past week, the advertising community has signaled its willingness to move beyond its checkered past and adapt to the new reality. In order to do that successfully, we should not only focus on what matters and embrace innovation, but also ensure we’re building a sustainable future. It will be interesting to look back in the years ahead to see whether 2018 was the year we truly embraced that opportunity.

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