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At Cannes, 2014 Tipped To Technology

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Executive Chairman
Published: Jun. 25, 2014

When I was in Cannes last week, I observed some very interesting dichotomies. The expected disconnects were things like 95 Euros for a bottle of wine (the cheapest on the menu), the mix of Kanye inside the conference vs. Mariah (Carey), Courtney (Love) and DJ Calvin Harris at the parties, and the odd blend of unaware tourists and highly caffeinated ad industry execs just walking the Croisette rather than joining the Festival itself.

But the two most interesting oddities of Cannes Lions this year were the lack of headlines in support of the creativity awards themselves, and the non-stop dialog about programmatic media buying and the data to support real time marketing. Despite the fact that this week historically centered around awards for creativity, most of the panels in and out of the Festival centered on how data feeds the concept, content, and placement of ads in todays ad tech driven world.

  • Programmatic vs. Automated media buying. This is a topic that lends itself to confusion. Over the past 3-4 years, as exchanges matured from Right Media to AdEx to Google have matured, there has been talk of a resulting destruction of value. Real-time bidding (RTB), used widely in financial markets and as the underpinning of yield management for airlines and hotels, now also defines the value of digital advertising. The perception is that it forces prices down, but when controlled it really just finds a fair market value at that point in time. Truly programmatic transactions should rebalance prices, but not force down high value ad space. Display's massive inventory volume drove down prices, not the systems to sell it. However, automation is a different animal altogether. It also has benefits, in that it brings media firms like TV and print sellers into the 21st century, and enables them to operate more efficiently. There is inevitably going to be better sell-side systems for TV, as competition for audiences from newer, more agile businesses like Netflix and Amazon and the need to bundle web traffic into advertising deals cause the business to shift. Automation only hurts the overhead structure in place today, and will face resistance primarily by those whose jobs become fungible as a result.

Why the confusion? With P&G and Kraft declaring a shift to programmatic buying, the word online seems to slip from the dialogue every now and then. But the digital marketing landscape is the place where programmatic buying benefits and warts alike will be most at home for the next 3-5 years.

  • The definition of video. What is video today? Depending on who you ask (a TV exec or a web video seller), that definition can go from crystal clear (like those Mediterranean waters at Cannes) to murky like the North Atlantic after a storm. Let's keep it to the marketer's definition that I heard most frequently last week. Video is a strategy that incorporates ads on TV shows with ads in web-delivered content. But the two are not equals yet. TV represents safe content and distribution, and web video is better for advertisers when managed by a well-known content source like NBCU or The Bleacher Report. But video becomes more risky when the inventory is available in a public marketplace. The fraud issues that emerged prior to Cannes made this a hot topic at the event. The use of micro-targeted web video buys also challenged marketers, who believe that they get their reach through TV and, in the words of Joan Lewis from P&G, look at digital marketing as helping achieve short terms results, but miss TV's value of the long term brand building effort.
  • The role of the agency in a data- and tech- fueled world. The failure of the Publicis-Omnicom merger was palpable as only Havas seemed to have street-side presence as an agency, in competition with the week long beach parties hosted by Microsoft and Google across the street. With flights and functions filled with ad-tech companies and digital ad firms, the conversation usually centered on product launches from Adobe or what Facebook might buy next, and less so about the great creative done for Grand Prix winners Harvey Nichols and Volvo Trucks. As the media conversation becomes technology-fueled and data-driven, the agencies find themselves in co-opetition with a set of firms that thrive more on Ph.D.s than artists.

If you were at Cannes (or reading the news from the comfort of your Twitter stream) what was your sense of the event?