Talking Cannes Lions 2019: Key themes from this year's festival

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As the dust settles after another sun-drenched week in the South of France, a selection of industry experts give their views on the key themes in 2019.

Aside from the usual networking, parties and late-night Gutter Bar action, here's what else made the headlines in Cannes.


Marie Giesbert, VP of marketing at FreeWheel


Cannes Lions was all about diversity and inclusion in 2019, and it was refreshing to see such a wide variety of speakers, including many female industry leaders. One of the main themes to come out of the event was recognising the contribution of women to the industry, and the importance of female role models who are not afraid to follow their own path and can empower and support one another.

There was also a strong emphasis on the importance of collaboration and how strong partnerships between media owners, brands and technology providers can drive both creativity and innovation.

Finally, it was great to hear about different projects that share common values – having a positive impact and making a change. The UM Studios film 5B was particularly moving, telling a powerful story and richly deserving its Grand Prix win. We need to continue having such discussions of compassion and courage.



Nick Morley, MD of EMEA at Integral Ad Science (IAS)


Over-the-top (OTT) technology was at the forefront of conversations at Cannes, with discussion around both the current capabilities and the excitement of future possibilities. As OTT devices continue to diversify, establishing measurement foundations will be crucial to help protect advertisers looking to connect with audiences in CTV environments.

At IAS, we are investing heavily in tech innovation and strategic partnerships within the area of OTT. This year’s festival played an important role in facilitating this key discussion point.


Andrew Buckman, COO at Sublime


Cannes Lions revealed there is a clear shift from brands wanting to do less with display ads and moving budgets to video instead. As platforms push for a two-second completion rate, brands are keen to make the most of their audio-visual assets for 30 seconds to get their messaging across.

This backward movement in video advertising will be an interesting one to watch as brands push for longer ads to tell their story, while publishers fight for a maximum of six-second ads to keep users engaged as attention spans decrease.


Charlie Johnson, VP of UK and Ireland at Digital Element


Despite the picturesque image of sipping rose on a yacht, Cannes 2019 hasn’t just been about fun in the sun. We’ve seen extensive conversations around building strong relationships, prioritising hard work and the continued need to share creative and forward-thinking ideas.

“As with every Cannes Lions, delivering the best customer experience possible has been at the top of everyone’s agenda. And at the core of this is data. The availability of real time, high-quality, accurate and compliant data is fundamental to success and will long continue to be a vital component in every business strategy moving forwards.


Ben Barokas, CEO and co-founder at Sourcepoint


A recurring theme at Cannes was the ‘cookie apocalypse’, with publishers and advertisers alike thinking about different ways to personalise a consumer’s online experience in a world without cookies. Ongoing developments from privacy regulators on a global scale and privacy innovations in the browser environment continue to threaten the ecosystem, encouraging consumers to demand more transparency and control of their data. The savvy organisations are the ones focused on figuring out how to connect consent signals to a user’s digital identity, so they can deliver more relevant experiences while respecting privacy preferences.


Adam Corey, CMO at Tealium


Conversations at Cannes Lions this year were centred around diversity and inclusion, and it has been great to see so many brands, advertisers, and individuals delve into what this means for their businesses in various panels and expert sessions.

As the value of data in the marketing landscape is increasingly recognised, it’s important for organisations to understand the impact it can have on the tools they use. If advertising is to appeal to a diverse audience, companies need a data foundation in place that is free of bias. If they don’t, they risk investments being wasted through inaccurate insights and algorithms. Only by having the right technology and experts in place to keep standards high can this be achieved, empowering future success.


Calum Smeaton, CEO and co-founder at TVSquared


First, direct to consumer (DTC) brands disrupted the retail market accessing audiences via digital platforms, then they advanced to TV attracted by its reach and power, now they’ve come for Cannes Lions. The Croisette saw a new crop of DTC brands peppered into the conversation and awards shortlist, joined by media companies and networks touting DTC opportunities.

As disruptors, data underpins every aspect of the DTC businesses model – this understanding has made them the fastest growing group of TV advertisers. TV complements the DNA of these brands by delivering on scale and performance, thanks to its ability to provide an understanding of optimal days, dayparts, programmes, and creative strategies.

In fact, data shows this insight is essential for an effective cross-market strategy. In the US Morning ads deliver +105% response rate, with Thursdays and Fridays proving to be the optimal days before response nose-dives into Saturdays, while in the UK Prime slots deliver +915% response, with an increase as the week evolves resulting in peak response rates at weekends. It's this data-driven knowledge that allows DTC brands to improve performance, activate audiences and drive the best outcomes.


Chris Bennett, MD of EMEA at Pixability


It was telling that OMD chose to launch its Top 20 Influencer Audit at Cannes Lions this year, highlighting the growing importance of social video content. Brands are also recognising the advantages of reaching new audiences on these platforms and planning their advertising strategies with this in mind. Personalisation was a hot topic at the festival, as marketers recognise the need to curate targeted campaigns that meet consumers' individual needs - across all connected devices. But there was also a note of caution, with advertisers still needing reassurances around topics like brand safety, fraud and transparency.

While Cannes is always rooted in creativity, this year it also reflected the wider global trends of diversity, inclusion and well-being, and there was a healthy and more mindful vibe at the event. From yoga on the beach, spin classes with Soul Cycle at the port, and invitations to join running groups, the 2019 crowd was definitely putting water before wine more than previous years.

Sara Robertson, global VP of product engineering at Xaxis


“What’s clear from the Cannes festival this year is that marketers have gotten much smarter about the role AI plays in their efforts.

“The main question we’re hearing is, ‘do you *really* use AI, or do you just *say* you use AI?’ This scepticism is healthy because it means marketers understand that the technology is not simply a magic bullet, but a sophisticated tool that will help their wider marketing initiatives.

“This doubt gives true AI experts an opportunity to shine and showcase their innovations, examples which we’ve seen at this year’s Cannes Lions and will continue to see in marketing approaches.”


James Draper, CEO at Bidstack


It was refreshing to see the growing presence of gaming and esports companies at Cannes Lions this year – best illustrated by Activision Blizzard pitching its tent at the Palais des Festivals. It is no big surprise however, as marketers look for the next big advertising opportunity, which gaming can provide. The size and interest in the industry is also shown by OMD choosing Cannes to launch its report on the top social media influencers – including the top 20 gamers.

“With the launch of cloud gaming platforms on the horizon such as Google Stadia, these influencers are set to become even bigger stars in the gaming world thanks to gaming becoming more affordable and accessible naturally increasing reach. We will see brands flocking to this new medium – in particular in-game native advertising.


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