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Does Cannes care about the customer?

With all the furore over fraud, data misuse, GDPR and the crumbling faith in our social media platforms, we uncover if anything has changed amongst the great and the good of the advertising world as we explore this year's Cannes Lions advertising festival.


The Cannes festival of creativity began in 1954 - initially inspired by the Cannes Film Festival - to recognise the makers of advertising films.

Ever since, we’ve seen more and more categories added to the awards. From the 90s onwards, the festival has seen significant growth, both with the addition of a programme of learning and the celebrity status of some of the speakers featuring in talks.

However, by far the biggest growth area has been in the amount of budget being invested by industry players seemingly willing to hurl money at sponsorship and brand awareness activations at the event. Whether it’s hiring yachts or throwing parties with celebrities, it feels like Cannes has reached its peak in one-up-manship of both budget and glitz factor.

We founded the Adversity Manifesto last year with the aim of promoting a more audience first online (advertising) experience in which brands, publishers and technology suppliers could co-exist on a more even footing. As such, we trained our eyes on the events at Cannes last week to ask if the advertising community has started to forget who this awarded creativity is actually targeted at: the customer.

The Cannes advertising festival, with all its sunshine and rosé, is an environment in which all parts of the digital supply chain come together in one place. As such it seems a key opportunity to share insights and learnings around this important topic... How should we provide the best digital experience and value to the customer? What new technology can be used to create the most compelling and activating experiences? How can diversity be tackled in the industry?

In the run up to festival week, LinkedIn seemed to become a stomping ground for invitations to parties rather than discussions of themes and trends to be investigated. Was the end user included in the conversations at Cannes or was it once again mainly about the passing of cash between brand and publisher?

With Publicis and GroupM withdrawing investment in Cannes this year, the amount of budget being invested on ‘entertainment’ is clearly still a huge concern. It feels, to us, that that money could be spent more effectively and ethically: on research, innovation, product development. There is a significant diversity issue to be addressed in the industry, for example.

While News International’s high profile party for 1,000 people with appearances from Kylie, Idris Elba and Fatboy Slim plays into our reservations, it’s worth noting that the Grand Prix winner of the Cannes Creativity Awards went to LadBible’s campaign (see below) to bring attention to plastic pollution in our oceans.

One of our own founding members Rebecca Allen, Global Head of Branded Content at The Drum, was at the festival this year and observed a more considered, caring side of the event. She noticed an industry wide effort to embrace diverse representation where possible on stage and at fringe panel events and the phrases 'consumer first' and 'customer first' were certainly used on the panels held by The Drum.

There were also significant reductions in the displays of frivolous money spending. Last year 22 advertising technology firms hired yachts on the marina. This year: only 8. While the usual culprits like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify spent big on brand presence, much more action in terms of investment and educational engagement came from the agency networks, with an overall theme of creativity making a big return.

Digiday estimates that 25% less attendees were found enjoying the rosé and French Riviera sun this year and furthermore, they reiterate that this year a return to the recognition of creativity was noticeable.

Brands, agencies and ad tech all now have an increasing role to play in harking back to the festival’s roots of creativity and potential increased focus on the customer.

As diversity discussions reign and marketing budgets continue to be challenged it seems that this year may indeed be the year of creativity and a renewed focus on the customer.

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