The Trade Desk

Cannes perspectives: Embrace the Cannes spirit

Worlds collide at the Cannes Lions Festival as practitioners from disparate but converging industry disciplines come together, so make the most of this unique opportunity

Patterson...“This is an event dedicated to the collision of data, technology and creativity”
Patterson...“This is an event dedicated to the collision of data, technology and creativity”

The Cannes Lions Festival is a unique event and experience. This year, more than 15,000 people from the advertising industry across 94 countries will descend on the relatively small beach town in the South of France for a week of inspiration, innovation and networking. 

Though Cannes tends to stand at the centre of all advertising-industry parties, don’t be fooled by appearances. On the decks of the gigantic yachts, during the lavish parties, and in between seemingly endless glasses of rosé, serious business discussions are happening. 

The beach is dominated by major digital-media owners, such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, flanked by the leading, global media-buying agencies. Top executives from all areas of the advertising and creative industry are likely making major decisions during their time on La Croisette.

To me, the Cannes Lions Festival represents the advertising revolution, as the events during the week have evolved massively over the past 11 years in accordance with the shifts in the industry. It represents the convergence of worlds. Whether you view that as a merging of cultures, of industries, or perhaps of a broader spectrum, such as science and art, Cannes provides a crossroads for it all. Specifically for ad tech, it intersects the world of direct-response advertising with the world of branding and creativity.

Looking back a decade to Cannes Lions 2005, the awards were centred on, and dominated by, television. Even though the pendulum is swinging towards the digital advertising industry, the DNA of the event is still the same: creativity. Television is still the gold standard of branding; it simply connects with the consumer on a far deeper level than a banner ad can. And although we have seen branding success in digital advertising, it takes bigger, more innovative ideas to make digital ads emotive enough to resonate with consumers.

We know direct response is never going to set the world on fire – or "break the internet" – but it is an essential part of selling stuff. It demands an immediate response, its attribution is clear-cut and it’s a direct conversation between brand and consumer. Pure and simple, sure; but mostly pretty dry. 

Branding is sexy, viral, emotional, evocative, thought-provoking, engaging and, believe it or not, branding is also about selling stuff. It’s just harder to prove that a television ad affected the mentality and action of a consumer after they were tracked viewing a pay-per-click ad or a programmatic display ad. Through programmatic advertising and real-time bidding, these two sides are charging towards each other at an ever-faster rate. 

While the lines between direct response and branding campaigns blur further, embracing this convergence may help the industry evolve quickly by moving us toward a truly holistic planning approach. Following an individual consumer from the top of the awareness funnel right down to conversion is the "Holy Grail" of marketing, and merging direct response with branding campaigns is part of the path. 

Creative execution is a key challenge in the digital advertising industry as a whole. Media-buying agencies, creative agencies, brands and technology providers need to work more closely to improve communication. It is important to note that it is not one party holding this back, but an industry as a whole that needs to improve the creative process by bringing all parties together earlier in the planning stage. 

As we prepare for our time in Cannes, I encourage you to reflect on and emulate the spirit of the festival, and make an effort to embrace the progress and predictions that come out of the week. After all, this is an event dedicated to the collision of data, technology and creativity. In an industry where it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, let yourself get inspired, excited and enamoured by what’s to come. 

Best creative idea of the past year? Ice Bucket Challenge. 
Most memorable Cannes experience? Seeing the Kardashian family and their 20-strong entourage walking down the Cannes strip.
Most underrated Cannes experience? The view from the top of the Carlton Hotel, watching the Uber helicopters doing their rounds.
I have an hour in Cannes, I must…take some time to relax from the madness. Last year, one of my favourite moments was sitting on the beach one evening with our head of Germany and our marketing team, and toasting a truly successful (and exhausting) week.
Cannes tipple to avoid? The gin-based gimlet cocktails at the Omnicom Group party were delicious but lethal.

James Patterson is general manager – UK at The Trade Desk