Cannes Briefing: Despite economic worries, industry carries on as usual in Cannes — plus CMO video series

The dysfunction of the industry felt particularly palpable in Cannes this year as execs continued to schmooze and dine over rosé that was never filled fast enough as layoffs back home have hit nearly every area of the ad industry’s ecosystem: from Big Tech to media to brands.

These blood-shot eyes here though sparkled throughout the week with the hope that these conversations will result in deals that will help carry them through the rest of the year. How much tap dancing can you do in the meantime?

A lot.

As Ronan Harris, president, EMEA at Snapchat said at a presser at the beginning of the week: “last year felt tentative.” If last year was tentative, this year was emboldened.

The Croisette bustled during the day and the nights seemed messier, coming to life with sounds from the multiple beach concerts. The bars were packed with linen as execs, bursting to break free of their Zoom calls stumbled down the streets — their thought leadership emanating off them like their insatiable desire for another round. Particularly after last year’s slow toe-dip back into The Cannes Scene, many agreed that this year felt like Cannes is back, baby.

Meanwhile, there have been layoffs from every facet of the ad industry, with platforms including at Meta, and Twitter, in ad tech from Google to Criteo, from publishers including BuzzFeed and Dow Jones, and among esports companies including FaZe Clan.

“We need to be here. This is a critical event for us,” said Chris Rogers, Instacart chief business officer, a first time comer to the event. “I think of it a little more practically. I took one flight here versus to go and see all of the folks that we’ve met with.”

And given that there are fewer dollars to go around as marketing spending plateus, Cannes feels all a bit more cutthroat. And with that comes bigger, splashier presences — spend more to make more goes the thinking.

Dentsu’s latest forecast (released last month) showed that ad spending was likely to grow this year, but more modestly than initial projections and most of it coming from inflation — not actual spend.

Evening performances put on from the likes of Spotify, Yahoo and Amazon kept attendees at the festival talking about how they were going to get in despite not RSVPing. And if Gutter Bar is any indication, the spillout into the streets — and given how packed the side streets bars were — all suggest that expense report companies will be working overtime come Monday.

While this dance unfolded, the industry did seem to collectively embrace that ad dollars have shrunk and they’re all competing for what’s left of that pie.

“There’s layoffs happening. Agencies are trying to get smaller and be more profitable, but we still have to be very calculated with our investments,” said Greg Wolny, chief activation officer at Code3. “We can’t just sit here and wait for things to turn around. We’ve got to make these smart investments.”

Even TikTok, which the industry has acknowledged as a go-to buy over its highly specific for you page noted that marketers are, as Blake Chandlee, president of global business solutions at TikTok, put it: “How do we do more for less?” 

Execs seemed to spend the week threading the eye between acknowledging that the economy has been tough with cheerful positive outlooks (nod and smile, everything’s fine, would you like a vegan taco? Look at the sea, isn’t it beautiful?) on what’s to come.

There were not as many “it’s getting better” sentiments as there were “it’s been a tough year.”

Media brands are pushing their bundles, first-party data is dangled like some kind of gateway drug as everyone is scrambling to try and schedule out the rest of the year. Looming over the festival itself (physically, with ads touting its capabilities) is the question of artificial intelligence and what form that will take in terms of how it could affect staffing and the type of work the industry embraces.

“I talk to a lot of people even about how they’re measuring the ROI of their presence here,” said Laura Jones, CMO at Instacart, “which is cool because it moves us into a place where there’s really a strategic growth driver for the business. Which, Cannes was always intended to be.”

Digiday and Teads Cannes CMO video series

Under a hazy sky, the whir of helicopters and with the screams of delight from Cannes Lions winners and the car-crash racket of hundreds of empty rose bottles being dumped into dumpsters behind the Palais as backdrop, Digiday yesterday returned to the Teads yacht in Cannes for the second day of our joint CMO video series.

At the back half of the week, the conversion turned to important takeaways from the whirlwind festival of creativity to take home to the reality of a disrupted media and marketing landscape at home, wherever that might be.

We were joined by Laura Jones, CMO at Instacart, who touched on the continuing rise of attention metrics and CTV as key innovation centers for ecommerce and retail media; Victoria Sjardin, vp of marketing excellence international, at Kraft Heinz, who discussed the importance of balancing creative, technology and measurement in the pursuit of better marketing outcomes for consumers; and Michael Carr, senior director of global media at Microsoft, who shared his thoughts on the generative AI revolution and its impact on media and marketing. — Jim Cooper

Laura Jones, CMO, Instacart

Victoria Sjardin, vp marketing excellence international, Kraft Heinz

Michael Carr, senior director of global media, Microsoft

Elsewhere from Cannes

  • Cannes unveils clues to next steps for Apple’s ad ambitions.
  • Anne Coghlan, co-founder and COO of Scope3, cautioned on today’s Digiday podcast from Cannes that publishers who do not make serious attempts to mitigate their impact on the environment could see their business reduced over time.
  • Conversations around generative artificial intelligence have shifted from fear to curiosity, seemingly reaching an inflection point at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Spotted

Crowds of people complaining about their hangovers.

Overheard

“I’d go home today if I could.” – A CMO who has had it

Newcomer tip

Get the in-flight WiFi home so you can scramble and send those last few emails and jot down those remaining notes, thought leaders. Cannes wasn’t built in a day!

Featured activation: Meta

Meta invited attendees to use their tools to make Reels or try on Meta Quest VR devices, albeit the Reels line was long and delayed with strong wind conditions. Along the beach, the Meta property was also a decent place to score iced coffee and snacks throughout the week.

What to do

10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Hear from the Festival’s inaugural Creative Maker of the Year Spike Lee at the Debussy Theatre, Palais I.

Noon to 2:30 p.m. Brunch at Amazon Port.

At any point: Go home

Nightcap

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The awards show of course, at Lumiere Theatre, Palais I.

9 p.m. Closing party at Carlton Beach; theme is “Party Like It’s 1954!”

Elsewhere from the newsroom

  • With Pride Month in full swing, brands are seizing on opportunities to reach gamers via thoughtful messaging that resonates with marginalized groups.
  • The New York Times is trying out a new way to get more readers to pay for a NYT Cooking subscription: texting emojis for free recipes.

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