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07.13.18

Summarizing Cannes Lions 2018 in Five Bullets

by James Lanyon

I will be the first to admit, when asked if I wanted to attend Cannes this year it felt a little surreal. This is because I’ve always thought of it as some sort of hedonistic destination conference that is largely rationalized through buzzwords and quote fingers. I was very wrong. This is the third major conference I’ve been to in the past 12 months, including Forrester CXSF and SxSW. The international perspective has been very eye-opening because it confirmed how a handful of key business trends are global in scale.  

I summarize them as follows:

  1. Artificial Intelligence: Despite the fact that this is potentially one of the most complex technical fields in history, international business and the agency world in particular is obsessed with A.I. Alibaba had an impressive feature display at the opening of the main Palais, in effect laying claim to being the international version of Amazon. For those of us who can’t get our heads out of the U.S. market and spend all our time chattering about Amazon, Alibaba is every bit as ominous and has a radically similar playbook. Their marketing cloud also looks to take on Adobe and Salesforce.
  2. Accelerating Transformation: Business and digital transformation has been around for years and as a veteran of the field, I am consistently surprised at how it’s been an enduring topic. This is most interesting for me because the technical definition has not changed. So the question has to be asked, if brands and businesses are still working so hard to close the gap in fields like e-commerce and omnichannel, how will they have the resources needed to pursue emerging technology fields like A.I. and IoT?
  3. The future of creativity: In an age of automation and intelligent machines, will there be a place for people? This is perhaps the most overwrought topic, due largely to the fact the global marketing complex wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to capitalize on martech but still hold onto the creative department. It’s important to note that the creative function for many brands has been on the decline for years, due in large part to the shift away from traditional broadcast models in favor of more accountable digital marketing budgets. The answer is pretty clear—stop obsessing over making short films and redefine the word creativity.
  4. Can business have a soul? What is perhaps most telling is the subtle, but ever-present tension between business, technology and society. You see it in the discussions of A.I. (will it take all our jobs?!) and you feel it when you see the kiosks dedicated to humanitarian causes. It’s as if they live in two wholly separate worlds but under the same roof. One could argue that it’s positive to see social causes present at such a forum but being here, they don’t feel like they get the same level of interest or energy as topics like Virtual Reality and “immersive storytelling.” If anyone is looking for an opportunity to make a difference, this area seems ripe.
  5. The consultancies are coming! The biggest topic in the networking lounge and the parties after was how Accenture and Deloitte were making a big push into the event. This was later compounded by the fact that they both got some awards, which was heretofore unimaginable to the holding companies. The fact that Publicis was nowhere to be seen made things all the more odd. The fact that Accenture and Deloitte could muscle their way onto stage wasn’t all that surprising to anyone who’s been keeping an eye on this topic. The natural next question then becomes, so what do the “creative” agencies do about it?
James Lanyon

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