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After Cannes: Agencies, tech and creative taking stock

cannes lions

We’ve just wrapped up another Cannes Lions and what a great event it was! As I reflect upon my week, I think there’s no better time to talk about the changes and trends that I see in our industry. Here’s what’s top of my mind as we move into summer.

Creative versus technology

Although Cannes Lions is officially a “festival of creativity,” marketing technology (MarTech) companies were out in force with companies like LiveIntent, XAd, Microsoft/ LinkedIn, IBM – and Adestra, of course – all having a presence. Even companies that you might not necessarily think of as MarTech providers, such as SAP and IBM, were there. Oracle too, had a huge activation.

And, while the majority of Cannes Lions were going to the campaigns that are the most creative, there were more categories showcasing creative uses of technology.

Writing in AdAge, James Burby, president, Americas at Possible, warned that technology tools are not a replacement for people. “Talent delivers insight, not tools,” he wrote. “You still need ideas.”

First, I think his piece illustrates the ongoing tension between the creative side of the industry and the tech side. The promise of MarTech is that it can automate many aspects of the advertising process. This naturally makes some people nervous: Will a computer take my job? The answer, of course, is certainly not. Marketing automation may shift roles, but in general it frees humans to do more high-value work, while delivering better information and insights to help them do it.

cannes soundbite

As Burby points out, even the best analytics tools need smart data scientists to gain insights from them. I would add that the best data scientists are also creative, and that the more everyone at an agency embraces both creativity and technology, the better the work will be.

In fact, talent and ideas are just as important to technology providers. The best vendors are true partners with agencies and marketers. Account executives at a MarTech provider ideally begin the engagement by consulting on the agency’s or brand’s goals and help guide them through a custom implementation.

Once the software is up and running, outstanding customer service becomes the key to a successful relationship. (If I can take a moment to brag, Adestra has received accolades from many entities, including the UK’s Institute of Customer Service!)

Talking of creativity, I’d also like to do a quick shout out to my colleagues over at Omnicom’s Touché Media and their client Mark’s. They were recognized as world leaders in innovative, real-time marketing by being awarded a Bronze Lion under the Creative Data category for The Colder it Gets campaign. From a pool of more than 715 submissions, 73 made the shortlist and Mark’s took home third place. Congrats guys!

Mergers and a shifting landscape

Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn was an eye-opener. Microsoft Dynamics CRM couples really nicely with LinkedIn. The problem with CRM data is that it’s usually messy, and there’s a lot of subjective information. But LinkedIn is arguably the world’s largest validated database. The user base is a very targeted group of people and Microsoft will now have all this additional data in its CRM.

Being able to scrape and use some of that data will be interesting. But there are also privacy implications, as Adestra’s Ryan Phelan wrote in VentureBeat. Microsoft will have to be careful about mixing users’ personal information with their professional activities on LinkedIn.

That’s not the only large acquisition. Earlier this month, Vista Equity Partners bought Marketo for $1.79 billion, and Salesforce said it would buy Demandware for $2.8 billion.

LUMA Partners says it’s hearing from more private equity firms that want to discuss potential marketing or advertising technology, since these are“fragmented ecosystems with many targets. And with VCs pulling back on investments, there is a greater incentive for private companies to sell.”

These acquisitions raise the profile of the entire industry and prove that CRM data is the holy grail.

Advertising that works

The latest research from eMarketer estimates that use of ad blockers will grow more than 30 percent this year. That means that more than a quarter of all internet users will be blocking ads. A Cannes panel hosted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Randall Rothenberg acknowledged that our industry should take some of the blame by overloading pages with intrusive ads.

emarketer - ad blocking


One response to ad blocking is for marketers to double down on content. Yahoo announced Storytellers, a full-service content creation studio that includes influencer marketing, video, and written content and integration with the company’s data, analytics and ad-serving tools.

Content that consumers opt-in for is an even stronger play. That’s why email remains such a highly effective advertising channel – especially as consumers continue to go mobile. In December, eMarketer said that mobile email open rates were approaching those of the desktop, while desktop email opens declined.

The year ahead

Looking to the future, I’m happy to see the de-emphasis on the cookie and the focus on the pixel as the universal ID for the web. As a marketer, if you have to choose between a hashed email and a cookie, you’ll choose the hashed email every time.

I’m also excited about programmatic advertising. Programmatic could damage or weaken the agency stronghold on brand media, if all the agency is doing is having a very simple plan buying Google and Facebook. With trading desks, brands can go direct to Google and other publishers.

It’s going to be a very interesting summer and fall, with plenty more news in the AdTech and MarTech sectors.

Let’s enjoy the ride!

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  • Steven Francolla

    Hashed email all the way. It’s the nexus of martech/adtech.