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Post Cannes Lions: An ad tech player’s notes from a creative festival

It’s no secret that the advertising world is changing. At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week, WPP Chief, Sir Martin Sorrell said, “Cannes is expanding into areas that Don Draper wouldn’t recognise”. With all eyes on the biggest event in adland’s calendar, this is a sincere nod to the fact that for the first time, Cannes is acknowledging the shift towards advertising technology by opening brand new awards categories for data and data visualisation, championing the advent of ad tech into the elite world of media.

The feeling at Cannes is notably different this year. The presence of ad tech companies alongside advertising creatives to me is a true indication of just how the industry is progressing.

We need clarity
There is no doubt that media agencies and marketers are recognising the importance of programmatic but there is still a big need for clarity in the industry. Anyone who has seen Lumascape and the IAB’s overview of the digital landscape knows digital advertising is a confusing and overwhelming ecosystem. The challenge and opportunity today is to educate marketers and close this information gap. Ultimately, brand advertisers need a simple and clear way to be able to understand how programmatic media can help them reach their target audiences.

The future is mobile
The consumer is mobile and it’s never been more apparent than it is today, yet only 30 per cent of programmatic spend in digital media is currently in mobile. There is a definite consensus from the world’s leading advertisers and marketers that mobile is still an untapped marketplace. Mobile devices have more influence than computers and yet the industry still hasn’t been able to get a true handle on the extent of mobile’s reach. Speaking on our ‘Future of Programmatic Marketing’ panel, Carat’s Chief Digital Officer, Anthony Rhind said he sees the opportunity in programmatic as helping publishers sell the other 70 per cent of their unsold inventory, ensuring brands are reaching their consumers where they are spending the most time – on their mobile device.

Women are not equal
Not in the advertising and technology industries, at least. A clear theme at Cannes Lions this year has been on how to propel women directors to the top. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, spoke on this topic and rather depressingly thinks we are still “decades away from women having equality”. She continued, “Women make up 13 per cent of computer scientists. It’s a cultural problem”. She feels though, that the advertising community can help change these expectations. Certainly, the overall feel from the festival this year has been geared towards women reaching an equal status to men.

Transparency amidst massive growth
One of the biggest challenges within programmatic is the need for transparency, for both brands and agencies. Programmatic media buying has seen massive growth in the last year and is predicted to be 25 per cent of the total global ad spend by 2016. Speaking on our panel, Gerhard Louw from Deutsche Telekom sees the potential for the majority of media spend to go programmatic, especially when traditional media like TV and outdoor come into the fold. He believes what clients and marketers will continue to want and eventually demand is transparency on how their dollars are being spent and how the different players fit together.

Tell us a story
The consumer is saturated with content and competition for eyeballs is increasing at every touch point. Brands need more exciting, creative ways to cut through and get noticed. Eddy Moretti from Vice Media hit the nail on the head when speaking at ‘The Art of Storytelling’ session. He said advertisers need to reach out and “pull people into the story”. Double award winning PHD Worldwide’s Lego ads do just that brilliantly. In the same session, host of YouTube Nation, Jacob Soboroff told us that “three out of the top 10 videos in 2013 were ads”. The ads in question for Evian, Volvo and Snice Coffee Shop (Telekinetic Surprise) tell a story that the consumer can relate to. The role that programmatic plays into the mix is that it acts as a multiplier for this creativity – bringing these stories to the right audience at the most optimised time.

It’s clear to see the industry is in a time of evolution. We’re noticing the importance of programmatic and automated advertising and the shift to incorporate this into the marketing plan.

However, some things do not change. The industry still has a way to go to ensure women have a stronger voice in senior positions. In regards to creativity, storytelling is still the most compelling way to reach audiences and cut through the noise.

Chris Dobson

The author, Chris Dobson, is the Executive Chairman of The Exchange Lab.