MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan: It's a "brave new world for Cannes Lions"

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Cannes Lions is a precursor for what's next in the world of marketing, and newcomers have always met with opposition, he says.

If you are someone for whom Cannes Lions Festival has devolved into a giant, rosé-infused party, you need to look deeper.

Cannes is a crucible that reflects the realities of our industry. Curated properly, it is a master class in data-driven creativity and storytelling across new technology, screens and devices. It’s required learning for anyone hoping to connect a brand to an audience in the 21st Century.

If you can’t extract value from Cannes Lions, you aren’t approaching it properly. And if you lost your compass because Cannes looks so different than it used to, that’s because our industry is in the midst of transformation. The new players—media platforms, tech companies, consultancies and entertainment companies—are taking up residence in the old (and new) familiar places. Cannes has been reinvented the same way the industry is being reinvented. Fast and furiously. The only thing that hasn’t changed in Cannes is the color of the wine that too often captures the attention of the critics.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve witnessed the transformation of the event.  Cannes Lions is (and always has been), a precursor for what’s next in the world of marketing. And newcomers have always met with opposition.

When the media agencies came to the Festival in 1999, there was hue and cry about "the end of creativity at the Festival." It wasn’t the end of creativity. It was an overdue recognition that engaging people in the right context, time, place and through the best experience was as important as "what" a brand decided to say to that consumer at the point of intersection.

When Microsoft became the first tech company to "invade" the Festival in 2001 as a sponsor, the move was also hailed as the end of times. It wasn’t the end of times. Microsoft’s arrival heralded a new era defined by technology-driven platforms, tools and insights that were able to connect a brand message to a person in the age of digital empowerment. 

When Jim Stengel took the first significant P&G delegation to Cannes in 2003, inspiring many other marketers to follow suit, agencies declared an end to the magic of creativity. But magic prevailed…as clients became active partners in the pursuit of imagination, invention and innovation. (There is a good reason why marketers like P&G, Unilever, Burger King, AT&T and Heineken have agreed to join the Festival’s new task force).

Fast forward to 2017. More than 20 yachts were branded by ad tech companies, including Nielsen, Teads, Pandora, DataXu, OpenX, Rubicon, Merkle and AppNexus.

The Palais agenda was rich with unexpected voices:

  • McKinsey’s research on the business effectiveness of creativity
  • Google ZOO’s vision of using tech to prototype ideas
  • IBM Watson’s perspective on AI and the digital health space
  • Adobe Sensei’s use of AI to enhance the creative product and impact how people create
  • Accenture’s recommendations on building a bridge between creatives and data experts
  • Startup ZEFR’s advice for brands on relinquishing control of the message to influencers
  • Oracle’s use of data to deliver content to the right people in the best context
  • Google’s "machine learning for everyone" and how it applies to creativity
  • Deloitte’s sponsorship and presence across the entire Cannes Lions Academy

And that’s just a taste of what happened inside the Palais. The entire length of the Croisette has become the epicenter of the partnership economy as marketers seek collaborators who can help them leverage new opportunities—data, machine learning, virtual reality, voice, artificial intelligence, experiential content—in pursuit of brilliant, successful, brand work.

Cannes is a celebration of creativity. That will never change. But I believe it will increasingly be the primordial pool from which future partners are explored and chosen, particularly as the business of building brands grows more and more complex.

To be clear, I write this not as a newfound sibling of Cannes Lions under our mutual parent, Ascential plc, but as someone that has been attending and enjoying the fruits of the Festival for the last twenty years. Even amidst our newfound relationship, I am, and will continue to be, a card-carrying (delegate-pass-wearing…) participant…and given the strict ethical walls between our companies, a happy sponsor and customer.

Michael Kassan is founder and CEO of MediaLink.