Cannes Briefing: What to expect out of Cannes Lions 2024

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

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The Cannes Lions Festival’s evolution from a sun-soaked schmooze-fest to a hive of strategic deal-making, discussion and deliberation continues to unfold this year.

No, it hasn’t jumped the shark — rosé will still flow freely. But it’s now ground zero for major industry moves. Case in point: last year’s festival was the backdrop for attempts to rescue the beleaguered ad tech firm MediaMath, though a crucial deal ultimately fell through.

Whether this year will yield anything as dramatic remains to be seen, but if it does, it will likely be linked to one of the five major themes and narratives permeating the week. 

Read on to find out what they are.

It’s not just a CMO’s playground anymore

Alright, it hasn’t been for a while. But with the festival now basking in a surge of corporate affection for advertising (or rather, its profits), a more diverse crowd of execs is joining in, especially those from beyond the traditional advertising bubble. Even Nvidia, the computer chip maker, has sent its global agencies and advertising business lead there this year.

Gone are the days when attendees were just hunting for inspiration or the latest innovations, said Donna Sharp, MD of MediaLink’s marketing consulting practice. 

Now, they’re just as eager to learn about optimizing commerce strategies, running a media business and, of course, how to get the most from AI. This shift has opened the festival’s doors to a wider range of execs — from CMOs to CIOs, creators to data scientists. 

Look at who Reckitt Benckiser has set to the festival this year, for example. It includes chief marketing, sustainability and corporate affairs office Fabrice Beaulieu, chief insights and analytics officer Elaine Rodrigo and global director of data drive marketing and media Sameer Amin. It’s a diverse team with varied but sometimes overlapping goals, showcasing just how multifaceted the festival’s audience has become.

And who are these execs rubbing shoulders with? Not just ad agencies and platform execs anymore. There’s  MediaLink’s owner, talent agency UTA, alongside heavyweights like OpenAI, Perplexity, Nvidia, and a cacophony of retailers-turned-advertising-giants. 

Speaking of retail media networks….

They’ll be out in full force this year—just like last year. Think Walmart, Instacart, Target, and Uber, to name a few. While their presence isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the conversations they’re gearing up for have certainly evolved since last year.

Now, it’s all about partnerships. Retail media networks are joining forces with publishers, ad tech companies, measurement providers, and more. This is the industry’s way of untangling a market that’s becoming increasingly complex and fragmented. If done right, these partnerships could be a game-changer, paving the way for standards, scale, and consolidation.

“We are eager to join brands from across verticals on the Croisette and highlight the benefits of journeys with Uber for their brand and media performance,” said Paul Wright, head of Uber Advertising International. “Moreover, with more advertisers on our platform, we can generate more profit to reinvest into the growth of Uber’s core businesses — accelerating the flywheel effects of our advertising programme.”

Athletes, their agents, creators, sports rights owners, and buyers — they’re all here in full force this year

They’re more determined than ever to control their narratives in popular culture, doing so with increasing sophistication. They’re crafting the stories they want to tell about themselves or their rights, creating fully integrated programs that span the entire sports and entertainment spectrum, from broadcasters to creators.

Athletes, in particular, are marketing themselves as vigorously as their endorsements, making this a hot topic that will surface repeatedly on The Stagwell’s Sport Beach. Expect to hear from football legends like Eric Cantona and Megan Rapinoe, State Farm’s CMO Kristyn Cook, and sports media personality Taylor, all diving into how they’re shaping their personal brands and engaging with fans like never before.

“The aim of Sport Beach is to provide inspiration to attendees, but it’s equality important that it be a place for authentic moments of connection between brands and athletes — somewhere they can meet and do business,” said Beth Sidhu, chief brand and communications officer at Stagwell Global. 

Last year, this theory became a reality. Athletes walked away from the beach with commercial partnerships and investments, said Sidhu. Unsurprisingly, she expects more of the same this year.

Here come the deal whisperers

Get ready for a flood of articles on this over the next week — and for good reason. Cannes has become the epicenter where deals are sparked, hashed out, and sealed. From upfront to partnerships and everything in between, the week will be buzzing with deal-making activity. But none will be as busy as the investment bankers and private equity investors, whose presence is set to be more pronounced than ever this year. Expect to see execs from Apollo, Carlyle Group, GTCR, Infillion, Azerion, S4 Capital, and more in attendance.

“We see this as a positive as clients seeking investor meet-ups often had to do so outside the tent poles,” said Lana McGilvray, founder and CEO of communications consultancy Purpose Worldwide. “They can now integrate meetings into their overall planning.”

Unlike last year, the odds of those meetings turning into real deals are much higher. Private equity investors need to deploy their dry powder or risk giving it back to clients. Borrowing costs are stabilizing and might even improve if central bank signals hold true. This is a whole new tune compared to last year’s cautious soundtrack. Yet, caution persists. The world and the ad industry remain unpredictable. Hence, dealmakers are chasing cost-efficient EBITDA deals in the digital marketing scene, said Ilhan Zengin, CEO at ShowHeroes.

 A convergence of CTV narratives

CTV will be fueling many celebratory toasts on the Croisette this week, solidifying its status as ad tech’s golden goose. However, this success story comes with more fine print than ever.

First, there’s the prospect of a drop in ad prices. With increased competition and tighter ad budgets, price cuts might be one of the few levers CTV players can pull to boost demand.

Then there are the TV manufacturers themselves, many of whom are eager to become advertising players in their own right. This fuels intense competition and uneasy collaboration, given their carriage agreements with each other.

Consolidation will be another big CTV narrative at Cannes. The inventory overlap across various players can bewilder advertisers. Many prefer negotiating directly with a media owner to ensure specific placement for their ads, avoiding the uncertainty of broader deals.

“Streaming and CTV have been hot topics for a while now, but the dollars are yet to match the enthusiasm,” said Eli Heath, head of identity at Lotame. “With recent merger and acquisition activity — including the Paramount sale and Netflix’s plans to build an in-house ad tech platform — it will be interesting to see how this will impact both the short and long term.”

Is Paris Hilton the new mayor of Cannes Lions?

There are ad land figures who become ubiquitous at conferences. Seeing Shingy and his trademark hair was almost a guarantee for some time. Gary Vee telling the ad world they’re doing it wrong? Of course. Cindy Gallop calling out sexism and ageism in the industry? You betcha. When celebrities join in on the ad land ubiquity it’s never who you’d expect. (Or maybe it is.) It now looks like we can add Paris Hilton to the ranks of expected sightings at Cannes. In 2022, Hilton took the stage at the festival …  with Gary Vee. In 2023, Hilton was back as her media company, 11:11 Media, was up for four Cannes Lions awards; she also chatted with Brand Innovators about being the “original influencer.” And this year, Hilton will be making the rounds from DJ’ing at Meta’s Cannes Lions kickoff party as well as at Adweek’s House of Cannes. — Kristina Monllos

Elsewhere from Cannes

  • No doubt, marketers have found uses for generative AI beyond social copy and internal content creation, but it’s yet to be said if AI will reach an inflection point at this year’s Cannes Lions. The Digiday Podcast returns to Cannes this year.
  • Influencer agencies are muscling their way deeper into Cannes Lions, as it becomes more of a distinct media channel. Are acquisitions around the corner?
  • The art of making a sale at Cannes may not be the same strategy taught in business school.
  • Publicis Groupe plans to use this week at Cannes to emphasize its AI expertise and entice its existing client roster to invest more heavily in the space.
  • Omnicom will announce today during Cannes Lions a strategic partnership with Amazon around its Amazon Ads service.

Overheard

“If anyone is willing to pay for you to go to a Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, that is a do because that is a magical place.” — Rob Reilly, global chief creative officer, WPP in our veteran’s guide to Cannes.

What to do

2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. OpenAI’s CTO Mira Murati and Accenture Song CEO David Droga chat about AI and creativity at Debussy Theatre, The Palais.

3:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Solo and The Martin Agency dissect the “Snoop Goes Smokeless” campaign for Solo Stoves that went viral in 2023 at Rotonde Stage, Rotonde.

4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mike Cessario, the CEO and founder of Liquid Death will discuss an entertainment-led strategy to develop brand awareness at Rotonde Stage, Rotonde.

Nightcap

4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Assembly at the BxP Cocktail Hour at Sport Beach.

5 p.m. Spotify Soirée featuring a performance by John Legend.

5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Women in Cannes Cocktails at Journal House.

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 2024 Lion winners will be announced including Pharma Lions, Health & Wellness Lions, Print & Publishing Lions, Outdoor Lions and Audio & Radio Lions at Lumiere Theatre, The Palais.

7 p.m. to 9 p.m. MediaLink’s annual Cannes Lions kickoff party, in partnership with Pinterest at MediaLink Beach.

7:45 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Ogury Cannes kick-off party at Ogury apartment.

10 p.m. to late Snapchat party featuring a performance by Kelis at Snapchat Beach.

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