Why commerce media networks are making a bigger play at Cannes Lions 2024

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

The growth of retail media — er, commerce media — is on full display at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this week.

With everything becoming an ad network, the burgeoning channel has expanded far beyond that of retailers like Target and Walmart. Brands like Chase and United, which both rolled out new ad networks in recent weeks, are on the ground with cabanas at Cannes for the first time to shake hands with and pitch advertisers on their ad networks. The new networks are not alone in making Cannes a priority this year. Established retail media networks like Kroger are also dedicating a footprint in Cannes for the first time with a cabana as well as dedicated programming in the hopes of gathering an audience of festival attendees and potential advertisers.

It’s easy to see why commerce media networks are making a bigger play at Cannes. The wheeling and dealing seems to have returned in full force. Pitches are happening. Client meetings to reinforce relationships are taking place. The rosé is flowing. Why not try to garner the attention of a CMO as they pass the Palais with QR codes where marketers can learn more about the new network (United) or roll out the pink carpet to plaster with branding that passerby are certain to see multiple times throughout the day (T-Mobile) or even just offer an oasis of air conditioning and shade amid the blazing sun of Cannes (all network Cabanas). 

“[Cannes] is obviously the premier global advertising event and I think we were looking at things as, OK, retail media has reached such a level of importance in the advertising industry overall that it’s really the responsible thing for us to do is to be there to be part of the industry conversations,” said Brian Spencer, marketing director, Kroger Precision Marketing at 84.51. “We want to hear what everyone else is talking about and advocate for how retail media can help to lead some of the changes, the better changes, that are happening across the digital ecosystem overall.”

For Chase Media Solutions, the new ad network from J.P. Morgan Chase, Cannes is all about “creating awareness,” explained Chase Media Solutions’ president Rich Muhlstock. “We’re doing meetings not only with a lot of advertisers and media agencies, but also [talking to people about] potential partnerships down the road.”

Getting marketers to consider a new commerce media network and part with ad dollars for test budgets to eventually become a regular part of the media mix is certainly a goal for the ad networks on the ground this year. It remains to be seen if that goal will be realized.

The appeal of rich first party data from commerce media networks is only heightened amid the rise of AI, said Craig Elimeliah, chief creative officer at Code and Theory, who posits that the need for more data to train AI will benefit commerce media. “It’s not big data anymore,” said Elimeliah. “We’re hungry to train our models.” 

As much of commerce media can seem like new walled gardens; advertisers say the challenge continues to be measurement and attribution. And how much commerce media networks are willing to share their data is an ongoing question — as will be whether there will be any consolidation. There are only so many ad dollars that marketers can dedicate to commerce media and it’s impossible for marketers to spend with all of them to test and learn which ones make sense for them.

It helps that even as there’s growth in commerce media with new entrants into the space, mainstays like Kroger’s Spencer don’t see coming to Cannes as there’s more networks pitching advertisers for ad dollars as a reflection of a more competitive landscape. Instead, Spencer believes that “we’re really just advocating for retail media as a category.” 

“We don’t see all of these retailers as competitors,” said Spencer. “We feel like the competition is bad media experiences. The competition is the old way that the media industry has been functioning for the previous 20 to 25 years with third party cookies, irrelevant ads and massive advertising waste. That’s the real competition.”

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