Media Buying Briefing: Why influencer agencies are drawing attention at Cannes Lions

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

Thanks to Blockboard for sponsoring Digiday’s Cannes coverage this year and presenting this edition of the Digiday+ Media Buying Briefing, normally available exclusively to paying subscribers.

Influencers have made their presence felt at Cannes Lions for a few years now, as they muscled into the social media and content space repping their clients. But 2024’s festival ushers in the feeling that influencers and creators — or at least the agencies that serve and support this increasingly important form of marketing — will capture more attention on the many stages and behind closed doors.

In fact, Cannes could prove to be when acquisition discussions take place and a new era of consolidation happens in the space.

“I’ve been in this industry long enough to know there’s always the fragmentation where something specialized comes out,” said Amy Luca, evp and global head of social at Media.Monks. “I believe that we’re in the consolidation phase.”

Krishna Subramanian, founder and CEO of influencer marketing firm Captiv8, thinks the holding companies could stand to fold influencer and creator practices more into their media groups, given its rising importance.

“Influencers and creators have become so prominent that now they are a media channel,” said Subramanian, noting that that channel still stands outside most media shops in which holding company agencies operate. “And so now, if they start to make this more incorporated across everything, that’s where having something in house – or some sort of differentiation – [makes sense]. You could see agency holding companies picking up pieces to help strengthen that value proposition.”

Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, said the creator economy’s presence “comes to Cannes in a bigger and better way than before” each year.

“The difference between Cannes and other industry events is that creators are being directly integrated into where Fortune 1000 CMOs learn and play – add in the presence of traditional celebrities and athletes and you have the perfect mix of creativity and connections,” Detert added.

Meantime, as everyone attending Cannes Lions contemplates the potential, as well as the potential threat, of generative AI, the influencer agency space will demonstrate its ability to grow the automation side of the business, given that the festival has gradually added more content around influencer topics.

AI transparency and automation advances

With artificial intelligence taking off in the industry, Maria Rodriguez, senior director of marketing and communications at Open Influence, noted that influencer agencies are harnessing the technology to boost content creation and productivity – particularly as tech giants from Meta to Google have been experimenting with more AI tools that could benefit creators and agencies.

“But it’s not just the big players discussing AI,” Rodriguez said. “We will also see newer companies leveraging AI to tackle some of the industry’s most pressing challenges.”

One of the agency’s partners, SeeMeIndex, will be discussing using responsible AI to help brands create inclusive marketing strategies.

Media.Monks’ Luca said the focus on the tech dev side of the influencer world is where much of the growth is coming from. “At a base level, you’re constantly chasing algorithms, you’re chasing APIs,” said Luca. “There’s constant tech dev that has to happen just to stay current. Then add in this layer of AI and data intelligence that is not just creator, influencer and that’s where the industry is going.”

Amy Choi, executive director of influencer marketing at Trade School, pointed out that AI transparency and responsibility will be a major topic this year that impacts the brand and creator side of the business. “Transparency in AI usage is essential, especially concerning content ownership and development fees,” Choi said. “This conversation will be pivotal as we explore fair compensation for creators who integrate AI into their work.”

Social media awards and content

In April, Cannes Lions also launched Lions Creators, a new experience running from June 18-20 that will include networking, forums and other roundtables about challenges featuring platforms, brands, creators and agencies.

Rob Mayhew, creative director at Stagwell’s Movers+Shakers, has been attending the festival as a creator with TikTok for the past two years. Mayhew said the focus on content creators and influencers has grown even just based on venue sizes. The quality and quantity of entries across the social and influencer categories is also increasingly driven by more creators.

“A few years ago, you would have been shocked to see a TikToker on the main stage,” Mayhew said.

Open Influence’s Rodriguez also recalled when the social and influencer category was first added in 2018 at Cannes Lions, there were something like 2,027 entries and 67 Social Influencer Lions awarded that year – which is when “the category’s relevance was firmly established.”

Zoe Mitchell, chief growth officer of influencer agency Buttermilk, said she expects an even bigger influx of the creator community and awards that will attract “a higher volume and caliber of entries.” The spaces and panels, such as the Creator HQ and Creator Lions, are also going to be major draws.

“We’re predicting the creator presence will be palpable – with the swath of sessions targeted for creators only to experience the festival, the tours, the meets and mixers,” Mitchell said. “It’s the next wave of brand building, there’s just a third dimension to the party, the creators themselves.”

Creator partnerships expand

Trade School’s Choi said she expects to see more integrated creator partnerships this year, part of a growing trend as agencies and creators become more integrated in the creative development process.

“We anticipate more crossover between agencies and creators,” Choi said. “By treating creators as extensions of their marketing teams, brands can benefit from their unique skills and perspectives.”

For example, a more integrated approach could entail creators serving as co-creative directors or producers – “making them more invested in the brand,” Choi added. Trade School is already working with creators to have them in multiple roles throughout the branded content production.

Ultimately the key to making the creativity, the technology and the data streams all work is to be as open-source as possible, said Media.Monks’ Luca.

“What’s going to happen is, it’s much better to build in APIs so we will be an aggregator,” she said. “We can pull all this information and data together and use it for our clients, as opposed to trying to build the intelligence system … At the end of the day, each of our clients has different technology partners and data sources. We have to be the interstitial layer that is agnostic enough that we can pull it all in.”

Color by numbers

Email may not be the best approach to reach Gen Z consumers – considering they could average more than 11,000 unread app notifications (and much of it coming from emails). British retailer Music Magpie studied phone anxiety for Gen Z, millennials and Gen X participants during a two-week period. –AS

Some highlights:

  • During this study, Gen Zs averaged 11,289 unread app notifications on their phones, citing a rise in phone anxiety.
  • Email is responsible for the most unread notifications on participants’ phones, with the mail app generating the most unopened alerts across all generations.
  • The other bulk of alerts came from social media – 53% of the participants received the most notifications from WhatsApp.
  • Gen Z and millennials received 50% more phone notifications than their parents – averaging between 181 daily notifications (or one alert every 8 minutes) and 172 daily notifications, respectively. Gen X received an average of 84 daily notifications.
  • Google searches for “how to turn on do not disturb on an iPhone” have increased by 240% in the past year. The average person received around 146 daily notifications.

Takeoff & landing

  • GroupM made a few moves in the retail media/commerce media space. First, it’s integrating retail media forecasting, planning, and measurement capabilities from Incremental, a retail media solutions firm, into its Open Media Studio, a delivery platform built by its Choreograph unit. Clients will get access AI-driven planning, optimization, and analytics intelligence for retail media. Last week, the WPP-owned media agency network also struck a deal with retail intelligence firm Shalion, to secure retail media, digital shelf analytics, and unified market intelligence across 18 markets and more than 5,000 retailer and category combinations into Open Media Studio.
  • Omnicom’s PHD had a good week last week, winning Priceline‘s online travel media business from incumbent Ocean Media, and retaining the Volkswagen global media business following a review.
  • Speaking of retail media, Horizon Media‘s commerce unit Night Market, expanded SaaS platform Neon to give clients access to standardized measurement across retail media networks, so they can tweak the performance of their campaigns in real-time and adjust investment based on ROI outcomes.
  • And because there’s no such thing as too much retail media news, retail media network Albertsons Media Collective announced it’s launching Collective TV, which lets advertisers target, measure and optimize video campaigns across Albertsons own inventory, offsite inventory, CTV and eventually linear TV.

Direct quote

“Whereas previously, we talked a lot about the benefits of T-shaped [employees], now we’re going to the next evolution of that, which we’re calling &-shaped people. As an individual, you can’t just be sort of broad and shallow across things. You’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to be a data scientist, you’ve got to be a media practitioner, you’ve got to be analytics – to be the best you can be at doing those things.”

— Jack Swayne, T&Pm’s global partner, on the evolution of the media agency staffer.

Speed reading

  • Seb Joseph and Michael Bürgi examined the first six months of Havas Media Network’s North American CEO Greg James, and found he’s holding his own so far.
  • Joseph, Bürgi and Ronan Shields dug into the latest efforts to bring some degree of standardization and, ostensibly, brand safety – to the ad auction business, an effort led by the Media Rating Council and supported by some holding companies.
  • Antoinette Siu uncovered multiple rounds of layoffs at Goodway Group that have taken place over the last year.

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