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Digital Transformation Artificial Intelligence Creative Works

Cannes Lions showed a way ahead for marketers amid technological change

By Jon Reeves, Vice President, Consulting



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July 3, 2024 | 7 min read

As AI abounds, how do marketers stay relevant? In this diary from Cannes Lions, Jon Reeves of VaynerMedia EMEA says that while change is afoot, there’s plenty to feel optimistic about.

A red and blue neon 'open' sign

Marketers must maintain an open attitude to remain open for business / Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Mythical Cannes. A music festival, school trip, and aprés ski mashup, all rolled into one – where the world’s marketers jostle for profile, access, and contacts. All amid a sea of rosé and wristbands. Attendee experiences differ wildly based on one’s ability to sift through a dizzying programming list to find the real gems. As a Glastonbury veteran, I felt right at home.

Packed in like sardines on my return flight to Blighty, I wondered how I’d convey what Cannes felt like this year. Ultimately, two things stuck out. Firstly, how marketers might remain ‘in control’ amid looming disruption. Secondly, there is a growing need to acknowledge where consumer attention is right now, and to act on it.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the marketing industry to influence consumers and their buying decisions at scale. This challenge is only set to accelerate as we welcome AI into the mix. Those who harness AI correctly may well have the power to walk over the establishment and resign whole industries to the history books.

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Inspiring words

The leaders I heard speak had some stark views on how they will weather the storm. They provided intriguing perspectives on positions of strength that the marketing collective should heed if they are to keep their power.

Musician WILL.I.AM said he felt that new industries, unlocked by AI, will place creators and their inspiration at the center of future cultural and commercial dominance. “Music, TV, radio; the media we have today was invented, someone dreamt it up,” he said. “If you are just trying to do yesterday with today’s technology, you’re using it wrong. You’re supposed to dream up some new shit.”

Film producer Michael Sugar spoke about navigating consumer realities and trusting ourselves more with creative decisions. He said: “Every brand leader wants to meet a consumer where they live, and right now consumers live in worlds where they pay to skip ads. You also can’t predict success, Netflix has more data than anyone and makes a hundred shows for every Baby Reindeer, so don’t chase your tail forever trying to find a new way to measure something that is outdated.”

Global creative director Melissa Wildermuth espoused creative subjectivity and the virtue of parking your ego. “Lil Yachty wanted to create ‘lil yachts’ for a cereal brand, ones that would go in the bowl and swim in the milk,” she said. “I didn’t totally see it but said he was probably onto something amazing because he knows his audience and I clearly don’t… Experimentation needs to be a formal part of your go-to market strategy.”

And finally, advertising legend Sir John Hegarty gave a battle cry for humanity. “In the beginning, storytellers would sit round the fire talking about the world, what it was, and how you related to it,” he said. “It is so fundamental to everything we do. Technology is now trying to usurp storytelling, almost trying to say you don’t need it. Some of it is actually trying to take our humanity away and I think we need to fight back. I think we need to say no, you’re a service to us.”

These conversations highlighted impending threats and opportunities around creative ownership, decision-making, and impact achievement. They pointed to a world where traditional marketers become disintermediated from consumers by technology, and where human spark is demoted in favor of data omnipotence.

The future is change

Yet, there is hope. If we do see a great collapse of power and control for much of the industry, this may well lead to a great ‘opening up’ that will safeguard a marketer’s relevance in the future. This means hiring expertise or learning to leverage emerging technology, actively challenging existing practices, and prioritizing experimentation to keep marketers at the heart of building more resilient brands and businesses.

A fully open mentality should trump seasoned experience, and the winners will be those who identify and instantly grasp emerging opportunities with atypical approaches in place of utilizing the perfected routines of yesterday.

Embracing change to retain power will require the industry to let go of ego and subjectivity, and control outcomes by making daily consumer-centric decisions. Ironically, despite hearing Queen’s We Are The Champions blasting from a winner’s balcony as the week drew to a close, the real race for marketers is only just beginning.

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