Math and madmen spawn Cannes hybrids

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 15 July 2015
Paul McIntyre, AdNews contributing editor

It’s old news now, but the new money in Cannes is unquestionably with the data dudes. Madison Avenue types remain the anchor of the monstrous alcohol intake at Cannes each year and the cream of their creative work remains brilliant. But despite all the talk about creativity, the real money now is with the tech gatekeepers and algorithmic alchemists.
Dozens upon dozens of tech, data and marketing automation start-ups were in Cannes forging new alliances - many of them with those old-world media companies and creative and media agency networks most love to dump on. Both sides need each other and increasingly, they’re getting it.

Specialist marketing automation and customer analytics outfit Marketo is a case in point. Up against marketing cloud suite behemoths like Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and even IBM, Marketo was in town for the first time this year and admitted Cannes “was an eye opener”. It held scores of meetings with agency networks and marketers punching its case for why a best-of-breed software partner was far superior to the big software company roll-ups - and how a single customer view inside a company can (using Marketo software) now bridge to audiences anywhere in digital media.

It might have been slightly uncomfortable for some Omnicom and Publicis agency network heavies, who have struck global alliances this year with Adobe and Salesforce but little is exclusive these days. Except probably those apparent anachronistic advertising and media account conflicts. Strange how brand owners remain so precious about conflicts with their fading agency friends yet scramble over each other to use the same technology platforms and data management modules from tech magicians which, in the end, produce, well, pretty much sameness (more on that another time).

Nevertheless it was these sorts of conversations feverishly taking place in and around the Cannes creative competitions which fuelled much of the action on the Riviera this year. Elsewhere the conversations were as much about legacy media firms building media tech and data stacks as it was about creating outstanding, world-beating content. The flashiest parties – in fact, pretty much the only parties – were from the tech-industrial complex. Ad agencies were quiet. Media agencies too.

All is not lost, however. Besides Sir Martin Sorrell unapologetically stating you must “eat your own children” in reference to WPP creating joint ventures that could harm his global agency networks, some creative and media agencies are playing tech at its own game. M&C Saatchi’s Lions haul for Australia around the Optus Clever Buoy project is indicative of how some are reinventing or expanding themselves. M&C has an impressive line-up of innovation projects in the pipe for blue chip clients fusing tech capabilities with true ideas and creative thinking. It’s a good sign, although the competition for these agency groups is morphing fast.

One of the more intriguing conversations I had at Cannes was with the top brass from IBMiX. This interactive “customer experience” agency that Big Blue set up last year is already a $1.7 billion revenue unit. It has 20 creative studios so far globally and is winning streams of work from the CMO and CDO functions inside client companies. When Citibank’s US CMO and CDO wanted to be the first in banking to be on Apple’s new watch, they briefed IBMiX. Likewise for Nissan for another communications-data-user experience project. And why was IBMix in Cannes? Primarily to find creative talent. Its global chief creative officer and ex-agency boffin, Joanna Pena-Bickley, said there was massive interest in IBMiX from the creative community. They’ve sniffed the wind and know chaos is well underway in their backyard.

IBM is not what any of us would hold up as the bastion of creativity, but based on the roadmap I saw in Cannes, it’s one to watch.
And one day, when the global industry sorts out the tech noise a little more crisply, we’ll see real creativity resurface like a kung fu fighter. As it should. But a vastly different specimen it will likely be. Just don’t resume your usual programming.

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