My Takeaways from Cannes Lions 2015: It’s “And” Not “OR”, PB&J, and the New Mad Men

Digital Marketing


As our team made its maiden voyage to the 2015 Cannes Lions festival this year, I really didn’t know what to expect. But it didn’t take long before it was clear that we were a company with the right technology, in the right place, at the right time.

Last week, Marketo attended the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity at a time of growing convergence between marketing and advertising. This year’s conference also coincided with the dawning realization that creative advertising is going to become a lot more programmatic, systematic, and yes, personal.

The change has been unfolding for months, but Cannes made it clear that marketing automation and advertising tech companies, like ours, are now key players in helping to drive the conversation forward as the worlds of technology and creativity collide. Here are my main takeaways from the event:

Everyone Likes Peanut Butter & Jelly!

Without hyperbole, this was the year that Cannes Lions transformed into a shindig–Silicon Valley-style. Marketo was there with the likes of Google, Facebook, Turn, Adobe, MediaMath, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and other household names in the tech industry. But, more importantly, it served as a moment in time where marketing technology (martech) and advertising technology (adtech) came together like peanut butter & jelly. We were there for a reason: there was keen interest in how technology was changing the advertising business. Indeed, I was pursued frequently by people asking me to explain more about Marketo’s Ad Bridge product: “Can you really tie an advertisement to an individual conversation that is happening across email, mobile apps, and web pages?” Literally and figuratively, Marketo’s technology figured as both bridge and connector between these two worlds.

This accelerating merger between the worlds of marketing automation and the world of advertising technology (which I call engagement marketing) intrigued both the advertising types and the creative types in Cannes. The idea of engagement marketing may be old hat to us, but it was magically innovative to a lot of folks still unfamiliar with the concept. We explained how they could move beyond generic, siloed ads on web pages and ad networks to connected, narrowly focused, ongoing conversations across all channels. The payoff is not in the jargon-y words I just used, but in the simple idea that an ad that is personal and relevant gets much higher conversion rates and much more money. We told one story about 3 Day Blinds, which saw an 80% improvement (!) in its cost of acquisition. This combination unlocks incredible power with the ad buying world driven by ad exchanges, demand-side platforms, and ad networks themselves. (Side note: peanut butter & jelly…YUM.)

Technology & Creativity: The Genius of “And”

Another corollary hot topic that made the circuit was whether technology in general—martech, adtech, etc—was starting to crowd out creativity—or even elbow it aside entirely and take over. This wasn’t surprising, since technology (or “science”) is often viewed as being at the expense of “art”.

What I always tell people and told my interlocutors (big word, I know…trying to sound smart here) was that this is about the genius of “and” rather than the tyranny of “or”.

Technology such as that developed by Marketo allows them to be even more creative in ways they could never be while still constrained by having to come up with one concept that was generic and then blast it out in mass-market fashion. Technology “unshackles” marketers and allows them to come up with nearly infinite ways to drive personal engagement with consumers and buyers.

What’s more is that today’s technology is different. The technology of the last generation forced marketers to become technologists, learning how to execute campaigns and programs in cumbersome tools. But we want marketers to be marketers, so that means leaving the tech to the engineers. What is awesome is that today’s technology is freeing up marketers to be marketers. Technology and creativity—now, what a beautiful marriage.

The New Mad Men Are Coming, the New Mad Men Are Coming!

One surprise for me: the ad agencies get it. Before flying out for the conference, I wrote that agencies will need to develop a new generation of “Mad Men” to complement their creativity and the ad technology they use with the new generation of marketing technology if they’re ever going to flourish in a changing world successfully. I thought that might be a hard sell. But I spoke with many agency leaders gathered at Cannes, and they understood their world is undergoing a transformation.

I participated in a great panel along with the chief strategy officer for Digitas and the president of Havas. The fact that the CMO of a marketing company sat on stage with top executives from two of the world’s biggest digital creative agencies around speaks volumes about the broader industry changes impacting the space. And the fact that consumers now rule the roost and are shutting off generic, interrupt-driven advertising is forcing everyone to change their world view and embrace technology. One of those colleagues on stage said something akin to, “we will all have to adapt or die”.

I ran around like Paul Revere heralding the arrival of these intelligent folks who talked about this transformation.

I thought that I’d have to do a sales pitch to convince them, but they were on the same wavelength. It’s a journey for sure, and we are at the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a hard change in many places, but they get where this is going and they told me how they planned to transform their own companies. When I sat down with the managing director of a very large agency, for instance, I nearly fell out of my chair when she described how the biggest thing at her shop this year was the introduction of marketing automation and content marketing.

I can’t wait to see what the dialogue will be next year.

There’s a revolution coming, and I, for one, could not be more excited.