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Words, Pictures, Algorithms Converge On Yachts

Between robotics, artificial intelligence and other imagination-bending tricks, technology is the be-all and end-all of being-all and ending-all. Creativity is no longer an entirely human endeavor. There’s an algorithm for that.

Hello, ad peopleThe advertising people have made their yearly trek to Cannes, the French Riviera, for awards, parties and blue sky. It’s their reward for the grueling shuffle between creating and hustling. We salute them. We love them. Just hide the children.

Illumination for this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – real name with certain branding appeal – was provided by A-list actors, directors, musicians, singers, dancers, sports stars and, appropriately, magicians. Yes, illusionist David Copperfield opened the show. He did not, however, make WPP CEO Martin Sorrell disappear nor traditional media ad spending reappear.

“It’s hard to sell content but it’s easier to sell through content,” he told the assembled sellers of illusion, quoted by Pubblicita Italia (June 21). Native advertising and branded content is this year’s buzzword polyglot. Star power can rescue old, tired ad copy. We’ll have a side of TV with that ketchup.

Native advertising and its cousin product placement are more popular than ever as suspected solutions for the biggest consumer trend to negatively affect the ad people since power failure, ad blocking. “Media cannot rely on disrupting and distracting tactics anymore,” revealed IAB US CEO Randall Rothenberg. “The next generation of advertising must entertain, inform and have utility; make it feel like blocking the ad is like blocking a very valuable part of the experience.”

Ad blocking scares the daylights out of digital publishers reliant on digital ad revenues. According to a YouGov survey of online people in 22 countries conducted for the Reuters Institute Digital News 2016 report, released earlier in June, greater than 40% 18 to 24-year old digital device users in Germany, UK, US, Poland and Spain currently make those ads disappear.

The ad people love those Millennials and do not want to be deprived of their attention. The newest of the new media people made the Cannes pilgrimage to extol their virtues. Social video portal Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel made the pitch, with a YouTube ad no less, that Snapchat had “replaced TV for Millennials.” Forgoing the party-yacht and other sales-savvy embellishment Snapchat placed a huge billboard with its trademark ghost on the venue entry. This year they pitched the Snap Ads video ad format.

The competitive spirit of Cannes lived on as Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) had, arguably, the most visible yacht berth, nominally for “world’s biggest” online portal MainOnline. Parked next to it was the News Corp/WSJ/Times/Sun yacht; cheeky. Both were filled dusk ‘til dawn with A-listers flown in for the occasion. News Corp hired pop acts Take That and Fatboy Slim to keep invited ad people swinging from yard-arms. And, yes, Rupert Murdoch was there but he left early jetting off to Scotland to meet with Donald Trump.

Technology and talk about it was also pervasive. Putting what they do to good marketing purpose Chinese tech developer Tencent provided free WiFi at the Palais, the welcome screen pitching their WeChat mobile social messaging app platform. WeChat has 700 million users, significantly ahead of Facebook’s Instagram in the global tally of big, new social media portals.

Neither Google nor Facebook hired yachts this year. Instead they hired beaches. Both, figuratively, have super-tankers for moving all that money. GumGum had a big yacht. They sell ads embedded within online visuals programmatically, of course, using image recognition technology.

Google’s Deep Mind subsidiary won the new Innovation Lion Grand Prix for AlphaGo, its computer program that beats humans at board game Go using artificial intelligence. Google and Levi’s won the Product Design Grand Prix for a connected denim jacket. Yes, you can talk to the sleeve and connect to the world.

Nobody in the ad world believes technology and creativity will not further converge. One panel addressed whether or not a robot would one day win a Cannes Lion. The room voted yes. "Whatever happens, humans will still come to Cannes to try to pick up awards," opined moderator and PHD’s Hugh Cameron, quoted by Ad Week (June 24).

Cannes Lions were also awarded for ads. JWT Amsterdam won both Cyber and Creative Data Grand Prix for the ING Bank campaign The Next Rembrandt. In the series a computer is taught to paint like Rembrandt and then create a portrait, sensibly printed in 3D. “It made us excited and scared in equal measure,” said jury chair Tash Whitmey, quoted by (June 22). “It shows that where there is creativity in working with data, you can achieve almost anything.”

In the midst of all this marvelous embrace of technologies the ad business hangs onto its legends: like sex sells. BBDO’ Brazil’s Bronze Outdoor Lion for Bayer aspirin caused several headaches not just because of the ad campaign’s blatant sexism but the agency bought the space rather than the client. Bayer blamed the agency for placing the ads just to win an award. The agency said the client approved the ads but returned the award anyway. Cannes week started with a PR firm for a tech genius sending party invitations for “attractive women and models only” and requesting “recent untouched photos” for consideration.

All Cannes Lions are important; the very important revealed last. A little suspense, please! The Film Lion Grand Prix to London creative agency adam&eveDDB for UK luxury retailer Harvey Nichols saluted the creative use of store security camera video, the ultimate reality TV. The Titanium Lion Grand Prix, meant to represent a “game changer,” was awarded to Venables Bell & Partners for retailer REI, a campaign promoting “go outside” rather than shopping on the infamous US shopping hell-day Black Friday when REI stores took the day off.

BBH New York won the Integrated Lion Grand Prix – “holistic excellence” – for the Netflix House of Cards ads. The faux-political ads for character Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) ran during CNN’s December 2015 Republican Party debate telecast. A specially created website encouraged followers to add their own words, the results overwhelming the social media reaction to the “real” politicians. There’s a lesson here.

Most of the usual and ordinary Cannes conversations – sell, sell, sell – came to an abrupt halt Friday morning (June 24), reality of the United Kingdom exiting the European Union setting in. London is recognized as a major global center for media production and advertising. Predictable public statements from UK-centered advertising holding company CEOs were meant to keep clients, suppliers and, perhaps, staff from freaking out. "Over the course of time, we expect these uncertainties to be resolved and our agencies, clients and consumers will adapt as markets normalize," said Omnicom’s John Wren, quoted by Ad Week (June 24).

"I didn't support leaving the EU, but despite the surprise of this result, nor do I agree with those who predict disaster,” said Havas UK/Europe CEO Chris Hirst, quoted by The Drum (June 24). “The UK will continue to lead the world in the depth and breadth of its creative talent and creative industries. The fundamentals stay the same and while there will be much to discuss and plan for, it is important we don't lose sight of our talent, strength and global influence."

"The resulting uncertainty, which will be considerable, will obviously slow decision-making and deter activity,” said the aforementioned Martin Sorrell. “This is not good news, to say the least."

By Sunday afternoon the yachts had sailed.

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