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From AI Transformation to Purpose, These Are the Top Insights We’re Taking From Cannes

AI AI, AI & Emerging Technology Consulting, AI Consulting, Community Management, Culture, Digital transformation, Original Content, Sustainability 8 min read
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Kate Richling

collage of photos of people on stage at Cannes Lions 2023

It’s come and gone again: the Cannes Festival of Creativity, one of the most prestigious and influential events in the advertising and creative industries. From networking over glass after glass of rosé to toasting the year’s most award-winning work, people from around the world came together at the festival, now in its 70th year, which serves as a barometer for what’s on marketers’ minds.

If you missed it (or could use a refresher), no worries—we’ve collected insights from across the week that set the agenda for what brands and their partners are focusing now and into the next year. Want to see the key themes at a glance? Find our deck at the bottom of the page.

Surprise: everyone was talking about AI.

It’s no surprise that among all the themes covered at Cannes this year, generative AI was the toast of the town. Our programming at Les.Monks Café centered on how marketers are using the tech now—or how they can lay the foundation for the revolutionary effects of AI in the very near future. “AI: Powering Transformative Customer Experiences” was one panel touching on these topics.

Panelists from Media.Monks talk on AI at Cannes
Les Monks Cafe with attendees listening to a panel talk

At the top of the conversation, Jay Pattisall, VP & Principal Analyst at Forrester, shared insights from his recent forecast report co-authored by Michael O’Grady. “In Q1, 19% of marketers in the US have used generative AI in their marketing execution. By Q2, that grew to 56%. There’s a really substantial growth,” he said, noting that early use cases include content development as well as media strategy and buying.

But what does this look like? Carlos Ricardo, Sr. VP Marketing Services & Creative Production at HP, laid out the brand’s strategic balance in identifying opportunities now versus building toward future goals. “We established what would be the potential business impact in terms of prioritization,” he said. “So, we determined 14 different work streams that we are currently working on which we call ‘Day Zero’—experiments that have already started.” In addition, the team has mapped out plans for 30, 60 and 90 days into the future to keep its AI transformation on-track.

Solange Bernard, Sr. Director/Head of Marketing Communications at Tim Hortons, also offered a peek behind the counter at how they’re using AI: “The way we’ve been approaching it is twofold. One, you see it as an opportunity to be more efficient. And then there’s also creative content development—there’s a lot of excitement in what we could be doing.” Bernard noted AI tools have enabled the team to take their first steps into virtual production to scale up creative.

AI plays a key role as an integrator that unlocks growth for brands.

As Pattisall shared, AI is more than unlocking creative content at scale—there’s also great potential in media. Later in the panel, Media.Monks Co-Founder Wesley ter Haar explained that when you bring both disciplines together through dynamic creative optimization, you truly unlock AI’s revolutionary impact. “For me, it brings to the front the original intent and promise of digital advertising: this idea that we can be real-time responsive, have highly personalized goals, and highly targeted feedback loops.”

This sentiment was echoed at our “TuesdAI Breakfast Session” with our EMEA CEO Victor Knaap and EMEA Chief Growth Officer Maria Nordstrom. With the discussion focused primarily on the basics of generative AI, Knaap explained the importance of integration across the business to “make an enterprise-ready pipeline where we can go all the way from insights to the assets that run on media,” and that he expects to see brands implement structural changes from the top down to accommodate.

Media.Monks presenting on AI at Les Monks cafe in Paris

One example: the work we’ve done with BMW and Mini, in which “atomic assets”—bits and pieces of creative, like the car model or environment featured—come together based on user profiles and data. “So, you get an infinite amount of assets that can be served into media,” says Knaap, noting that this infinitude can even resonate with audiences you haven’t formally targeted—leading to newer insights along the way.

The secret to cultural relevance? Leaning into communities that align.

AI wasn’t the only topic for discussion at Cannes this year. There was also a lot of talk on building cultural relevance and authenticity, especially when it comes to serving a movement or community. This is already top of mind for many brands during Pride Month—but the 50th anniversary of hip-hop during August this year offers a case study of this concept in real time as brands lean into the culture.

This was a key topic in our panel “Hip Hop 50. Then. Now. Forever,” hosted in collaboration with Billboard, ADCOLOR and Sony Music Group. “Any time a brand wants to utilize or activate a culture, it’s got to be really thoughtful, and it’s got to have intention,” said Eric Johnson, Executive Creative Director, North America at MassiveMusic. “It’s really important for brands to honor the culture and understand the culture.”

Hip Hop 50th Anniversary panel with Media.Monks and Billboard

With the group diving into legendary brand collaborations in the early days of hip-hop—like Run DMC’s historic signing with Adidas in the 80s after endorsing the shoes in their songs—Cashmere President and Chief Creative Officer Ryan Ford expressed the importance of seeking these natural alignments. “We’re trying to help brands understand where the authentic alignment is already. It’s not just about slapping a ‘Hip-Hop 50th Anniversary’ logo on your product, right?” Instead, he says, you need to think hard about how to show up for the cultural moment.

Mike Van, President at Billboard, offered one approach. “[Hip-hop culture] is inherently entrepreneurial, it’s bootstrap culture all the way. It’s all about financial independence and empowerment, and you have a whole generation now of consumers and fans of hip-hop who are thirsting for that kind of content.” The opportunity: brands can become arbiters to build knowledge within the culture.

Real purposeful marketing focuses on real solutions. 

One area where cultural relevance is key is purpose-driven marketing, which shows no sign of slowing down on the award circuit. That said, the nature of what passes for truly transformative, purposeful work has evolved from previous years. “We’ve moved beyond just raising awareness for good causes. We need tangible solutions,” Sara Cosgrove, our Global Director of Awards & Creativity, on our “Women Connect” panel.

The Women Connect panelists at Cannes

Cosgrove was joined by Jo Wallace, Global Executive Creative Director, and Ashley Knight, Strategy Director, in the panel, which was moderated by Luciana Haguiara, Executive Creative Director, Latam. With Wallace and Knight having served on juries this year, the group pushed back against work that tacks on a cause. “It has to have absolute relevance,” Wallace said. “We’re noticing a real disparity between brands that have a genuine purpose and a reason to function in that space and to bring good, and brands where there’s some laziness—you’re trying to bolt on this purpose and it shows.”

A favorite piece of work among the team is our Havaianas Pride Research project, where we teamed up with Havaianas, Datafolja and All Out to create Brazil’s biggest LGBTQ+ survey. Questions related to community had been excluded from Brazil’s official census, so the survey was designed to make the community and its needs more visible. Its findings were released on a beautifully designed web platform developed by the Media.Monks team. 

There’s no single definition of “good” creative.

Speaking of impactful work, the leadup to Cannes this year didn’t have the single frontrunner that was expected to sweep all the awards—but that’s not a bad thing, because it’s indicative of more diversification of what “good” creative is. An increasingly diverse talent base, plus more diverse and representative juries at the festival, will continue to affect what work is awarded and further challenge industry norms and expectations.

“It all comes down to empathy. There’s never been as many diverse crises we’ve been facing as a group of people, as an industry, and I think the expectation is creativity needs to do more to create empathy among these groups,” Knight shared. “Having more diverse perspectives that can speak to other people’s circumstances and needs can only be a good thing and that’s where I see a lot of change in the work this year.”

So, what makes outstanding work? The Women Connect panel made a rubric: have a clever insight that links to the brand, don’t overcomplicate things, play to emotion, and give newcomers the chance to challenge their more established peers. This helps bring new perspectives to the fore that can uniquely relate to audiences.

Supporting green talent is the idea behind our NextUp.Monks competition, in collaboration with Cannes Lions, which aims to elevate up-and-coming creative talent. This year, teams competed by answering a creative brief from Meta, "VR for Good," which challenged participants to transform how Gen Z thinks about VR and show how a headset can change minds and transform lives. We finished the week with a toast to the six competition winners—Vasyl Ilba, Mykyta Zolotoverkhyi, Ashwin Paul, Jorene Chew, Anna Zhang and Yazad Dastur, Jr.—who touched on their processes and experiences bringing the brief to reality.

Our NextUp.Monks chatting about the Cannes Festival of Creativity

One interesting tidbit came from Dastur, on zeroing in on an idea that has an impact. “While we wanted to do something different, we didn’t want to do something big. We aligned really quickly that we wanted to focus on a very small problem that would be able to help everyday life.”

Looking ahead, brands are planning their transformation strategies.

Throughout Cannes, we got a glimpse into what brands are thinking about right now. But what should they be doing now to prepare for next year—and beyond? S4 Capital Executive Chairman sat down with Salesforce President Sarah Franklin and Diageo Chief Digital Officer Susan Jones to speak on “Gathering the Transformation Trio” and aligning C-suite leadership across agency, technology and brand for continued success.

Franklin kicked things off by touching on the evolving role of the CMO. “You’re seeing more CMOs as more strategic in the business, the pathway to these more strategic roles, even the pathway to the CEO which, I think, speaks volumes for how much is on the shoulders of the marketeers and how strategic they are,” she said. Sir Martin Sorrell’s advice to building more strategic brands: be agile, take back control, and invest in first-party data.

On agility, Jones spoke on the need of continually evaluating and re-evaluating your activities. “Test new things as they come long to understand how they work, and then take a step back and go, ‘Is this sustainable? What’s a better way?’” This agility helps empower teams to reorganize around changed or emerging needs.

Sir Martin Sorrell at Cannes during a panel held at Les Monks cafe

When it comes to in-housing, Sorrell notes that the important thing is bringing teams together to work far more efficiently—something that AI can help unlock. “Being able to disseminate knowledge across the organization on the assumption that you’ve ingested the right data, and that you’ve opened it for access to all, is the really powerful thing—and it means you’re going to become a much more singular force for agencies to deal with,” by breaking down the silos and politics that typically slow things down.

Finally, “You have to have a strong foundation of your data. Your data has to be in order,” particularly when it comes to setting up artificial intelligence. But as the lifeblood of your brand, a solid data foundation can accomplish even more. Franklin mentioned Formula One, whose “Drive to Survive” Netflix series brought in a new fanbase, many of whom are women. “So you see how something which is very orthogonal to their actual business, which is a TV series, created this whole new community of fans for them. And what they’ve done from the data side to be able to really drive that personalization has been really impressive.”

The festival captured an industry at a pivotal moment.

While AI dominated the conversation at Cannes this week, it’s important to consider some of the pre-requisites touched on elsewhere throughout the festival: getting your data in order, integrating the business to achieve new outcomes and ensuring you lead with authenticity with everything you do. The beautiful part? Once you’ve made a solid foundation on each of these, you’ll be prepared to fully unlock the potential of technologies like generative AI. 

That’s it for Cannes this year—and we can’t wait to see how AI, more intentional creative and greater diversity on teams will continue to influence creativity next year.


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The website has been translated to English with the help of Humans and AI