Why Too Much Ad Tech at Cannes Actually Fuels Creativity's Future

The Intersection of Technology and Creative is Ushering in a New Era of Digitally Led Advertising

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Over the years, I've heard many a creative lament the rise of the digital media and ad-tech companies at Cannes. I'm no creative but I've, too, bemoaned how all the new technology-branded cabanas block the sea view and logos of data companies cover up the facades of the grand hotels.

What used to be a bastion for creative directors and producers to talk about their craft and celebrate ideas has also become a global hub for the ad-tech world to tout their targeting, optimization and attribution tools. And yet, it's still pretty rare for the two to intersect. The creatives have their Cannes and the media/tech people have theirs.

But just as great advertising tends to result from tapping into a critical tension, this juxtaposition of Cannes' creative heritage and its technology influx is giving rise to a new era of redefined creativity and it's starting to show in pockets of the work.

As I walked through the Palais looking at the shortlisted campaigns, some of the most interesting executions were cleverly exploiting a particular digital-media platform's nuances or limitations, or building on an ad-tech platform.

Just a few of the examples:

"Geico's Forest." A fantastic example of how a great creative idea pushes against the perceived limitations of a digital platform, in this case a pre-roll media buy with no "skip" button. Because people typically get angry when they can't skip the ad, Geico (with Martin Agency and Horizon Media) decided to skip it for them, fast-forwarding through what is a pretty funny film (Gold-winning funny, in fact).

Lowe's "In-a-Snap." I loved how this nifty little campaign let people digitally take part in DIY projects by using the swiping/tapping interface of Snapchat Stories. A quick swipe here to saw a board or a tap there to hammer a nail and you'd move on to the next step in the project. I loved the creative thinking about how to incorporate the interface of a digital platform into the ad experience.

Westpac "Chopper Appeal." This Media Lion-winning campaign from DDB in New Zealand flighted a Facebook video ad to digitally reinforce the important work of a helicopter rescue team that saves people in crisis. A woman in need of rescue shows up in users' feeds; if they scroll by the ad without "helping" her, they'd continue to be targeted with additional videos showing the same woman, her situation growing increasingly dire. Only once they stopped ignoring the video and took action could they "save" her.

Canon "Photo Coach." Real-time data APIs informed digital billboards to display photo tips that helped people take the perfect picture based on that specific moment -- taking into account the weather, lighting, traffic and other elements. The idea came to life when 360i creatives repurposed technology the agency originally created for optimizing auction-based keyword bids in real-time. Lion-winning creativity built on top of search advertising technology.

Today's creatives benefit from a deep understanding of what ad technology and digital-media platforms can do. This learning expands their canvases and palettes beyond time-based and size-based boxes to also include data feeds, gestural interfaces and sequential, people-based targeting that's creating new types of interactions and storytelling.

Of course it goes without saying (or should, at least) that in all this convergence of creative and technology, fundamentals remain the same. No fancy ad-tech integration will move the needle if the strategy is off or if it's not part of a big idea. But leveraging the nuances of ad technology to craft messages that are thumb-stoppers and head turners is the future of creativity and media in action.

It's about working together using all the digital tools available, which requires bringing a curious and inquisitive approach to the changing ad-tech and media-platform world. And who knows, maybe next year even stopping by one of those beachside cabanas.

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