At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, return on investment was top of mind for all the advertisers and marketers who spend millions to be there.
According to the festival, attendees get reimbursed in creative knowledge (learning from the best of the best work winning the Lions) and business opportunities (102 brands, the most ever, were in attendance this year providing plenty of ways for agencies to form new partnerships).
Ad Age sat down with some high-profile executives to get a sense of what they felt they were getting out of Cannes, and discussed the trickiness of proving ROI in general.
Some go even on their own dime
Brian Wieser, who joined GroupM as global president of business intelligence in February from his role as senior analyst of Pivotal Research Group, says the trick to getting through Cannes is to start early.
"I have a very different approach to Cannes," Wieser said, who tried to schedule meetings from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. "I try to skew it early which I think makes it more effective."
For Wieser, Cannes has always been worth it. Even when he had to pay for it "on my own dime," he adds. "It's just ridiculously effective to meet people from around the world."
Wieser also provided a tip on how to measure effectiveness of campaigns, particularly experiential activations that can be hard to track. (Of course, activations from brands including HP, Live Nation, Hulu and Pandora flood the French Riviera.)
"It's very hard to assess," Wieser said, advising brands to review the entirety of campaigns. "If you notice that campaigns have some sort of activation, that’s really customized, really bespoke, really unique, and those campaigns tend to do better, that’s probably a good idea you should be doing more of them," he noted.
He said, assess "the forest" not "the tree."
Let's get down to business
John Osborn, chief executive of OMD U.S., was at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity "for one reason, and that's that our clients are here," he said.
"There is no shortage of meetings, but we’re trying to take a very intentional approach," Osborn said, explaining that OMD's focus "is more about driving revenue than drinking rosé."
Sure, "it's always been a place for folks to let their hair down," Osborn notes, but he advises advertising and marketing professionals on the ground to not miss the "raw, interesting conversations happening on the sidelines of the event." That's how attendees will get their return on investment, in his view.
"There's a lot here," Osborn said. "The sheer size and scale of [this year's event], I’ve never seen anything quite like it."
Outside of Cannes, speaking in general on proving ROI for clients, Osborn said that everything about the media agency's role "begins and ends with the consumer."
"The consumer is in charge," he said. "You talk about ROI, return on investment, yeah, but it’s also return on interest. Fighting for that [consumer] interest and earning that interest is super, super important."
Amid all the chaos the parties and presentations along the French Riviera, which are certainly relevant to all the brands and agencies constantly fighting for attendees' time and interest at Cannes.
The trickiness of proving ROI in evolving media
Proving ROI is not always easy, especially when it pertains to new media such as voice.
"Because voice is a relatively new field, there aren't necessarily industry standards and metrics that are tried and true and have been in place for a really long time," says Isobar U.S. CEO Deb Boyda, discussing a campaign the agency did to promote stop-motion animated film "Missing Link," released in April for production companies Laika and Annapurna Pictures.
The "Missing Link" campaign, in which Isobar built a skill in Alexa that enabled children to talk to characters from the film as they went on adventures, was submitted in the Cannes Lions 2019 Voice category.
Isobar tracked the success of the campaign by looking at the number of times people used Alexa to interact with the "Missing Link" characters (135,000), according to Boyda. Of course, measuring the success of the film also helped (it made $24.5 million at the box office).
Boyda says the reality is that clients feel a lot more comfortable advertising in media where there's "a backbone of history" to reference.
"We have a lot of conversations about the fact that the pace of change is really intense and technology is bringing to the forefront possibilities and ways to engage consumers that never existed before," she says. "If you want to be a progressive marketer, you have to be able to take a little bit of a risk."
Better late than never
The ROI on the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is similar to the ROI on a brand campaign, in one way at least—sometimes it's good to those who wait.
"Unfortunately, you can't optimize Cannes the way you can optimize a campaign in real time," said Hearts & Science CEO Erin Matts. "The payoff is sometimes months or years later."
Matts' client, QuickBooks Global Brand Marketing Director Michelle Taite, who chatted with Ad Age at Cannes, argues that's not entirely different from a campaign.
"We track long- and short-term [performance]," Taite said, noting not everything "happens over night."
While agencies and clients can track short-term success in how many impressions, interactions, views, etc., a campaign garners, in real time, the effect it has on business results—and brand recognition takes time.
For example, QuickBooks' "Backing You" campaign—iterations of which have featured Danny DeVito—launched in 2017 by Heats & Science and TBWA\Chiat\Day, and helped the brand gain recognition among "those who work for themselves, small businesses, the self-employed," Taite said. That, however, took longer "shifts in attribution."