A cookieless future, Dave Grohl and no face masks: MediaLink welcomes the industry back during Cannes Lions
It wasn’t the Croisette, but it was still very much a celebration. For most of the attendees at MediaLink’s New York City event held during the Cannes Lions on Tuesday, it was their first time attending an in-person industry gathering in the 15 months since the coronavirus pandemic first struck.
Roughly 200 people had to prove they were vaccinated to attend MediaLink’s bash at the Whitney Museum, the only in-person programming tied to this year's virtual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. It occurred about a week after New York announced it had lifted nearly all coronavirus restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.
For MediaLink’s Live @ The Whitney event, a sit-down lunch was followed by a series of panels discussing major topics faced by the industry, from the upcoming loss of cookies and the ever-changing role of the chief marketing officer to technology and e-commerce, and ended with an interview and performance presented by iHeartMedia featuring Dave Grohl, lead singer and guitarist of the Foo Fighters.
The event featured several well-known executives including Mark Penn, chairman and CEO at MDC Partners and managing partner and president at The Stagwell Group; Kate Jhaveri, exec VP and chief marketing officer at the National Basketball Association and Fiona Carter, CMO at Goldman Sachs. The event trailed a virtual interview MediaLink Chairman and CEO Michael Kassan conducted earlier in the day with Reese Witherspoon.
In-between panels and meals of chicken or cod and lobster mac and cheese, executives and industry professionals swapped face masks for face-to-face networking and glasses of Aperol Spritz. “It feels like the end of a year-long hiatus,” said one attendee. “It feels so good to be back and mingling with everyone again.” Another attendee expressed their excitement at seeing their entire team for the first time in 15 months.
“While we’re not at the Croisette right now, this is pretty darn close,” said Kassan, introducing the start of the panels to a maskless room with only a few missing seats. That enthusiasm and optimism permeated throughout the programming, even with the panel: “How the Cookies Crumbles: Creative Ways to Shape Experiences in a Cookieless World,” which asked marketers’ their thoughts on the imminent removal of third-party cookies. The industry is six months away from Google phasing out cookies in Chrome and Apple is already requiring consumers to opt-in to be tracked on apps with the rollout of iOS 14.
While many brands and agencies have been preparing for the end of cookies for some time, just how a world without those data-collecting tool might affect marketing moving forward is still something to grapple with. It was a topic that permeated throughout the panels, with marketers expressing that they believe the loss of data will ultimately be beneficial to the industry as a whole, with less reliance on targeting and more focus on using creativity and storytelling to drive brand affinity and sales.
“The art of storytelling has been lost,” says NBA’s Jhaveri. “There’s a time and place for good old direct response but the need for everything to be quantitative immediately is not how our fans live and we live our lives. That feeling of needing to be part of something comes from storytelling, and not a banner ad.”
“The best performing ads continue to be the least produced,” says Gayle Troberman, CMO at iHeartmedia. “We’re finding our way back to more authentic creativity.”
Several speakers shared the belief that the industry has collected too much data and that has distracted from providing value to consumers and reaching new audiences. “For awhile we got very myopic about KPIs and we forgot to build a brand,” says Carter.
“We’re over-targeted in many ways,” says Shenan Reed, senior VP, head of media at L’Oréal. “I’m trying to get rid of the word target altogether. At the end of the day, we’re trying to reach people. Lookalikes have been beneficial but they are limiting. We have to open up that aperture to all audiences, to people we might not have looked at yet.”
Mark Zagorski, CEO at DoubleVerify, believes the industry got “lazy” with all the data coming in and now marketers will have to figure out how to drive more outcomes through engagement. Marketers, he says, will have a harder time doing creative comparisons without cookies and will have to create different proxies to substitute. For ongoing campaigns, the context, levels of engagement and even where the creative sits on a page will becomes more important.
Speakers also touched on the evolving role of the CMO. Penn spoke with Kassan about how much more complex the role has become since the days when advertising was about developing a TV ad and finding the right media agency to place it. “Now you have a whole orchestra and if you don’t have that orchestra, you’re going to be left behind,” he says.
Another item on the agenda? How the pandemic has changed marketing strategy. Jason Horowitz, senior VP of U.S. marketing at Mattel, explained that Mattel has traditionally marketed to children, but with the pandemic, that strategy has evolved to marketing to parents as well. With more parents shopping online, children are no longer with them in aisles pointing to toys they want, he says.
Attendees finished off the night with cocktails and the creative talents of Grohl, who shared in a Q&A how the Foo Fighters’ new Bee Gees tribute album was inspired by his childhood and then went on to entertain the room with several fan favorites: “Times Like These,” “My Hero,” and “Everlong.” Just two nights before, the rocker performed at Madison Square Garden's first show since the pandemic began.
For onlookers holding their Aperol Spritzes and listening to the belting and string work of Grohl, it was a night that might as well of taken place in the French Rivera.