"Last year, I saw some otherwise really smart companies pony up
insane buckets of cash—and they simply covered the entrances
to many hotels with massive, cheesy, retina-burning vinyl ads,"
says Brian Collins, chief creative officer of brand experience
design company Collins. "Logo-covered plastic barnacles.
Everywhere. No imagination. And no savoir faire."
"Whatever lingering illusion I tried to hold on to about the
sophistication of Cannes—I mean, Alfred Hitchcock filmed 'To
Catch a Thief' here with Cary Grant and Grace
Kelly—vanished," Collins says. "Instantly. If they're smart,
I hope those brands who want to make an impact bring as much
imagination and taste this year as they brought money last
To that end, many of the promotions for digital players
including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Pandora and Accenture
Interactive will attempt to balance the creative spirit of Cannes
with technological prowess, without the heavy-handedness found at
recent events. Lesser-known outfits, such as MetaX, a blockchain
platform with hopes of improving the digital ad ecosystem, will
also be in France to try to convince marketers that their
technology can add to consumer experiences.
Cannes may have reached its tipping point in 2017, when
Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun unexpectedly
announced that his agency holding company would skip the 2018
festival en masse, supposedly to fund—wait for it—its
AI system, dubbed Marcel.
"The watershed moment was definitely last year, when Publicis
went out and said what a lot of people were feeling around the
show," says Susan Panico, senior VP of strategic solutions at
Pandora. "Technology is evolving the way that we do our business,
but it's also changing the way that we think about how we reach
It wasn't until last year that the industry finally caught on to
how big Cannes had become, she says—"so big that it had all
these tentacles around ad tech and data, and many felt the original
spirit of Cannes was lost."
Sounds and stories (and tweets)
Two years ago, Snapchat succeeded with its Snapchat House, a
private meeting space hidden away behind tall shrubs. Then came
last year's Ferris wheel—hard not to notice, and hard to ride
(blazing heat and stuck-shut windows meant riders baked
This year, Snapchat will introduce a project more in tune with
the spirit of the festival: "Sound Stories," a collaboration with
renowned artist Christian Marclay. He is perhaps best known for
creating "The Clock," a 24-hour timepiece that was made from
thousands of movie excerpts over 70 years of film history. With the
help of Snapchat algorithms and engineers, Marclay will draw from
hundreds of millions of videos posted to Snapchat's public "Our
Story" section to create five immersive, interactive audio-visual
installations that experiment with the sound of those videos.
Cannes attendees will be able to see it at La Malmaison art
Pandora says it has no intention of being too loud this year,
adding that it will return to its yacht and hold events with 20 or
so clients and creatives, a departure from previous years when the
company mainly focused on entertainment and client meetings.
The company says that it will invite just 12 to 14 high-level
creatives per day from agencies and brands to this year's
activation, dubbed Pandora Creative Studio: Six Dimensions of
Sound. It aims to show how sound can evoke physical reactions and
emotions or create meanings, and what this can achieve for
Others, such as Facebook, will return to the beaches of the
French Riviera to host sessions in areas such as diversity and
creativity, as well as brand safety. "From a Facebook perspective,
we feel we have a duty to show up in a thoughtful way," says Julie
Hogan, Facebook's marketing director and leader of the company's
efforts at Cannes this year.
Facebook will also again set up at Hôtel Barrière
Le Majestic Cannes, directly across the street from the beach. The
company will have a Stories Lounge, meant to teach people how to
master Instagram Stories through interactive sessions. Facebook's
Analog Research Lab will aim to promote creativity and design on
the social network. But unlike previous years, the social media
power will also hold events around social good and privacy.
Facebook will not, however, be back in the Palais, the
convention center that is the main venue for official Cannes Lions
programming. Its Instagram unit had space there last year.
Matthew Derella, global VP of revenue and content partnerships
at Twitter, says the infusion of tech and creativity with the
social media's platform was on full display last year, when 65
percent of Cannes Lions winners included an element of Twitter.
"That's extremely inspiring and humbling for us," he says. "Similar
to digital advertising, people have a choice in terms of where they
want to put their attention. In order to cut through, you just have
to know your audience, and that happens at these industry events
Derella says this year the company will take advantage of the
global appeal of the World Cup, which is happening at the same time
as the festival, by showing as many sides of the World Cup as it
can on video screens at Cannes. Official FIFA broadcasters around
the globe will be sharing real-time highlight clips of goals and
studio shows analyzing match content on Twitter.
"That is a rich opportunity for advertisers looking for quality
connections," Derella says, adding that in 2014, during a single
match between Brazil and Germany, fans sent nearly 36 million
tweets, a record for a single event. "To put that in perspective,
there were 25 million tweets sent about the Super Bowl that year,"
For the most part, though, Twitter's activations will be similar
to last year, the company says. Its regular #SheInspiresMe brunch
will include the actress Kerry Washington as a guest.
Don't forget blockchain!
Some companies have established themselves within the creative
community without making too much noise, a feat that newcomers such
as MetaX hope to achieve.
"This year is extremely important as it will dictate our
decision-making for subsequent festival planning," says Alanna
Gombert, global chief revenue officer at MetaX. "Cannes needs to
find its stride, but creativity and tech can live together and we
hope this is illustrated in June."
A main-stage panel about blockchain that will include the
musician Akon shows the level of interest in the technology, she
To Anatoly Roytman, managing director of Europe, Africa and
Latin America at Accenture Interactive, it's good for the industry
when new tech expressions such as blockchain go to Cannes. "It's
not just about X or Y, but all of the things combined," Roytman
says. "If you attend any of our sessions, it will talk about media
and the ability to connect it to other things."
Roytman says the digital agency will "double down" on Cannes
this year by increasing its overall presence at the event and
mounting more panels. "What we are doing is something very
different to the totality of the experience," Roytman says.
"Agencies need to be accountable for the business outcome, not just
for clicks or views. This is the message we will be pushing at
Whether or not digital platforms again change the skyline at
Cannes, the tech presence is likely to keep growing. Pinterest is
back with its second installation at the festival, including its
home base at Pinterest Pier, directly in front of the Carlton
"We have quadrupled the number of client meetings at Cannes,"
says Eric Edge, head of global marketing communications at
Pinterest. "We expect to have more than a hundred. The ROI is based
on conversations and partnerships that we either advance or ink at