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Cannes Lions 2023 Wrap-Up: Three Key Takeaways

Image of the Cannes Skyline with some superimposed text.

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is the largest and most prestigious marketing event of the year, bringing industry senior leaders and luminaries together to meet, network and explore the future of marketing.

This year, the TransUnion team was on the ground over five days in Cannes. Read on to discover three key takeaways.

#1: Identity will enable the future of advertising

Every summer, Cannes serves as a locus of innovation and excitement for the marketing space, and rightly so. As the premier marketing industry event of the year, there’s no better place to see agencies, publishers and technology providers bring their “A” games.

But even with all that enthusiasm, conversations still gravitated back to challenges the industry is facing: In a still-fragmented media ecosystem, how can marketers connect signals across devices, platforms and publishers? How can media buyers assess scale across streaming services at the planning stage? And how can publishers accurately gauge the value of their users when that base may be spread across multiple different properties?

As thorny and complex as they may be, many of these questions and challenges have the same solution: Identity.

Fundamentally, identity streamlines the way transactions happen in the marketing ecosystem. For marketers, it gives them greater reach by connecting disparate device signals, enabling greater confidence in their buys and ultimately clearing the way for investments. For publishers, it’s about gaining fresh insights into their audiences, increasing their values and driving more yield. In this way, identity is becoming a ubiquitous enabler for the industry — on both the buy side and sell side.

In fact, identity is so important that much of the recent chatter from Cannes and elsewhere has pointed to identity becoming a new form of currency; a universal measure to evaluate success in the marketplace. And while identity hasn’t quite hit the level of standardization to meet the definition of a true currency, the fact the words “identity” and “currency” are coming up in the same breath is a strong sign of its rising importance. In having these conversations, the industry is recognizing identity is becoming a core part of the infrastructure underpinning modern marketing — from planning and targeting to activation and measurement.

Regardless of where you sit in the marketing ecosystem, a robust, privacy-safe and forward-looking approach to identity is only going to become more essential as time goes on.

#2: The industry has moved on from the cookie

Reignited interest around identity had one other major impact on conversations at Cannes this year: There was almost no discussion of the cookie.

Whereas once the concern around the death of the third-party cookie took up hours of talk time, in 2023, the cookie was most notable due to its absence. There are a few reasons for this:

Firstly, the explosive growth of streaming over the past few years reduced the relevance of the cookie because streaming media never really relied on legacy identifiers to begin with. Streaming video is becoming an increasingly important channel as viewers continue to migrate from linear TV. According to eMarketer, in 2023, total hours spent watching digital video will eclipse time spent watching linear TV for the first time. And with investment in CTV also expected to cross the $26B mark this year, it’s clear advertisers are following changing consumer preferences.

Secondly, the deprecation of the cookie happening in fits and starts, combined with advances in identity and data collaboration technology, have opened the industry’s eyes to the cookie’s shortcomings. In a heavily fragmented media ecosystem, the inability of the cookie to bridge the gap between disparate devices makes it compare poorly against identity solutions purpose-built for today’s streaming media landscape. This has ramifications for almost every part of the marketing cycle, including targeting, measurement, optimization and more.

In some ways, the final death of the third-party cookie has opened new lanes for innovation in marketing, not only delivering better, more relevant experiences for consumers, but also creating new opportunities for advertisers and media planners. If 2023 is going to be the year the cookie is ultimately deprecated, it increasingly seems like it’s going to go out with a whimper instead of a bang.

#3: AI will continue to be absolutely everywhere

If you could only pick two letters from the alphabet to pin to this year’s Cannes, they would undoubtedly be “A” and “I.”

This should come as no surprise. AI has dominated marketing and media industry headlines for the better part of a year since ChatGPT was released to the public in November 2022 and became the fastest growing consumer application in history in January. And that growth is expected to continue: According to eMarketer, some 116.9 million people in the US will be using generative AI tools by 2025, and the number of people using AI in a professional capacity will double by that same year.

Looking at those numbers and overhearing conversations in and around the Croisette, it’s clear AI is much more than just a flash-in-the-pan buzzword.

AI has the real potential to represent a fundamental shift in the way advertising messages are created, consumed and brought to market, and the AI boom brought on by the popularity of applications like ChatGPT and Midjourney has opened the floodgates of creativity and technology investment. High-profile demos from Meta and Google showcased new tools for advertisers that can churn out AI-assisted copy and images in a fraction of the time it would take a designer. And Bing explored the potential of using AI chatbots as inventory themselves, seeding advertisements into BingAI conversations as the next evolution of contextual advertising.

But even with all the hype around AI at Cannes, there are still real questions of governance and ethics surrounding the technology. One of the major themes coming out of the festival was AI still needs the human touch: Marketing messages created by AI don’t have a sense of taste or real brand safety. This means the most successful AI-driven campaigns will still have to be supervised and approved by a human being as full creative automation is a risky prospect with today’s AI tools.

Suffice to say, for as many announcements as there were, marketers are just beginning to scratch the surface of AI as a tool. The ultimate assessment of AI’s impact on the industry (and what the regulatory environment will look like for the underlying technology) will likely have to wait until Cannes 2024 and beyond.

Wrapping up

From the growing importance of holistic identity solutions to the seemingly limitless potential of artificial intelligence, Cannes 2023 highlighted even amid global economic uncertainty, innovation in the marketing space is not slowing down anytime soon.

Do you have questions? Our team is ready to help.