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Business cards at the ready; it's the annual advertising industry shindig that is the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, starting this Saturday. Around 15,000 marketing and media executives will mix with well-known faces including Dame Helen Mirren, Christine Lagarde, A$AP Rocky and even the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
So why should businesses outside ad land – which could be accused of being a little inward-looking - care about what goes on in the south of France? Guests and speakers say they go to get deals done – eMarketer forecasts businesses will spend $584 billion on advertising in 2017 - and to learn how to solve business problems creatively, while others go because they're up for a prestigious Lion award.
The 2017 event is likely to be a slightly more sober affair than usual: News website Mail Online has decided not to hire a huge yacht this year – in 2016 pop band Take That entertained delegates, and previous guests have included various Kardashians - while two of the world's largest advertisers appearing at the festival are streamlining the number of agencies they use. Unilever and Procter and Gamble are looking for better deals and more transparency over where their ad money is going, and both will discuss diversity, a growing topic at Cannes.
P&G will feature heavy-hitters including Tina Brown, Sheryl Sandberg and creative director Madonna Badger, while Unilever's chief marketer Keith Weed is expected to give an update on its #Unstereotype initiative, launched a year ago. The Reverend Jesse Jackson will be speaking on the topic of how brands can help society be more inclusive, while this year, 47 percent of awards judges are women.
Aside from the consumer goods companies that spend big on advertising, TV networks are going to Cannes in increasing numbers and playing an active part in the official program, according to festival director Louise Benson, while Philip Thomas, the festival's CEO, claims that business actually gets done here. "A very high profile Hollywood producer told us that he doesn't go to the film festival any more but comes to Cannes Lions where the deals are done," he told CNBC by email.
This year, Paramount Network (which is rebranding from Spike TV) is bringing Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari to the festival. Both are starring in its new series "American Woman," with Spike's chief marketing officer Niels Schuurmans describing TV as entering a "golden age," in an email to CNBC.
Vivendi, meanwhile, is sponsoring the entertainment part of the program for the second year. Chief Marketing Officer Lucien Boyer told CNBC via email that content and entertainment marketing is a "strategic imperative" for how companies communicate with people, especially the elusive millennial audience.
How people watch TV and movies, as well as the content itself, will also be a big theme because of ever shorter attention spans, said Misha Sher, VP sports and entertainment at agency Mediacom. Sher is on the judging panel for the entertainment Lions awards, and has noticed a trend for topical themes such as the 'culture of protest'.
This can go wrong – (see Pepsi's ad featuring Kendall Jenner), but get it right, and a brand can cement its relationship with a consumer. "People are increasingly driven by purpose, wanting to be associated with companies and causes that make them feel they are making a positive contribution to their environment," he told CNBC by email.
Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the innovation group at agency JWT, notes that Alibaba will be discussing the mixing of Hollywood with tech companies. "Alibaba is now a major investor in entertainment. We're also seeing more Silicon Valley influence in Hollywood — Netflix, and Amazon, now winning major awards for their original films. This also poses exciting new territory for mediums and storytelling, using new technology," she told CNBC via email.
Alibaba is the main sponsor of the innovation part of the festival, which will feature talks from robots, data scientists and burlesque artist Dita Von Teese, while Nigel Vaz, the global president of DigitalLBi, told CNBC via email that companies will be there to discover "how technology can aid us in the creative process and in understanding consumers," especially when it comes to working out how to transform their businesses digitally.
Brands' mobile strategies will continue to be a big topic, suggests JC Oliver, global chief creative officer at mobile platform Unlockd. "We'll start seeing mobile screens as a creative canvas in their own right rather than a place where big ideas are cropped, crammed and shrunk into smaller formats," he told CNBC by email.
He also hopes that businesses will learn to reduce the irritation factor with mobile ads. "'Old media thinking' where ads are made impossible to ignore has plagued digital for a long time, but it's more noticeable on mobile because the device is so personal."
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