At Cannes, yachts are standard, but tech companies like Google and Facebook took over the beaches this year

Key Points
  • As the internet changes how we eat, shop and do things, technology companies have become a larger presence and influence at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
  • Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Spotify and other tech companies sponsored beaches and events are a symbol of tech's increasing influence and disruption of the the advertising and media industries.
Spotify sponsored a beach in Cannes, France for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2018. 
Courtesy of Spotify

As the internet changes how we eat, shop and do things, technology companies have become a larger presence and influence at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

If you need proof, all you had to do this week was look at Cannes, France coastline.

The top awards event for the advertising and marketing industries, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is held each year to celebrate the best work from the industry. And whether it's accurate or not, who has sponsored what has become a barometer of a company’s success.

“Wow!” a fellow festival attendee said. “The WSJ [Wall Street Journal] boat is moving.”

She was remarking on the fact that while most of the yachts were docked, therefore requiring less crew, the News Corp. ship was sailing on the Mediterranean Sea.

“They must have a lot of money,” she added.

In past festivals, advertising holding companies sponsored the beaches. This year, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Spotify held the most prominent areas, with Comcast’s ad tech platform Freewheel and CNN also holding down their own sand spots.

Facebook and Pinterest even had their own piers. An advertising executive, who had also seen the Wall Street Journal ship proudly sailing, pointed out Google had many more “moving” boats.

Advertising agencies do have large sponsored meeting areas — especially in the hotels, while the lavish private multi-course dinners for clients at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc and helicopter rides to St. Tropez still exist.

Media companies and consulting firms brought in entertainers like Jon Bon Jovi and Kylie Minogue. However signs that agencies and media companies are cutting back from the excesses of past Cannes were clear to veteran attendees: Some noted the event seemed less crowded this year, with more smaller events instead of few large lavish ones.

The rise in invite-only yacht parties also indicated there more newcomers poised to take a larger role in advertising. Ad tech companies like The Trade Desk, Media Math, OpenX and Rubicon are increasingly taking over sponsorship of the penthouses and yachts. Amazon, which was officially attending Cannes Lions for the first time this year, had a suite at the InterContinental Carlton Cannes and sponsored a "hackathon" with digital agency Huge.

Other ad tech companies began springing up events in nearby areas. Mobile advertising company Kargo used Facebook’s pier to speedboat people off to nearby Antibes for lunch. Search-based advertising technology company Captify rented a villa about 25 minutes away from the festivities, and threw a pool party with BBQ and “free-flowing chilled rose all day," the unofficial drink of Cannes Lions.

Many executives noted Spotify, which won Media Brand of the Year, drastically increased their beach size from last year. The company hosted events on and outside the Cannes Croisette, bringing in artists like Miguel, The Killers, Travis Scott and Chvrches. Its position as the go-to hotspot became a worrisome point for other companies, who were stressed out that people may skip their events for Spotify. Even Kylie Jenner was there.

On the other hand, several executives commented on the fact Snap previously sponsored a beach, complete with a Ferris wheel last year. This year it seemed to have a much more meager budget, which made them wonder about the state of the company. One executive, who asked not to be identified, said Snap chief strategy officer Imran Khan told him the company was cutting back on spending.

Snap rented out museum La Malmaison for an art exhibit created in collaboration Christian Marclay called 'Sound Stories.' The interactive display involved several rooms where public Snapchat were incorporated into art, including a piano where the sounds were made using Snapchats. Another room featured phones suspended with string, which when you spoke to them matched your pitch and tone with Snapchats.

Snap and artist Christian Marclay created an organ where the sounds were made from of public Snapchats. 
Courtesy of Snap

It was an interesting way to see Snapchats in a creative context—though unfortunately for Snap, Instagram also created an art piece with posts from public Instagram Stories.

To be fair, it’s highly unlikely the two companies knew what each other was planning to bring to the festival. And, Instagram’s exhibit was different. Created by artist Es Delvin, observers sat inside a 360-degree “stage sculpture” of building facades while they watched a 3-minute immersive video installation of the top events of 2018 shared on Instagram Stories.

“Another way Instagram copied Snapchat,” a media executive joked.

Courtesy of Instagram

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.