The Machines are Coming: 4 Big Ideas Dominating Cannes Lions 2016

June 22, 2016

VR Marketing at Cannes Lions

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions EMEA Blog.

Well it didn’t take long for the big ideas of Cannes 2016 to put their proverbial hands up. As Monday drew to a close, four themes were already dominating the conversations around the Palais. Three of them involve technologies that open up immense new creative possibilities – provided marketers can figure out how to keep control of the stories they are telling through them. The fourth involves a huge challenge for the ad industry that requires us to rethink what advertising creativity is all about.

The Machines are Coming

Let’s do the exciting technology stuff first – and let’s start with a theme guaranteed to give anyone with a passing knowledge of the Terminator movies a shiver down their spine: Artificial Intelligence or AI.

Producer, singer and songwriter extraordinaire Brian Eno has had a music career like almost no other. He doesn’t so much push through creative boundaries as refuse to acknowledge that they could exist in the first place. However, for his new album The Ship, he’s really surpassed himself - pushing the very concept of human creativity to the edge by enlisting AI to produce a piece of Art. The result is a unique generative film, produced with Dentsu Labs Tokyo, to accompany the title track from Eno's album. It’s a challenge to anyone who believes that the creative side of marketing will always be out of the reach of machine learning – but it also shows what can be achieved by creative-minded people adopting machine intelligence as a tool. It was hard not to listen to Eno and believe that AI has a role to play in shaping creative marketing in the future.

AI isn’t the enemy; the enemy are the people who have control of it” – Brian Eno

There’s definitely a warning note in the concept of Eno’s album though – for those concerned about a future Skynet ready to take over the world. The Ship refers to the Titanic, the perfect embodiment of our tendency to think we’ve got technology under our control – only for it to crash and sink us the very next day.

Virtual Reality: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”

I love that Doc Brown quote from the end of Back to the Future – the idea that the limitations and restrictions you’ve gotten used to can be swept away just like that. It seems to sum up perfectly the situation we’re going to encounter with Virtual Reality. Virtual worlds and 360-degree videos provide us with the opportunity to immerse audiences in an experience in a way that video simply can’t. But they also present storytellers with a unique set of challenges – like how to keep control of a message and a narrative when each audience member can explore it in any way that they like.

“The most difficult thing with 360 video is controlling the narrative,” explained Elisha Greenwell, the Creative Strategy Director at MOFILM. “You never know where the audience is going to be looking. Where do I want to direct the users attention and how do I get them here? You are creating a world instead of a controlled scene.”

Creative thinking holds the key – like mimicking the way that human attention works to force a 360-degree video to refocus on people that suddenly speak or burst into song (as in a pioneering 360 video for the Broadway musical Hamilton). And both Greenwell and fellow panelist Chris Milk were wholly convinced that the storytelling challenge is worth it for VR’s incredible capability to put people into the shoes of others. VR is a powerful storytelling machine – but then, like flying cars, powerful machines can be tricky to drive.

VR will lead to the democratization of the human experience in the way the Internet democratized information." –Chris Milk

Drones: Perspective and data at the touch of a button

Drones can film some incredible things – like the journey into an erupting volcano that we were treated to by Ferdinand Wolf, the Manager of drone specialists DJI Studios Europe. I’d suggest though, that filming the impossible is far from the most valuable contribution that this technology can make to marketing. DJI has integrated its drone technology with Facebook Live, enabling live feeds from different locations to be broadcast instantly online. It seems to be opening the door to disruptive new ways of gathering data and engaging in dialogue with audiences; a seamless, effortless form of social sharing that doesn’t require people to take a photo and upload it in order to let you know what they’re doing. Like VR, drones provide both marketers and their audiences with a way of seeing the world from many different perspectives at once.

The big challenge: Ad blocking

No prizes for guessing the huge challenge I mentioned at the start of this round-up. Why World Class Creativity Will Obliterate Ad Blocking was one of the most popular sessions of the whole of Day 1 at Cannes – probably because it promised a solution to a problem that has been ringing alarm bells louder and louder for the industry as the year has gone on.

Can creativity really solve the ad blocking crisis? The panel led by IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg and featuring Mark Thompson, CEO of the New York Times and Jess Greenwood, VP, Content & Partnerships at R/GA certainly seemed to think so. They argued that ad blocking forces marketers to raise the creative bar; to produce content that their target audience wouldn’t want to block. It’s a long way from where we are now, when 60% of clicks on mobile banner ads are mistakes and 66% of users find banner ads useless or annoying. Jess Greenwood suggested a three-stage plan for getting there: agencies producing better creative, publishers putting together better and less annoying formats, and media agencies creating better targeting.

The days of brands winning consumer attention by ambushing and interrupting their online routines are coming to an end. One way or another, engaging with an audience will increasingly be by invitation only. It is only by producing content that audiences value – and presenting it in the context where they want and expect to see it – that can marketers sidestep the barriers we’ve persuaded people to put up.

Those are my thoughts on Day 1 of Cannes. It’s been a day that shows just how fast our industry is moving. And also how challenging our concept of creativity is essential for staying ahead. I can’t wait for more of the same – and I’ll be back in touch later this week to let you know what I made of it all.

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