What the 2015 Cannes Sessions Say About Marketing Today

Our analysis of more than 150 of the sessions at next week’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity reveals a lot about where marketing is today, and where it’s going tomorrow (click to tweet). The schedule tells us what marketers and agency leaders are excited about, what they’re worried about and what’s new.

The sessions, which span a full week, were grouped by us into seven categories that began to coalesce naturally: Creativity & Fine Art, Entertainment & Marketing, Social Media & Social Activism, Technology & Disruption, Content & Storytelling, Demographics & Segments and Leadership & Top Talent.

The rise of social technologies and social activism, as well as the role of human insights to drive ideas and achieve relevance with diverse audiences, shines through the schedule.

Creativity and Fine Art
No surprise that the most robust series of sessions is about creativity. But, more than I’ve seen over the past few years, many sessions are less about clever commercials and more about the intersection of creativity and fine art: sessions on a brand’s color strategy, one on learning about creativity from five great artists, another that promises to decode the secrets of Japanese creativity, and an intriguing session titled, “Why I Love Bad Design.”

Entertainment and Marketing
The increasingly busy intersection between marketing and entertainment is fully evident with sessions featuring VEEP and Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, another with a very “Happy” Pharrell Williams talking about the upcoming global Live Earth concert and famed Hollywood producer Brian Grazer on curiosity and life-long learning. There’s also a session on the new celebrities emerging from Instagram and several sessions about the central role of music in marketing. The latter category includes an ingenious session presented by Ketchum Sounds in which an artist/brand contract will be negotiated live on stage with recording artist Natalie Imbruglia.

Social Media and Social Activism
In fact, this year it’s the intersections that are most interesting. Another mash-up is between social platforms and social activism, with sessions on the role Twitter plays in connecting people to ignite global movements, one on the effort to build “purposeful brands in a digital age” and another on game-changing partnerships that galvanize social change. Monica Lewinsky will be at Cannes this year, extending her campaign that began in a blockbuster TED Talk, to end online shaming. (Speaking of interesting juxtapositions, there’s a Cannes Debate featuring Al Gore on the same main stage the next day.)

Technology and Disruption
The sense of what’s new right now is most evident in the series of sessions that feature technology’s disruptive role. There’s a session on “sentience” and artificial intelligence (A.I.). (Sentience is the ability to feel and perceive subjectively — in this case by a robot — a term discussed and sometimes derided in the A.I. world.) There are several sessions on big data and marketing, including programmatic ad buying. Another session demonstrates wearable technology used in marketing. Tinder, the location-based dating app, is the focal point of another session.

Content and Storytelling
Many of us at Ketchum will find the deep vein of sessions on content and storytelling to be most interesting. There’s one on lessons from Shakespeare to get and hold an audience’s attention, another on mastering online video and a third on the Bacardi brand’s use of graphic novels. One I hope to attend is called, “Become an Ass-Kicking Copywriter in 25 Minutes.”

Demographics and Segments
Of course there are a few sessions on much-sought-after millennials, but there’s also a session on the post-millennial generation, which this time is called Generation Edge. There’s a session on Latino creatives (“Latinicity”) and another on Tom of Finland and the role his fetish art played in gay identity. Ketchum is proudly hosting another session with the Flamingo Group about the 50+ segment called, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Call them Grey (or Silver).”

Leadership and Top Talent
Leaping out of the Cannes schedule is a pervasive fear around motivating top creative talent. One session, on unlocking exceptional talent, quotes Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (a Ketchum client), saying, “Talentism (cultivating talent) is the new capitalism.” One is on engaging Gen Y creatives. Another session makes the case for gender diversity in the advertising and marketing industry — sadly, a case that stills needs to be made.

The Cannes lineup tells an interesting and complex story about marketing today. Of course this advance look can’t capture what is always the best content at Cannes: the candid conversations, questions and answers of the impressive collection of attendees. The real future of marketing will begin with that dialogue.

Since intersections and juxtapositions are a highlight of Cannes this year, Ketchum will be juxtaposing some of our amazing talent to cover Cannes for all of you. Our Cannes Duos series will run on this blog throughout the festival, and will be highlighted on Ketchum’s social channels. I hope you tune in.

Rob Flaherty is Chairman of Ketchum, the global communications consultancy with 130 offices and affiliates worldwide. He is on the board of the Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations and the advisory board of Room to Read, which focuses on literacy and girls education in developing nations. Follow Rob on Twitter at @flahertyrob.