Tremor Video, Mojiva, Turn, Velti, AppNexus, Simulmedia, and Vibrant Media are among those planning a presence at the Cannes Lions advertising festival (officially the "international festival of creativity"), which kicks off Sunday. Many are going for the first time, attempting to join digital stalwarts Google, Microsoft and Yahoo who have prioritized the event for years. They'll mingle, sponsor beachside cocktail mixers, and in some cases, deliver coveted presentations to the event's 9,000-plus creatives (plus a few hundred media agency and client-side execs).
Also this year, Cannes has introduced new formats for digital content, including an all day mobile mini-conference hosted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and a series of "Tech Talks" with execs from PubMatic, Break Media, Brand Regard and others.
Whether they can speak the same language as Joe Creative (or Sven, as the case may be) is an open question.
Colleen DeCourcy, CEO of Socialistic, is a digital agency vet with six years at Cannes under her belt. (She chaired the Cyber award jury in 2008, when she was chief digital officer at TBWA Worldwide.) She sees a range of factors causing ad tech to surge at the festival, including the embrace of its vernacular by mainstream tech blogs like AllThingsD and TechCrunch. There's also the growing presence of client-side marketers at the festival.
"The clients are flocking to see what the winning work is," she says. "They're meeting with vendors. They're doing the peripheral business around the creativity. There's lots of opportunity for someone to get seen, and have someone say, oh that's an interesting technology."
Then there's the phenomena of conference creep that has drawn ad tech companies to a range of events they might not have considered three years ago. "I think people are confused. Should they be at CES, should they be at Cannes, should they be at both?"
Turn CEO Bill Demas doesn't question Cannes value. He has a dozen meetings planned over six days, and the DSP/DMP is sending six other employees from the U.S. and European teams. The company has sponsored a Monday cocktail reception.
Demas says a big part of Cannes' appeal for Turn is the international scope, since the company now serves North America, South America, and Europe. "We need to have the global perspective. The place to meet people if you want to have serious and deep meetings is in Cannes."
Beyond overseas insights, he wants Turn leadership to grasp the inner workings of advertising's right brain. "You need to understand the creative side, the process and innovation around that."
Mobile ad network and ad serving company Mojiva meanwhile is sending four people, including CEO David Gwozdz, who will speak during the all-day IAB mobile confab on Tuesday. "It really shows that mobile is truly considered a standalone medium now, and not something to be lumped in with online," he says.
So, is this a "moment," where the festival becomes about more than just creativity - but also tech and data?
Gwozdz hopes not.
"There is a lot of time spent on tech and data at plenty of other conferences and exhibitions throughout the year," he says. "Cannes is about sharing, learning and acknowledging those that are pushing the boundaries of creativity and doing that in mobile is important. Creativity in mobile started to gain momentum last year through the elevation of rich media campaigns, but we really need creative agencies to move that needle forward even more in order to create more brand involvement, more engagement and ultimately more growth in the industry."
Even so, there may be an opportunity for creative agencies to begin to leverage the data-driven platforms that have been long monopolized by their media agency counterparts.
DeCourcy says, "I see this general malaise-driven diaspora of technology driven digital creative in the agency space, who are keen on Google Labs and they are looking at the APIs and they are looking at how you build new things. We have to figure out how we bridge that gap. Discussions with those kind of creative-driven ad tech companies are a good place to start."
Turn's Demas concurs. "If you do A/B testing, you do tests with different creative and see what the results are. There is some way we can potentially be of help, coming from our world of media buying and analytics."
Cannes Survival Guide
Tech companies will do well who remember that Cannes is about creativity and the "big idea" (yes, still) – not real time bidding or optimization.
DeCourcy again: "You've got an aggregated audience of buyers and you can take some share of voice at an event. You have to be able to catch your sell or your proposition within the context of bringing those ideas to life."
Easier said than done. People will attend Google parties because of the exciting work produced by Labs, she notes, and because they want to work somewhere like that. "Creatives are hoping to get hired into that environment. I'm not sure if Buddy Media had a big rockin' party how many of the creatives would be showing up. People's heads are in a different space when they go there."
Oh, and be prepared for ignorance. "There are a lot of instances speaking with people from an agency environment where the technology is not deeply understood. People are talking about Pinterest and Instagram," but not necessarily DoubleClick and AppNexus.
That may not matter if the important meetings come together. For a company like Mojiva or Turn, that could be a three-hour dinner with an agency CEO, or it could be an unplanned discussion with a client-side CMO.
"We believe it's turned into a can't-miss show. We'll see if that's confirmed," Demas said.
By Zach Rodgers