The economic situation, the reaction of marketing, which ad companies are on the up, the new role of commerce, effectiveness, purpose, the cookie, and the metaverse – here are eight big ideas we saw emerging from Cannes Lions 2022.

Rebooted after the last two years’ suspended animation, the physical spectacle of Cannes Lions 2022 saw the advertising industry delight in the kind of in-person connection that had made it the high point of the conference calendar. It is vast, and bucking expectations of a quiet year, there was a lot to think about. These are just some of the themes that WARC observed over the course of the week.

For fuller insight, look out for WARC’s full thematic wrap up later this week. But for now, here are some of the big ideas to chew on.

1: The threat of recession

Recession was something of an elephant in the room. Effectively, nobody knows but the signs that Russia’s hideous war on Ukraine will end soon aren’t good. Others, meanwhile, point to the fact that this is not the blip, but rather that the blip was the last 14 years of historically low interest rates.

Either way, we are operating in a very different environment from what we’re used to

Brand owners noted budgetary pressure while agencies (certainly at the holding group level) insisted that the prevailing lessons of the pandemic remain. Troubled times were met not by cutting advertising spend and halting activity, but by maintaining a presence in the market while adapting tactics to the situation.

Agency heads from David Droga (CEO, Accenture Song) to Mark Read (CEO, WPP) noted client nerves, but both argued that the implication was not one of pulling back, but of being deliberate in activity and focussed on outcomes.

Sir Martin Sorrell of S4 Capital, Read’s predecessor, differed in stating outright that the next few years would be “challenging,” when he observed that that confidence on Monday evening’s gatherings gave way to nerves by Thursday, especially as movements at the US Federal Reserve suggest it is predicting recession in a country that continues to be the world’s largest ad market. Meanwhile, WARC data shows that Europe dipped into ad budget decline in May. 

As a result, it’s probable that clients will lean towards their performance and measurement capabilities in order to have the answers closer to hand when efficiency, and hopefully, effectiveness, questions are asked.

2: Articulating brand effects beyond sales

It’s also worth noting the other strange angle to the economic situation: extremely low unemployment has kindled a struggle to attract talent.

In the marketing process, explained Christian Deuringer, head of global brand communications at the German-headquartered insurer Allianz: “there's one more stakeholder not to be forgotten: HR. We are in the deepest war for talent. So where's our position? How do we stay attractive?”

Such a perfect storm of uncertainty and trepidation are a telling backdrop to another major development.

3: New giants and next year’s beaches

See the expectation around Netflix’s ad involvement, which is likely to translate to some presence at the festival in 2023. With Co-CEO Ted Sarandos making his main stage debut at the festival, the question of Netflix’s advertising entry is now settled. Attention now turns to what this will look like and who will help the streaming service to get its feet wet. 

There are parallels here with the growing trust in premium publishers that deploy both subscription and advertising strategies based on high quality consented data from signed-in, engaged paying users. With such an offer, delegates wondered if and how Netflix’s firepower may manifest at next year’s festival, following Amazon’s port-shaped debut.

This is also Amazon’s game, as it is Instacart’s, Walmart’s and the many other retail media networks that have sprung up in the last year. But they have the additional benefit of a fully closed loop, including – for physical retail giants like Walmart – in-store conversion data. 

4: The festival of commerce (and the creative implications) 

Alongside creativity, commerce was a vital theme of this year’s festival. What will be interesting in the coming years is to see how the two sit together as the kinds of loop-closing capabilities that Amazon and several other major retailers have pioneered stretch out across the internet and beyond.

It’s been a kind of adtech dream for a while: the targeting, measurement, and conversion capabilities of online advertising but on TV, which has re-emerged this year as a newly dynamic and once again critical channel since the pandemic. Now, with initial forays like US retailer Walmart’s partnership with the OTT streaming platform Roku, the practicality and effectiveness of shoppable connected TV and, ultimately, how you actually do it will become increasingly apparent.

It presents an interesting creative challenge. What creative works in a subset of media built for immediate conversion?

5: Decoupling of brand purpose and sustainability; protests highlight the urgency of the problem 

Sustainability was alive and well both across the program and in conversation, but its mention took on a certain maturity. Rather than the rush toward pivoting a brand’s purpose toward sustainability, sustainability is a broader, deeper topic better dealt with outside individual brands’ purposes. The prevailing sense, across the festival, was that sustainability is now a serious topic within organisations, far beyond the marketing department.

Of course, the week was also marked by official stunts and a series of unofficial protests aimed at shops that continue to work for fossil fuel companies, which together upped the ante on the biggest crisis of our time. Uncomfortable as these may have been, the urgency with which we must address our fast-warming planet was clear to see under last week’s close, hot weather.

6: Effectiveness awards showcase stunning work, but does it look like other advertising?

FCB and Michelob Ultra’s Creative Effectiveness Lion win drew criticism from some voices in the industry that this wasn’t so much advertising as a supply chain adaptation. My argument would be that if you can turn a supply chain enhancement into marketing activity, then that’s pretty clever.

But the other angle is that some of these mega campaigns don’t really represent the kind of work that a typical brand and typical agency is able to deliver. The question, from a WARC perspective in any case, is about the lessons for other marketers and strategists to make better, more effective work.

Of course, we will be putting together a full analysis in the coming weeks where you can delve into these more fully. But it’s food for thought.

7: The metaverse confusion grows alongside the hype

The top line, as far as we’ve seen it, is that there are currently very few opportunities to bring in revenue from metaverse activity, but that the future potential is vast.

Down on the Meta beach, meanwhile, you would be forgiven for thinking the metaverse is in full flow while the company’s biggest platform, Facebook, was almost conspicuous by its absence.

With such a significant presence both in the Palais and across the cabanas (if not in conversations), it struck me that there are several emerging camps that all understand this catch-all word very differently: mostly it’s the difference between the crypto true-believers who held strong despite the threat of a “winter” in the space, and the video gamers. Ultimately, much more nuance is needed.

R/GA global strategy chief Tom Morton sounded a refreshing note of opportunity: “Perhaps the crypto winter that’s happening means that we can stop building for speculators and start building for people again.”

8: Underreported: deprecation of the cookie

With a huge beach, Amazon made a splash with the announcement that the e-commerce titan was throwing its weight behind the Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0. Not only does one of the fastest growing ad companies give serious credibility to this post-cookie solution, it places UID2 in position to become the default solution for the many many businesses that use AWS.

This was another conversation that was nodded to, hinted at, and intimated but often avoided. It is, after all, a creative festival, but the plumbing that now flows beneath modern advertising is impossible to ignore (however, I admit: it’s quite boring to listen to for the non-technical). After two difficult years, delegates appreciated the levity.