Post-Cannes: Tech Takes Center Stage, While AI Stars Sit Out Until Next Year

Independent agencies do find substance between the parties and pageantry

The rosé bottles are empty, the hotels are at normal capacity, the beaches along the Croisette are clear of brand logos. That’s been the wrap-up every year since the 69-year-old first known as the International Advertising Festival moved from Monaco and Venice to become the Cannes Lions.

This year was different, however.

Historically, the Cannes Lions was simply a celebration of advertising creativity. Two decades ago, it evolved with greater respect for the work behind the billboards and TV spots to honor the media buying and planning aspects. But over the last 10 years, the gathering has evolved with tech dominating the pageantry and galas as well as the conversations.

Festival of Tech

Getting a close look at who’s using what tech and what deals are involved, is why Cannes was such an attraction in 2024. More specifically, artificial intelligence was the tech that occupied the conversations on panels and over rosé.

Among the 20 Experience and Festival Partners that planted their respective flags around Cannes, about half were tech companies, noted Greg Kahn, chief executive officer at GK Digital Ventures and an expert in emerging  tech and AI, in a post on X. “Tech had a much bigger presence than media. Will we see Nvidia & OpenAI in 2025?”

Given the expansion of AI in terms of market cap and influence within advertising and media, the answer is likely to be “yes,” Kahn said. Still, Kahn and others were surprised that other AI stars like Anthropic and Perplexity didn’t have a presence at the event.

“I had hoped to find more practical discussions about artificial intelligence,” said Rafael Caldeira, founder and chief creative officer of Brazilian agency, 404 Design + Innovation. “Unfortunately, I still see our industry debating the subject from a distance, with a strong focus on headlines and less on implementation.”

Still, Caldeira was grateful for the serious discussions around distinctiveness as tech and AI democratize creativity.

“Cannes has become a place for tech giants, where they're bringing all their assets together, their content with their technology stack,” Kahn said. “Considering that everyone from tech to media to advertising is here, doesn’t it make sense to move all the upfront and newfront events to Cannes?” 

Sports At The Center

Aside from AI and tech, sports media loomed large at Cannes this year, Kahn said. While promoting sports is natural in the lead up to the Summer Olympics in Paris that kicks off on July 26, sports can be seen as a counterweight to our time spent immersed in digital and virtual worlds. Live sports still commands the attention of TV viewers, a vestige of past media and advertising.

But to Kahn, tech has become so central to sports in the same ways it touches the wider media and advertising landscape.

“This is the second year of Sport Beach at Cannes,” Kahn said. “It was two times the size it was last year. In all my discussions here, everybody is trying to lean into sports as a differentiator. And it’s not just major sports; even niche sports have achieved a great deal of attention at Cannes. As media consumption habits and tech capabilities change, sports will continue to be a way all these companies — advertising, media, and tech — adapt.”

Agencies: Is it Worth It?

Boutique agency Manual Labor’s calculator is different than the big brands who stood up multi-million dollar activations, said Samantha Choi, the shop’s CEO, founder, and chief creative officer.

“We got to sit in on some amazing panels that focused on women leaders at places like Female Quotient, see our work come to life in the halls of the Palais, and connect with existing and past clients — and meet some new ones,” Choi said of her team’s first time at Cannes. “Relationship building through shared experiences is immeasurable. Don't let the rosé take all the credit, I believe that in that environment people are more open to connecting which makes it less intimidating to strike up conversations and much more fun than sending a Zoom invite.”

This was a very special Cannes Lions for 404, Caldeira noted. In just 8 months of operation, they won their first lions. 

“It’s nice to see that many independent agencies were leading the creative agenda here,” Caldeira said. “What caught my attention was that the best work brought different perspectives — cultural and also technical — together. It's nice to see design, technology, and storytelling converging, shaping the present of our industry. Cannes Lions always provides an incredible opportunity to return home more humble and also hungry. It's a much-needed breath in the middle of the year. I will definitely be back in 2025.”

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