Digital Marketing
9 min

Cannes Lions 2024 Trends & Learnings: Media Convergence, Retail Media, and More

Sammy Rubin Vice President | Integrated Media

Every year creatives, marketers, and media types of all stripes gather in the South of France for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, but the focus at and around the Palais this year was more diffuse than ever: media, platforms, tech, data, AI. And, of course, creative.

Ad creative (and free-flowing rosé) has traditionally been the axis around which everything else spins at Cannes, but that’s changing; data deprecation challenges and other factors like media convergence have exposed the flaws in our silos. After all, the best media plan in the world won’t get very far without creative, trying to make a go of a marketing campaign without measuring your results is a fool’s game, and chasing performance efficiencies will only bring you heartache if you’re not also building your brand. 

That’s why Cannes this year served as a great reminder of how far we’ve come in correcting for these silos—and how far we still have to go. In 2024, we can’t have a conversation about creative without all of the context that brings it to life. That’s a good thing. So it makes sense that Cannes Lions has truly embraced a more holistic definition of “creativity” across the industry.

But it does make it harder to narrow down the key takeaways from this year because there was truly something for everyone (and often 10-20 somethings happening at the same time) to learn along the Croisette. Check out the five trends that stood out the most at Cannes this year.

1. You can’t hide from media convergence

You’ve probably heard that “social is the new search,” but that’s only the tip of the media convergence iceberg. The lines between paid, owned, and partnerships are blurring more every day, and brands are starting to recognize that they need to embrace holistic strategies that bring the brand to life for audiences and maximize the impact of everything they’re doing on a particular platform. 

The importance of holistic planning was clear at Cannes, where brands spoke about platform activations from a 360° perspective. When marketers referred to “Reddit strategies,” they meant both earned and paid (and both in tandem). The many conversations around TikTok made it clear that a strong approach to the platform required a combination of brand, creator, paid, and organic elements and tactics. That’s a big difference from even five years ago.

While it’s all well and good to discuss integrated planning at the conference, far from any siloes within your business that might cause strategic disconnects, many brands are not equipped organizationally to address the challenge.

Many of the conversations at Cannes focused on re-centering media planning around objectives. That means you start with the why, not the how. Once those are in place, you should identify the best ways of getting there, whether those are paid or earned tactics. 

Your team might need some education and guidance to shift thinking here, but making this change now will pay dividends as media convergence continues to ramp up.

2. “Unsocial” media networks? A rose by any other name

From fake news and manipulative algorithms to renewed scrutiny about teenage mental health and data privacy, social media has been getting a bad rap lately. It’s no surprise that some social platforms have started to try and distance themselves from the negative connotations haunting the category in an attempt to appeal to consumers and attract more dollars from advertisers.

Pinterest, Reddit, and Snap all showed up on the Croisette ready to point out all of the ways they’re different from competitors like Meta, X, and TikTok. As much as many marketers may roll their eyes or crack jokes about these rebrands (sorry, all—that social media category sticker isn’t going anywhere, no matter what the ad copy might say), they are plugged into something. The familiar, Meta-centric social playbooks aren’t as effective anymore.

A better, more authentic approach to social centered around communities and at least somewhat less toxic might just be what brands and users are looking for, but let’s be real: we’re still going to call it social media.

The truth is that marketers are going to spend dollars on channels they deem effective, which requires a couple of key ingredients. First, users need to be on the platform; specifically, they need to be engaged and paying attention. Second, it’s got to be the right fit for the brand.

For all of the focus on brand safety questions around social, fit is increasingly a question of brand suitability rather than safety. Does the platform align with what your brand stands for? Is it the right fit for the brand tone and personality? Do you have the resources you need to build great creative for the platform? Will the ad offerings and products help you achieve your objectives?

3. Retail media and commerce are not the same

The retail media landscape is evolving rapidly, but our terminology isn’t keeping pace. Across the marketing industry, terms “commerce” and “retail media” have been used interchangeably–similar to the blurring between “creator” and “influencer” we saw a few years ago.

Cannes Lions was no different; some content labeled as “commerce” focused only on how brands can drive results at their retailers. 

But there’s an important distinction between the two:

  1. Commerce refers to driving sales regardless of the channel (digital, physical, or social)
  2.  Retail media focuses specifically on driving third-party retail objectives and/or using third-party retail media offerings (e.g. data to power audience insights and targeting)

We’re not trying to be pedantic; this language slippage is actually incredibly telling because it exposes some of the flaws in our current thinking about this fast-growing slice of the marketing pie. If you’re using commerce to refer only to retail media activations, whether that’s products sold through Walmart’s marketplace or a CTV campaign run through Amazon’s DSP, chances are there are some pretty big blind spots in how you’re understanding the buyer’s journey.

Now is the time to fix that thinking!

4. All eyes are on women’s sports

You’ve probably already seen the headlines about the rise of women’s sports. Suddenly everyone seems to be paying attention to Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and the WNBA and Coco Gauff’s chances in the ladies’ draw at Wimbledon (yes, it’s still called that). But there’s nothing particularly sudden about it, and all of Cannes was abuzz that this year women’s sports are finally going to have their moment. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also an Olympics year.

Now is the time for brands to lean into the excitement, explore partnerships with female athletes, and start testing media around women’s sports.

It’s clear that brands are paying attention and eager to capitalize on the trend. According to a report from EDO, brands advertisements during women’s sports TV spots are driving strong engagement. That includes brands targeted toward men like Bosley, Hims, and Old Spice, which were some of the most effective advertisers on WNBA broadcasts this season.

 The proof is in the pudding–it’s not just women watching these games, but a broader audience. This is an opportunity not just to reach quality audiences but also to invest in increasing brand equity and gender equity overall. Many of our own clients are already seeing success from women’s sports-related digital content and athlete partnerships.

5. The mixed bag of AI: plenty of creative promise, plenty of challenges

As the world gets more and more automated, data-driven, and AI-powered, it’s easy to get swept up in the wave of optimization and forget that the audiences we’re targeting are humans. But the smartest marketers are going to push to strike the right balance between these exciting new opportunities and the kind of storytelling that has usually defined advertising success.

Take Google’s new Circle to Search feature, which serves up more info about whatever users circle in an image or video. It’s easy to see how creatives could shift to focus more on product and driving commerce than creativity. That’s exciting in many ways, but anyone who thinks it’s going to fully replace the role of narrative in brand discovery isn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

What makes creative resonate isn’t the typeface of the copy or the background in an image; it’s how it appeals to the audience’s emotions and interests.

While AI can help marketers improve performance, the core ideas and concept of creative still need to be made for humans, by humans. Let’s take a look at an example: Pop-Tarts’ college football campaign turned its famous treat into an edible mascot and immediately went viral, with the post-game “sacrifice” of the Pop-Tart garnering over four billion impressions, inspiring conversation, and ultimately driving sales.

That campaign got so much attention (and won the Cannes Grand Prix this year for Weber Shandwick) because the team really understood their audience and what would catch their interest. That’s something a robot can’t do.

The jury is still out on how to effectively deploy AI to build creative, but it already presents a challenge for marketers and brands: as AI powers more of what we do from a media buying, reporting, and insights standpoint, how do we make sure we don’t lose sight of what makes the creative work for our audiences? We all need to make sure we don’t accidentally toss out that human “it factor,” even as we embrace new tech.

Maybe finding a solution can serve as the creative brief for Cannes Lions 2025.

Ready to optimize your media strategy? Check out our white paper, From Silos to Synergy: Harnessing the Power of Media Convergence, for all the insights you need.


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