Brand Strategy

‘We all need things to work harder for us’: Marketers at Cannes are braced for a recession

All eyes are on measurement options that prove results.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

From the freely flowing rosé all day to the lavish cocktail hours and concerts at night, Cannes Lions is all about excess. “What recession?” quipped Luma Partners founder and CEO Terence Kawaja in a tweet with a graphic highlighting the many glamorous mega-yachts sponsored by ad-tech companies, publishers, and platforms that are once again a presence at the festival this year.

But even on the sunny French Riviera, with its azure beaches and palm trees, the storm clouds of a possible economic downturn have cast a shadow over conversations during the week of networking, deal-making, and creative celebration.

Even as industry bigwigs bask in a week of celebration and connection, “any marketer worth their salt” is planning for the possibility of an economic downturn and its effects on marketing strategies, said Judy Lee, Pinterest’s head of global brand experiences and programs.

“When I think about some of the things that people are focused on and what I’m focused on as a marketer, too, it’s, ‘What are the right investments to make?’” Lee told Marketing Brew, adding that inflation is already applying pressure to marketing activations. “What are things that aren’t experiments but are long-term bets?…We all need things to work harder for us.”

The threat of a recession, which many banks have forecast will happen next year, means that many business conversations during Cannes have been focused on proven results. That may translate to less spending and interest in experimental platforms, Lee hypothesized, despite an outsized festival presence of flashy tech and concepts that brands can toy with, including NFTs and the still-nascent metaverse.

“People want to talk more to direct-response platforms or places,” explained Penry Price, LinkedIn’s VP of marketing solutions, and are less focused on the platforms whose main offerings hinge on top-of-the-funnel brand awareness.

The threat of recession also means that deals may require more contingency planning, and lots of it. Marketers are looking for ways to stretch their dollars further and have the option to back out of deals if economic conditions deteriorate, said Laurel Rossi, CMO of the advertising platform Infillion.

“There isn’t a conversation that we’re having from a sales perspective that doesn’t include contingency plans,” Rossi said.

Measuring tape

In the TV space in particular, the looming threat of a recession means an even more intensified focus on cross-platform measurement capabilities and the ways in which marketers can be assured that their ads are running in front of the right people and delivering the right results.

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OpenAP, the advanced advertising consortium founded by broadcasters Fox, NBCUniversal, Paramount, and Warner Bros. Discovery, hosted a day-long summit Thursday on La Croisette at Cannes highlighting measurement advancements and the importance of data-driven decision making.

During the summit, OpenAP announced a data clean room designed to help marketers better track and measure audiences across platforms in a way that’s more privacy-oriented than other methods the industry has historically relied on. It’s an announcement designed to highlight the work the industry has done to improve measurement capabilities, but it comes at a crucial time in the industry, said OpenAP CEO David Levy.

“Any time there’s economic turmoil, I think there’s much more of a desire and interest to…get better insights around results and closed-loop attribution,” Levy told Marketing Brew.

The networks themselves must also win over marketers despite concerns of a downturn. At NBCUniversal, executives highlighted the power of aligning advertising with beloved shows and movies, which they said can deliver a big return on investment.

“One of the biggest mistakes that a number in the industry have started to make is to think about every single impression as being the same,” Yusuf Chuku, NBCUniversal’s EVP of client strategy and insights, told Marketing Brew. “There is a huge difference between my response to a five-second bumper in front of a clip of someone falling over that my friend has sent me versus my response to a commercial in the show that I love.”

After all, even in a recessionary period, TV viewing, and streaming in particular, isn’t expected to evaporate—and ad-supported streaming services could become more attractive as viewers look for ways to cut subscription costs.

“No matter what has happened in the world, people have continued to come to their favorite shows and the content that they love,” Chuku said.

Editor’s Note: All Marketing Brew stories are editorially independent from sponsors.

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