AI dominated Cannes conversations this year

From optimists to skeptics, we’re willing to bet attendees had at least one conversation on the topic this year.
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Katie Hicks

4 min read

If last year’s Cannes was all about the metaverse, this year it was all about AI.

Mark Singer, US CMO of Deloitte Digital, told us ahead of the festival that he expected AI to be a “universal topic of conversation,” with implications across adtech, martech, agencies, consultants, and creatives. Nicola Mendelsohn, head of global business group at Meta, agreed: “I think it’s fair to say that AI is having a moment this Cannes. If you think back a year ago, nobody was talking about it. And now, it really is everywhere.”

Everyone seemed to have at least something to say on the topic, and marketers were eager to demonstrate that their company was no exception, as evidenced in some of the activations and ads we saw around town:

an image of a billboard on the side of a building reading "MNTN needed vowels so we added AI."

Katie Hicks

A branded tent for PwC reading "generative AI is here. Engage and understand your customers in a new way. Transform your business with PwC."

Katie Hicks

A display at Spotify's Cannes activation promoting its AI-enabled DJ reading "It speaks for itself."

Katie Hicks

But while some marketers were excited about new AI products and possibilities, others expressed concerns around the largely unregulated environment that AI seems to be operating in as new capabilities emerge.

Sky’s AI’s the limit

Vidhya Srinivasan, VP and GM of advertising at Google, said that in her time at Cannes this year, she talked about AI in “every single one” of her meetings, of which there were many: some days her scheduled meetings spanned 14 hours.

What she found notable is that many people are past the point of asking if [AI] is a thing,” and are instead curious about how they might be able to use it. “Buzzy stuff goes through a hype cycle where people haven’t fully bought in, and you’re spending a lot of time explaining why it is a good thing,” she said. “My experience here has been not explaining why it is a good thing. It’s more about, ‘How do you leverage it?’”

Ahead of Cannes, Google rolled out AI-powered ad features intended to help place and drive video views. During the festival, VP of Google Creative Lab Robert Wong detailed additional tools from Google Research, like an AI reply tool for YouTube campaigns and a selfie generator.

What could some of these new developments mean for marketers more broadly, we asked? “I think it unlocks people’s time and energy and bandwidth to focus on more creative tasks, rather than focus on the tactics and the undifferentiated, heavy-lifting stuff,” Srinivasan said.

Google isn’t the only tech giant leaning into AI. Meta also announced new AI tools at Cannes, ranging from a chatbot to a sticker generator to new media-editing capabilities like the ability to extend an image beyond its original borders.

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Mendelsohn said they chose to unveil the new tools at Cannes because the festival is “a really good moment to be able to come and share what’s new and what we’re developing in the pipeline” during the 200+ meetings she said they held with advertisers that week.

“What we’ve seen with the advancements in generative AI over the last year is really one of those moments, for people that work in tech, that gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, because we’ve been waiting for this breakthrough that we knew was coming,” she said. “I think it really will change every aspect of how we work and how we live as well.”

Take Make my picture

But not all AI talk has been as wholly optimistic. David Anderson, partner and co-head of marketing at United Talent Agency, told us that one of the concerns around AI in the entertainment world leading into the festival relates to questions of intellectual property and regulation.

“If I can be replicated infinitely with my name and likeness, how do we need to think about protecting clients, but also advancing and advocating for legislation and regulation on this topic?” he said.

At Cannes, influencer marketing agency Izea Worldwide unveiled a new generative AI tool called FormAI that lets marketers and creators generate, among other things, “photorealistic renderings.” Founder, chairman, and CEO Ted Murphy told us that the hope is that one day “creators will be able to train the AI on themselves” and marketers can train it on their products, letting them combine the two to generate assets, like an image of a creator holding a soda at the beach.

“Whether or not that winds up being the inspiration for a campaign or actually winds up long-term being the content itself, I think that that’s where a lot of this is going to be going,” he said.

When asked about concerns around the potentially unauthorized use of creators’ likenesses, Murphy said the model for creators would be kept separate to protect the AI tool from being misused. “With the existing technology that is out there, if you want to be nefarious, you can take anybody’s likeness and create an AI representation of them,” he said. “What we are trying to do ultimately is give the creators the ability to create that model and to own that model.”

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