Ad Tech & Programmatic

Retailers are flocking to Cannes Lions to pitch their ad networks

“The category has arrived,” a Walmart marketing exec said.
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Illustration: Anna Kim, Photo: Getty Images

4 min read

Expect the Croisette to be littered with shopping carts.

Retailers and their ad networks, some of which have recently overhauled their offerings, will have an outsize presence at this year’s Cannes Lions, which kicks off June 17. Executives from Target and Walmart are returning to the festival this year, while Kroger is sending executives to the festival for the first time. Each retailer will host meetings and pitch their ad offerings at the annual industry ballyhoo.

“We can’t be on the sidelines,” Cara Pratt, SVP, Kroger Precision Marketing, told Marketing Brew via email. “Retail sales is the ultimate proof of advertising effectiveness, so we have a responsibility to be at Cannes.”

Retailers’ increased presence at Cannes comes as their online businesses continue to intersect with the marketing world. In recent years, retailers have hit oil with retail media networks that provide customer shopping data to the ad industry and allow advertisers to target shoppers with ads on retail e-commerce sites. Because they process the payments, retailers can, in theory, tell advertisers whether consumers who see their ads are buying their products.

It’s a big business—this year, the category will account for one-fifth of all digital media spend, and the category is expected to attract $166 billion in ad spend by 2025, according to eMarketer.

Though the attraction of the glistening Mediterranean doesn’t hurt, retailers attend Cannes for the same reason everyone else does—everyone is there, including senior leaders representing some of the largest brands and agencies in the business.

“You’re getting senior executives in a room,” Sherry Smith, executive managing director of Americas at Criteo, told Marketing Brew. “It’s not a PowerPoint-driven type of conversation.”

Immersed in commerce

This year, Criteo, which has a business serving retail media networks, will moor a yacht at a marina just steps away from the Palace of Festivals, where it will host “Commercetopia,” a week-long experiential activation. (One event will be in partnership with Morning Brew, featuring a conversation with a Morning Brew executive.)

Target spokesperson Brian Harper-Tibaldo said that executives from the retailer are planning to attend the festival for the sixth year in a row. The company’s retail media network Roundel will host a brunch centered around women in leadership with author and influencer Tabitha Brown, and it will also host a happy hour and panels about commerce media, according to an online itinerary.

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Walmart, whose executives have attended the festival for three years running, is sending its largest contingent yet, Kara Rousseau, VP head of marketing and Lightbox Creative at Walmart Connect, told Marketing Brew.

“I think the category has arrived,” she said.

It’s also taking up a suite at the glamorous Hotel Barrière Le Majestic, where executives will hold fireside chats. Walmart’s head of media, Jill Toscano, meanwhile, is speaking on a panel at the festival’s main stage about the combination of commerce and creativity. Last year, Walmart used the conference as an opportunity to unveil a partnership with Omnicom centered around audience targeting.

The annual excursion, Rousseau acknowledged, is “not an inexpensive trip,” but she said it “provides a lot of value for us.”

Measure up

Retail media executives told Marketing Brew that they expect measurement to be a major focus of conversations and meetings. While retailers have juiced their bottom lines with ad revenue—Walmart brought in $3.4 billion last year in advertising revenue—the expansion of retail media networks has led to further fragmentation in digital advertising as retailers build their own bespoke walled gardens, making measurement across platforms more challenging.

“What I expect to be common—you hear it all the time—is standardization across the industry, measurement,” Smith said. “How do we look at measurement in a way that unifies the ecosystem a bit more?”

The use cases of different retail media networks is also a consideration. Advertisers may approach a grocer’s retail media network differently from one owned by a beauty or fashion brand, Smith said. And retailers like Macy’s and Ulta might have different metrics or tools than, say, the grocer Albertsons.

“Measuring true sales impact is a more complex conversation than just talking about impressions and clicks,” Kroger’s Pratt said. “But the end result is worth the effort.”

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