(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. and Google have come to dominate the beach front at the advertising industry’s biggest annual gathering in Cannes on the French Riviera, a sign of their ever-growing power in the world of marketing. This year, they face their toughest scrutiny yet.
The tech giants have pulled billions of ad dollars away from traditional media as consumers flocked to their platforms. Now a proliferation of objectionable content on their sites threatens to taint the global brands that advertise there. So expect marketing managers to put Silicon Valley executives on the spot at Cannes Lions, a week of events, meetings, speeches and parties by the Mediterranean.
The event starting Monday is the ad industry’s Oscars. Executives vie for awards for the most creative campaigns, sign deals and talk shop at lavish parties on the beach. Celebrities will add some glamor, from Grammy-award winner John Legend and film director Alfonso Cuaron to Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum with his jazz band.
With the tech giants distracted by the problem of toxic content and concerns over data privacy, the traditional ad agency networks such as WPP Plc and Omnicom Group Inc. will be trying to reassert themselves and recoup marketing work lost in recent years to digital rivals and global consultancies Accenture Plc and Deloitte LLP.
Here’s more of what to expect in Cannes:
Tech Giants Under Scrutiny
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Google executive Matt Brittin and YouTube’s vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa Cecile Frot-Coutaz are due to speak. Marketing managers want to know what they’re doing about their brands showing up alongside fake news, a live-streamed shooting massacre on Facebook, images of self-harm on Instagram and pedophile commentary on YouTube.
“It goes far beyond the direct implications for the brand. It’s actually, what are we funding? There’s much more of an appetite for these platforms to be engaging,” said Stephan Loerke, head of the World Federation of Advertisers, which represents 90 percent of the world’s marketing communication spend.
Mad Men Fight Back
The global ad networks will try to regain their swagger after budget cuts at big brands and incursions by new rivals. London-based WPP, undergoing a reboot under new Chief Executive Officer Mark Read, will set up its first stand on the Cannes beach -- a spot typically occupied by companies like Facebook, Alphabet Inc. unit Google and Twitter Inc. -- in a nod to Read’s digital makeover of the ad network. Paris-based Publicis Groupe SA returns to Cannes after skipping last year’s event to spend the money building a new artificial intelligence platform.
“We’ve had the year of slightly depressed navel-gazing and we’re going to move into the year of forward-looking, optimistic yet pragmatic problem solving,” said Jim Prior, CEO of Superunion, a brand agency owned by WPP. “It’s going to be sleeves rolled up, looking forward, let’s get on with this.”
How does an industry whose job is to propel global consumption respond to panic over climate change and environmental destruction? The question is now unavoidable in light of the Extinction Rebellion movement, the international fame of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the Netflix documentary series “Our Planet.”
“It’s moved from being a zealot’s concern to absolutely mainstream,” said Mark Lund, U.K. Group CEO of McCann Worldgroup, a creative agency owned by the Interpublic Group of Cos. “Brands would be stupid if they didn’t have some view on what it meant for them and their role in ameliorating the problem.”
Creativity and Data
Cannes Lions started as a “festival of creativity” for people who make ads to share ideas and admire each other’s work. It’s morphed into a global event attended by over 10,000 people involved in every aspect of marketing, from data-crunchers who analyze consumer behavior to media buyers trading ad space. This year’s event seeks to bridge the creative and tech worlds to improve collaboration. It includes masterclasses from the likes of Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Inc. on how to use their data tools.
“It hasn’t always been understood why bringing technology to Cannes is so important,” said Wenda Harris Millard, vice chairman of MediaLink, which is organizing the program. “The tech guys are also understanding that creativity only makes them better and more useful.”
After a contentious exit from WPP in 2018, the company’s outspoken founder Martin Sorrell is busy expanding his new ad firm S4 Capital Plc and will be back in the Cannes spotlight. Sorrell retains his traditional Friday slot on the main stage, where he’ll be in conversation with Marian Goodell, chief executive officer of the Burning Man cultural organization. He’ll also be chatting with Accenture Interactive CEO Brian Whipple in an Irish pub. Sorrell is back on the acquisition trail, hunting for a data company to add to his nascent business.
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