June 9, 2014 – There will be a lavish yacht party, a rooftop bash and a full-court press to impress at the Cannes Lions festival — but the host won't be an ad agency or a media company. These festivities come courtesy of the Rubicon Project, a developer of automated-ad-transaction technology.
Along with Rubicon, ad-tech companies of all shapes and sizes will be invading Cannes this year. Some might say these preachers of algorithmic buying are responsible for the decline of the very creativity the festival celebrates. But, arguing the opposite, they're heading to France en masse, throwing lavish parties aimed at attracting the attention of attendees who control the big bucks.
"The marketers are there in full force, the agencies are there in full force and the publishers are there in full force," said Terence Kawaja, CEO of investment bank Luma Partners, which advises on ad-tech mergers and acquisitions. That gives ad-tech players exposure to potential clients.
"Access to this many and this level of decision-makers is rare," said TubeMogul Senior VP-International Marc Galens, citing one reason why his company is attending. Last year, Mr. Galens said, TubeMogul sent a scouting party to the event but decided to step up its game this year with a team of eight co-hosting two events.
A creative festival is also attractive to ad-tech due to the industry's growing emphasis on individualized messaging. With audience data being used to deliver personalized ads, ad-tech companies' pitch is that their software matters to creatives more now than ever. "The interaction between the creative mind and the means of getting the right message in front of the user becomes a crucial question," said MediaMath Chief Revenue Officer Erich Wasserman.
Fresh off a $73.5 million Series C funding round, MediaMath is sending 15 people to Cannes and hosting two events in a penthouse called Le Rooftop. This will be MediaMath's fourth year at the festival, which Mr. Wasserman said "consistently has been worth our while."
The big risk of Cannes for ad-tech companies is that it's easy to come off as tone deaf. "Many of us joke [that] we miss the old Cannes where 'I can go to a villa without a panel discussion or a yacht without a keynote,'" said industry veteran Julie Thompson, who has been in attendance for 15 years and now has her own consulting firm. "Cannes is a place about creating connections and meeting people without a demo, without a PowerPoint," she said. If ad-tech companies are only concerned with setting sales meetings at the festival, it's best to stay home, Ms. Thompson said.
Still, Cannes now appears to be a can't-miss event for the entire advertising ecosystem, not just creatives. "I was skeptical going there," said Mr. Kawaja, who went for the first time last year. "What I found was that it was amazing for business."