Barry O’Brien, founder and chairman, of Atomic 212º has been a familiar face on la Croisette over the years. He gave B&T an exclusive insight into his latest sojourn to the south of France.

Thirteen years ago, I came to Cannes Lions for the first time and was hooked from the first moment I set foot on la Croisette. It wasn’t just the physical and cultural beauty of Cannes, but the incredible experience that the festival opened me up to. Of course, it’s grown since then and the beachside, boardwalks and hotels are now brimming with global media and tech companies and holding groups alike, all showcasing their business to the global marketing community.

I reminisce in this way because my work colleague Lorraine Woods is on her first Cannes visit this year, and I can see the same joy in her reactions that I experienced 13 years ago.

You know it’s going to be special when this colleague shares daily texts with you and opens up every conversation before the trip on how many sleeps it was until we reached the south of France.

Because the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity is full of creativity in a way that brings the best of the best to present and share their knowledge and wisdom on trends that are happening globally and are having an impact on our very own small yet mighty local industry, all the way on the other side of the world.

My first time here had the printed program that you worked from to line up and hear from world-class speakers, marketers, entrepreneurs, media superstars and more. Not much has changed other than it’s all digital with a push for sustainability that is as paramount throughout the Palais precinct as it is in this year’s campaigns.

The jump in tech also means that I see many of the people in my sessions point their phones to the stage to translate the speaker’s content into their native language or – even more prevalent – is the use of AI transcriptions to ensure not a single word is missed. Of course, technology is one of the key ingredients to this year’s content slate with the likes of Reddit, Elon Musk, Google and more sharing their thoughts of the future world where AI plays a big, big role.

We are encouraged to embrace AI (it’s inevitable after all) and to not only use it and learn from it but to be sceptical of it in order to ensure that AI can be as diverse and inclusive of global society as possible. We need to train it to not pick up on our biases but instead push for its purpose to be used for the good of mankind. It’s something that sends a chill down my spine, given it’s a global election year and the part it will play in upcoming election campaigns.

I was also privileged enough to catch Elon Musk interviewed by Mark Reed, the Global CEO of WPP, in what was clearly a career highlight for Read with standing room only in the theatre.

We all know Musk is a controversial genius, but he’s also a walking headline as he pondered each of Read’s questions on the future of AI and also his social platform, X, including what it will mean to us both now and in the future.

I would delve more into this, but B&T’s Tom Fogden has captured the interview superbly, which you can read here: Elon Musk: Journalism Is Dying, AI Will Stop Us Working & Not All Of Advertising Needs To “Go F*ck Itself”

As intriguing as Musk was, I really enjoyed the session from the McDonald’s global marketing lead Morgan Flatley and her Global CFO counterpart Ian Borden that spoke to how tight collaboration between marketing and finance was critical to success, and how the “black box” of marketing spend is now more accessible and fully supported given the sales results and customer satisfaction are at an incredible level of financial and business success. We also learnt that McDonald’s agencies and partners globally are encouraged to make the McDonald’s marketers uncomfortable with risk-taking communication across all platforms… which I love as a concept, because it means the creative work can be taken to new levels.

But my key takeout from my 13th year at Cannes Lions? Getting CFOs and CMOs to agree completely on success and metrics and to fully support their investment in creative and media.

Article originally published on B&T.


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