Once more the French Riviera played host to advertising artisans and creators for the 2016 Cannes Lions Innovation Festival.  

Like a creativity magnet, the event drew innovative thinkers from around the world to discuss, shape, and set the themes that will dictate the industry’s future.

In 2015, the focus on disruptive, personal, and contextually-appropriate content started a movement towards adaptable campaigns that is going strong today. This year was no different, with an equally packed schedule covering everything from wearables and virtual reality to continuous connectivity. The big question is: which topics on this varied agenda dominated the festival in 2016?

Data versus creativity

The debate of data versus creativity ran through the heart of Cannes Lions Innovation. Automated tools such as addressable TV, dynamic creative, header bidding and real-time guaranteed are streamlining the way ads and campaigns are built and delivered — but it doesn’t follow that such progress must come at the expense of creative ingenuity.

During a panel focusing on the Art of Curation, Adam Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, explained how Silicon Valley thinks of algorithms as the big heroes of the piece when they are merely a tool for the curator – it’s the human who makes the final decision. He explained how it’s an artist’s responsibility to “mess up the system”, to create something unique instead of something an algorithm predicts will achieve the most Facebook likes. If algorithms alone were in control, content that proved popular would be constantly regurgitated and work by pioneering artists, such Salvador Dali, would have never been discovered.     

As always, content was a key focus of the festival. Debates revolving around adopting new technologies while encouraging creativity dominated the stage.  

Artificial intelligence

In a year where talk of robots replacing humans is commonplace, AI [artificial intelligence] was always going to be a major talking point. Speaking at the PHD Worldwide keynote, Wired’s co-founder Kevin Kelly predicted AI would “launch the second industrial evolution” and asked the industry to embrace these technologies instead of resisting. AI is often hailed as a new beginning for creativity – the perfect combination of machine’s unwavering efficiency, and the artistic and innovative nature of humans. In this sense, as Kelly argued, AI will in fact create more job opportunities for people.  

Attendees at the Cannes’ panel called ‘Will a Robot Win a Lion?’ concluded it was distinctly possible that AI could result in Cannes awards and this view was corroborated by ‘The Next Rembrandt’ – a portrait painted by AI. The architects of the campaign created a program that analysed the artist’s techniques in exact detail. From this, they taught a computer to replicate Rembrandt’s style with impressive precision. Scooping a Cyber Lions Grand Prix, the jury president Chloe Gottlieb said: “What we love about this idea is that the data isn’t the output of the creativity – the data is the beginning of the creativity, the data is the source for creativity.”

Joining the debate, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt said that while he believed AI could eventually be used to tackle global problems as diverse as population growth and climate change, this did not mean it would be capable of independent creativity or consciousness, and that people would always have the ability to turn off the technology.   

While its usage remains a controversial topic, the opportunity AI presents to enhance marketing efficiency, impact, and scale makes this trend one to watch.

With so much change in the air – AI, virtual reality and new developments in programmatic – this festival has truly been an ode to creativity and innovation.