As data, technology, and creativity continue their inevitable collision course, the conversation along La Croisette at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival was just as likely to be about the rise of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, and the availability of in-app SDKs, as about emotional advertising, the customer journey and creative inspiration.

With ad tech now a substantial part of the Cannes Lions landscape we asked a handful of this year’s tech-focused attendees for their unique viewpoints on the French Riviera’s latest event.

Dominic Trigg, VP for EMEA at OpenX: “As we disembarked from our taxis and UberCOPTERs into the razor-light Cannes sunshine this year, there was one thing that stood out more than the glamorous yachts and pristine coast – the explosive growth in ad tech players. As the ad tech industry continues to thrive, it’s attracted a proliferation of new solutions, all vying to make their mark in the ecosystem. With more providers comes increased competition, but established players – benefiting from experience and knowledge – look secure in their dominance. Relationships are made at Cannes, partnerships seeded and future business negotiations discussed – the importance of this event cannot be underestimated.”

Nick Welch, business development director for UK at ADmantX: “On the outside, the focus at Cannes shifted to be much more on performance than on creativity – or at the very least, how creativity is predicted by performance and influenced by data. It was clear to see this in action with data businesses and large management consultancies joining the technology companies that are increasingly encroaching on the traditional ad agency turf year-on-year. Personalised marketing that is informed by data, is key in performance marketing and continues to disrupt the status quo – there’s no doubt about it, and Cannes Lions 2017 only reaffirmed this message.”

Alex McIlvenny, UK country manager at Ligatus: “Creativity and the art of storytelling was a big topic of discussion at Cannes Lions this year. With new creative ad formats emerging, new technologies are making it possible for brands to become interactive storytellers at scale. Finally, marketers are starting to focus on the user experience, but they need to maintain the creativity as the tech evolves. By simplifying the user journey, and improving the targeting and delivery of ads, it allows for more creative content that will boost user engagement.”

Chris Dobson, CEO at The Exchange Lab: “In the 15 years I’ve been coming to Cannes, I’ve been focused on trying to progress the relationship with the creative side of the industry. There has been some headway, but it still feels like we have a way to go before digital and creative work in total unity. Tech has evolved to the point that we can optimise targeted creative in real-time – but until we achieve unison with creative – we can’t utilise this to its full potential. There are some agencies that understand the importance of close working relationships but they remain too few and far between. We need to work together to deliver programmatic, data-driven creative because frankly, however good your creative or your technology, without the other, your advertising campaigns will struggle to succeed.

Max Pepe, marketing and innovation director at Mozoo: “There was a lot of chatter around software development kits (SDKs) for app monetisation at Cannes, especially since Google announced in May it’s launching an SDK for app developers. I had a lot of interesting conversations with publishers, agencies and developers about current limitations in SDK technology, and frustrations around generating maximum revenue per impression for in-app traffic.

Right now, there’s uncertainty among app publishers over which SDKs to select to drive the greatest revenue from their traffic. It’s highly time-consuming and complex to manage and optimise vendor relationships, implementations, revenue monitoring, and manage payments.

Consequently, there is demand for serious development in SDK technology, and an appetite for new solutions that give app publishers the ability to drive the maximum possible yield from their in-app traffic. By Cannes Lions 2018, we’d expect to see a significant transformation in SDK technology and solutions.”

Dave Reed, managing director for EMEA at MediaMath:“High on the agenda at this year’s Cannes was the emergence of in-market artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Discussions from up and down the Croisette indicate that the industry is beginning to utilise AI to drive better business outcomes through improved targeting, investment decisions, and creative selection. IBM, for example, led a fascinating panel called ‘Unlocking the power of AI for your marketing mix’.  I am excited by this next evolution of automated decision making, as it signals a strong continuation of the trend towards consumer-centric (vs. channel-centric) marketing with a focus on measurable returns for marketing investments.”

Paul Maraviglia, general manager for Europe at MaxPoint: “Data and creativity were again the focus of every discussion at Cannes. Alongside talk of whether the influx of US ad tech companies is killing creativity, the importance of an effective data-driven approach to marketing was a key theme. However, brands are becoming data rich but insights poor. The key questions they need to ask about data are around availability, visibility and whether it can be attributed to real people either through transactional history, location or browsing habits. To reach consumers at the point they are most likely to buy, creatives can then start designing digital campaigns around the consumer journey rather than as an add-on to the TV campaign.”

Despite calls to rediscover the creative heart of Cannes Lions before next year’s event, and the formation of a committee to review the festival’s format, it is no longer possible to separate technology and creativity. As these personal experiences illustrate the two are now fully intertwined and data is the driving force behind their shared future.