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Cannes Innovation: French Taxi’s vs Uber

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By Stephen Phillips 

To get to the festival you land in Nice Airport and get a taxi to take you the 30 minute drive along the coast to Cannes. Or at least that is what you normally do but this being France there was a simultaneous taxi and rail strike. The taxi’s were protesting against Uber and the train drivers were presumably protesting against roads. Anyway, it meant the journey to Cannes required pushing yourself onto a bus on the side of the road and hoping it was going in the right direction as surly taxi drivers tried to stop anyone from picking people up on the side of the road.

We were going to Cannes to join the Innovation section of the Cannes Festival of Creativity. The main conference lasts 5 days and includes all the great and the good (and others) from the advertising industry. This is the first time they have run an Innovation offshoot and it was on for the last 2 days of the main conference. ZappiStore was included as one of the Unilever Foundry top 50 global marketing technology start-ups so we headed into the festival excited to find out where technology was leading the industry.

The 2 days included various speakers from futurists, technologists to business leaders and F1 drivers (David Coulthard who, suffering like us from the transport crisis, drove his wife’s small electric car from his home in Monaco).

The VP of Advertising from Domino’s kicked things off as she talked through how technology was changing their business completely. She described how Domino’s had gone from a small technology department and a big marketing department to a much smaller marketing team but with a large technology group driving the business forward through innovations in customer service.

Over the two days there was a lot of talk about AR and VR (augmented reality and virtual reality of course!) and how they would change culture, society, people and everything else. Having promised much ever since the mid 1990’s, it does seem that VR may be hitting the mainstream soon and when it does so it is predicted to have a big impact on marketing. Unfortunately no-one seems sure what that impact will be but from a research perspective there seem some obvious uses from shopper simulations to car clinics.

Another theme was people based marketing. Instead of predictive based technologies which are suffering more and more from the decline in cookies (due to them not being on mobile), campaigns need to be based on real information about individual users so that completely targeted messages can be made. This in turn requires real time advertising creation, driven by technology, so that ads can be tailored to specific people, at specific times, in specific situations with specific offers. Surely this should be a boon to the research industry, assuming we can manage the real time, targeted testing required.

Machine learning (or AI to some folks) also came up with the IBM Chief Strategist discussing how Watson could help answer the marketing industry’s core questions. Given this fast changing technology landscape, several big brands talked passionately about how they were partnering with innovative start-ups to learn together about how to navigate through this new landscape. VP’s from Mondelez and Unilever talked about their companies approaches and of course Unilever have taken this as far as running the Foundry 50 program as a way to specifically engage with as many new ideas as possible.

Finally there was a lot of discussion around the role of creativity in this new, high tech world. This argument seemed odd to me as companies like Uber have shown a great deal of creative thinking but I think the creatives who are concerned are the old school advertising creatives who probably also think that they have a monopoly on creativity!

This being Cannes there were lots of parties; on beaches, islands, yachts and penthouses. We did manage to get into a few with help from our friends at Millward Brown. The highlight was a party on a yacht provided for by a technology company that was apparently young, rich and clever!

By the time it came to leave the Uber strike was over but the Uber drivers were nervous still and mine asked me to sit in the front with him and pretend we were friends. On the trip back he lamented the overpaid and protected taxi drivers and asked, rhetorically speaking, how on earth they can try and just stop progress. This seemed an apt description of some of the thinking we can come across in the research world, and so the thought I left with was are we in the research industry with Uber or with the French taxi drivers? Mind you, the overpaid, underworked taxi drivers did at least get to spend more time on the beach than I did, maybe they are getting something right after all!

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