Awards-Cannes-Lions

Voice in Cannes — Voice Industry Attendees Offer Their Thoughts on Cannes Lions Festival 2019

The Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity is one of the top advertising conferences annually and offers up some of the most coveted awards. Held in Cannes, France in late June on the land and the sea, the event has been held annually since 1954. An advertising campaign centered around a voice app won an award for the first time this year.

There is always a right of passage for new technologies as they become absorbed into all facets of traditional business and eventually are incorporated into solutions that win industry awards. When digital advertising came along, advertising awards went exclusively to film-based creative work for some time. The first mobile display ad award was conferred at Cannes in 2012 to Google.

Voice technology was featured prominently in the 2019 Webby Awards and an advertising campaign centered around an Alexa skill took home a Cannes Lion Grand Prix last week. The Grand Prix is the top award in each category and this milestone along with the inclusion of voice into other industry awards suggests voice is becoming mainstream not just among consumers, but also with marketers. That generally means you will see more marketing and advertising dollars flow into a sector.

Last year Amazon won an award related to voice for its “Alexa Loses Her Voice” campaign and Burger King snagged an award a couple of years ago for a stunt that activated Google Home devices. However, those were traditional advertisements, whereas Westworld: The Maze, this year’s winner in the Radio & Audio category, was an actual Alexa skill. Voicebot’s editors noticed the transition and that several voice industry leaders were at Cannes this year. So, we caught up with a few of them to get a better perspective on how voice technologies were being incorporated into the events.

Audrey Arbeeny, Audiobrain

Why were you at Cannes? 
I was there primarily to bring insights around sonic branding in a SoundFirst era, its importance to a brand’s story, and how and why this is not a new practice suddenly at the forefront of the industry. At the beginning, I asked how many people knew what sonic branding was, and afterward many came up to me at said they thought they knew, but realized it was much more involved than they had understood.

Audrey Arbeeny, Audiobrain

What was the presence of voice technology that you saw and how was that different from previous years?
I didn’t attend in previous years but there was a great deal of talk about voice technologies and many are rushing to the forefront to expand their current brand offerings into this space. There were others who seemed to speak about voice and search, but still, I felt they too had questions about where this was all going, and how it will ultimately play out.

What was the interest level among marketers about voice and how it will fit into advertising and promotion in the future? 
From those I met and those who attended our speaking engagement hosted by Vayner Smart, the level is extremely high at this time. I heard a lot about voice, from brands such as Pandora speaking about voice search technologies, and their new in-house consultancy Studio Resonate their audio-first creative consultancy. I anticipate an influx of new agencies dedicated to voice and sound, similar to Pandora. Also, companies such as Neilson, which had such a large presence and others that are focused on analytics and third-party measurements, were interesting because this is also becoming a huge area for them.

What non-voice concept most intrigued you from the event? 
There was a lot of talk about ‘Purpose’ ‘Transformation’ ‘Activism’ and ‘Diversity’, and there were many events for women, with dozens of globally known brands sponsoring them. The FQ (Female Quotient) Lounge was at my hotel and was always packed with both attendees and speakers.

Ben Fisher, Magic & Company

Why were you at Cannes?
A client, who is an agency, got ‘shortlisted’ for an award we worked on and we are close partners so we said why not. There were also global CMOs and media executives there that I was looking forward to meeting. Really, I went to educate agency and brand executives on the power of conversational and to learn what other people might be up to.

Ben Fisher, Magic+Co

What was the interest level among marketers about voice and how it will fit into advertising and promotion in the future? 
Interest was high. People are making millions of dollars doing strategy consulting or tying into campaigns. This was actively talked about. Many agencies it looks like are trying to scale their voice business, which is different than what they were doing last year which was using the ‘hot new thing’ to get attention for their clients. So in that sense, it seemed to be becoming more strategic and solid of a business line for these agencies — consulting firms similar things. It is a true division with a budget line item in their corporation as opposed to some creative director incorporating a new technology.

It seemed like lots of people are thinking about things similarly. I think one of the biggest takeaways for me is VUX design and the struggles with that. For example, what makes a good VUX designer? How to find someone good at dialogue writing but who can think in a very structured and technical way as usually these are separate parts of people’s brains?

What surprised you, if anything? 
The volume at the agencies did — they aren’t getting the voice projects. Magic and larger consultancies seem to be getting the actual volume. There is a gap in experience among the advertising agencies and other types of organizations. This was different last year. And that is also how I know this is becoming more mature as the projects are bigger and need bigger technical chops than advertising agencies alone can do.

Patrick Givens, Vayner Media

Why were you at Cannes?
Cannes brings together a ton of interesting creative perspectives and people of influence across the marketing industry, and everyone is there with the intent of meeting new people and being exposed to new ideas. For me, it’s about the relationships that you start there and those that grow deeper as we’re all together with time to actually talk. From a business standpoint, it’s straight up efficiency – there aren’t many places I can both talk with so many different folks who are in a mindset to lean in and also have the serendipity of random meetings and introductions that spur new ideas.

Patrick Givens, Vayner Media

What was the presence of voice technology that you saw and how was that different from previous years? 
Honestly, I didn’t see a significant voice presence. I did some really interesting panels hosted by Amazon on the ethics of A.I., so some great discussions popped up there. But a lot of the work on display and being awarded still skewed to video and print — very little was truly interactive and even less over voice. That said, I had a number of conversations both with brand marketers and folks from other agencies about the role voice is starting to play today and where it’s heading from here.

What was the interest level among marketers about voice and how it will fit into advertising and promotion in the future?
The interest is significant but the question is how that will translate into budgets and well-designed programs. Marketers see the hardware ecosystem developing and the spread of Voice-first platforms out from owned smart speakers into cars, headphones, TVs, and appliances. TThat all translates to potential reach. But now the industry needs to see user behavior evolve, and to get there I think we need much better experience design and integration of voice experiences into broader brand initiatives.

In general, many brand marketers are looking to build deeper customer relationships to increase LTV (lifetime value) and resiliency in the face of private label + DTC (direct-to-consumer) challengers. And, many of them see voice as a channel with great potential to facilitate these connections.

What surprised you, if anything?
The lack of voice in the work represented wasn’t terribly surprising given the focus of the festival and state of voice experience design. But the amount of interest from brand marketers was reassuring, if not surprising.

What non-voice concept most intrigued you from the event?
There were some incredibly creative ideas that thought outside the traditional platforms that really resonated for me. One of my favorites was “Hungry Puffs” (https://vimeo.com/329936069) where they hacked grocery retail to create a donation model, with each empty box of cereal sold generating a donation that covered breakfast for 10 children. I loved the thought about how to use a channel differently and think about a physical package as an on-ramp to a broader experience.

Zach Johnson, Xandra

Zach Johnson, Xandra

Why were you at Cannes?
I was there with Amazon for the CLX sessions and also for general networking and to get a feel for how voice was being discussed amongst the attendees.

What was the presence of voice technology that you saw and how was that different from previous years? 
Amazon Alexa had a strong presence this year as compared to last. They ran the Change for Good hackathon again this year and also the CLX sessions, both partnered with HUGE. I didn’t encounter a meaningful presence, explicitly focused on voice from the other players.

What was the interest level among marketers about voice and how it will fit into advertising and promotion in the future?
From the 2 CLX sessions I ran alongside Ubisoft, there seemed to be a high level of interest but a surprisingly low level of knowledge. Some of this was likely due to the international nature of where the attendees were from with Alexa and voice relatively new or nascent in certain international markets. Opportunities certainly seemed plentiful. I still think folks are trying to figure out how everything voice fits into a broader marketing strategy but the Grand Prix win by Westworld: The Maze Alexa skill is hopefully a good signal that voice should be taken seriously by the industry.

Editors Note: Xandra was part of the 360i team that worked with HBO and won Cannes Grand Prix award for the Westworld Alexa skill.

Westworld: The Maze Alexa Skill Wins Grand Prix at Cannes

The 2019 Webby Award Winning Voice Applications

Burger King Wins Award for OK Google Whopper Burger Ad