Ian Whittaker
Jun 25, 2024

Can Asia up its voice at Cannes?

Ian Whittaker unpacks the underwhelming Asian presence at Cannes this year, and why greater representation might be the key to a better learning experience for all.

Can Asia up its voice at Cannes?

The 2024 Cannes Lion week has just finished and as participants return to their home countries after a long week, advertising gets back to normal. I was down in Cannes for the week and, as usual, it was a bustling, hectic occasion which certainly seemed busier than last year (Ascential— the owner of Cannes Lions—reported that its revenues from the festival had seen “strong, double digit” growth driven by, amongst others, strong volume growth). As expected, topics such as AI, retail media, and surprisingly but welcomely, the importance of advertising for companies and their bottom line. However, one thing that struck me from the week was: where was Asia?

‌After all, China is the second largest advertising market in the world and Japan is in the top five. Markets such as India and Indonesia represent major growth opportunities. During the conference, WPP’s GroupM significantly increased its 2024 global advertising growth forecasts from 5.3% to 7.8% with a significant increase in the advertising growth rate from China a primary factor. Yes, TikTok was at Cannes prominently, but it is fair to say that it's a global player more focused on its Western markets for growth. The presence of Asian-based firms at the conference was low-key.

‌It might be said, so what? After all, one could argue the festival is more about overall trends and insights into what is happening in the industry globally than geographically-specific content (there was little content around the specific needs of the North American or European consumer to take one example).

The Chinese tech giants—Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent—are predominantly focused on their own countries. It is clear China has its own media ecosystem driven by its environment. The same could be said of Japan and the dominance of local agency groups, together with India with its own unique characteristics. Finally, as I have argued before, the agency holding companies still rely on traditional western markets for much of their revenues (there are also perhaps, more practical issues, such as the cost of attending the week).

‌Yet it would have been good to get more of a global perspective when it comes to a coverage of topics and participants. There are several trends prevalent in certain Asian markets that have been talked about as potential opportunities in markets such as Europe and North America such as social commerce where it might be argued the Asian perspective could have provided valuable insights. Amazon, Google and Meta were all in strong attendance, but it would have been useful to compare and contrast their approach with their Chinese equivalents such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. After all, all markets can learn from each other.

‌I do not think anyone is really at fault here. Having covered Ascential as an analyst, I knew they were keen on maximising revenues and wanted to boost attendance from Asia-Pacific (and why wouldn’t they?). Moreover, you cannot force companies and people to attend who do not want to do so, and given the expense of the week, firms will only do so if they think it is worthwhile. Yet the festival did come across as having a very North American and European-centric approach and, with the leading global advertisers always in town, I think it would benefit everyone to hear more about what is going on in other parts of the world, so we can all learn.

‌As usual, this is not investment advice.

Ian Whittaker is the founder and managing director of Liberty Sky Advisors. He writes regularly for Campaign about the advertising landscape from a financial standpoint.

Campaign Asia

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