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Plus Messenger’s autoplay video ads, Pinterest’s shopping ambitions and more news from Cannes Lions.

Greetings from Cannes Lions, the annual advertising boondoggle in the South of France where the ad industry gathers to wheel and deal, take advantage of lavish expense reports, and where drinking rosé is acceptable at any time of the day.

Many of the digital media industry’s largest advertising platforms — Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, to name a few — spend the week in Cannes in luxurious beachside cabanas, trying to lock down advertising deals for the back half of the year. But a lot of the hubbub is tailored around social events, like beach parties and fancy dinners at nearby hotels. As one ad tech executive put it to me Monday night, “there’s a fine line between networking and not working.” It’s sometimes tough to tell who’s doing what.

But real business does get done in Cannes [Ed. note: Kurt, you’re protesting too much]. Many companies see it as a mid-year check-in where they can talk to partners about plans for the second half of the year. (Vegas’ CES, held in January each year, is the early-year equivalent to Cannes Lions.)

Here’s what I’m hearing:

Instagram is preparing to launch longform video

Whoops! Scratch thatI This week’s most intriguing product announcement isn’t actually happening in Cannes — it’s happening at Instagram’s new San Francisco office, though media companies here are certainly taking notice and Instagram plans to stream it live to reporters here on the ground. (Another big ad story that people are talking about at Cannes, even though it’s not happening at Cannes: AT&T’s plan to acquire ad tech company AppNexus for $1.6 billion.)

The Facebook-owned app has a press event scheduled for 9 am PT Wednesday morning, and multiple sources say the company is planning to unveil a longform video feature, which would let people share videos up to an hour in length. The last time Instagram did a big press event like this was in 2013 when it unveiled Direct, its private messaging service. This doesn’t happen often.

The longer videos will reside in their own section of the app, these sources say, but it’s unclear if Instagram is going after the kind of original programming that Snapchat offers inside its Discover section. Instead, it seems Instagram is simply hoping that brands and advertisers will see the new section as an alternative to YouTube (and even Facebook) for posting longform shows and videos. Eventually, we imagine Instagram will try and monetize these longer videos with mid-roll or pre-roll ads, similar to what the company is doing now inside Facebook Watch.

We’ll know soon what the product looks like, but one possible benefit of Instagram’s new feature might be its openness. Snapchat Discover has always been exclusive, only available to certain media partners or big-time celebrities. It sounds as though Instagram’s product will be available to everyone, giving more people an opportunity to participate. Then again, there are obvious cons to letting more people participate. Ask YouTube.

The bigger question, though, is whether or not people actually want to watch longer video inside Instagram. One media executive I spoke with in Cannes on Tuesday likened it to McDonald’s selling a salad. That might work for some people, but, “It’s still not a burger.”

Messenger is running autoplay video ads

Facebook’s Messenger service started rolling out autoplay video ads this week, meaning you might soon see a video in your inbox alongside messages from friends and family. The messaging inbox is typically a personal space, and it’s unclear how the addition of video ads will go over with users.

“Top priority for us is user experience,” Stefanos Loukakos, who runs Messenger’s ad business, told me from a beachside cabana. “So we don’t know yet [if these will work]. However, signs until now, when we tested basic ads, didn’t show any changes with how people used the platform or how many messages they send.”

“Video might be a bit different, but we don’t believe so.”

Pinterest wants people shopping more on its service, and is hiring like crazy

Pinterest is in Cannes for the fourth straight year, and rented a nice pier on the beach that the company is using for meetings. A few takeaways from our sit-down interview with Jon Kaplan, the company’s global head of sales:

  • Pinterest wants more people shopping on Pinterest. To do that, Kaplan says the company needs more “shoppable pins,” or photos and videos that identify the products you see in them, and give you a chance to click and buy that product right there. Right now, a “single-digit” percentage of pins on the service are shoppable, Kaplan says. He wouldn’t share a hard goal, but says there are some categories Pinterest plans to focus on. “Home and fashion will be the two big focus areas for us to start,” he said. “We have aspirations for that to be completely shoppable in those categories.”
  • Pinterest is boosting its sales team. Kaplan said the company plans to grow the sales team, which was at “several hundreds” at the beginning of the year, by more than 50 percent.
  • Pinterest is finally starting to sell ads in non-English-speaking countries for the first time. The company started testing ads in France on Monday, and Kaplan says Germany is next on the list. All businesses would love to add more revenue, but Pinterest in particular. Last year, the company missed internal revenue targets, but many believe Pinterest is on an IPO track, anyway. More revenue streams should help with the process.

Snapchat and Instagram have dueling story exhibits

Both Snapchat and Instagram are showing off art installations at Cannes, and both companies are making user Stories a big part of the exhibit.

Snapchat’s exhibit is called Sound Stories, and the company worked with an artist named Christian Marclay who watched thousands of public user stories to find audio clips he then turned into art. In one section of the exhibit, Cannes attendees could play a piano where the keys correspond to sounds pulled from actual user Stories.

Instagram’s exhibit, which was created by artist Es Devlin, was less interactive, but flashier. Attendees could watch a three-minute video that showed the importance of storytelling over time, with some clips from users’ stories littered in. The show ends with the line: “Can one story change history? Does any story really vanish once it’s been told?”

The exhibits were interesting, but even more interesting was that Stories was the format of choice for companies. It’s clear that Stories are not just growing in popularity among users, but they’re growing in importance for these business, too.

Is Cannes Lions shrinking?

Cannes feels less crowded than years past, and attendees are noticing. The obvious explanation is that some major ad agencies, like Publicis, sat out of this year’s conference. We’ve asked Cannes representatives for attendance figures and will update if we hear back, but those figures may not tell the whole story. Many people come to the conference but don’t actually register — a badge isn’t needed to hold meetings or get into nearby hotels where much of the action takes place.

Feature Image Credit: Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom and Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergFacebook / Mark Zuckerberg

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