By Alexandra Bruell and Nat Ives
Attendees at the marketing industry’s biggest gathering worried about brand safety and data privacy
The Cannes Lions ad festival is a sunny fixture for many in marketing, an annual ritual of schmoozing on the French Riviera, drinking ever-present rosé and sounding off on panels about the industry and creativity.
But amid the self-congratulation and parties, there was plenty of handwringing among attendees this year who worried aloud and often about brand safety and data privacy online.
“The first time your brand is damaged, it’s not easily fixed,” said Bob Rupczynski, corporate vice president of global media and customer relationship management at McDonald’s Corp. , during a panel titled “The Internet: Don’t Ruin a Good Thing.” He said brand safety is a top priority of the fast-food chain.
McDonald’s, Clorox Co. , Nestlé SA, “Fortnite” publisher Epic Games Inc. and AT&T Inc. paused ads on Google’s YouTube in February, for example, following reports that viewers were making inappropriate comments on videos of young girls.
Cannes was its usual self in many ways. Media and tech companies threw lavish parties flush with themed cocktails and exotic canapés to help pry open the wallets of advertisers.
“Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels attended a Snap Inc. dinner at the tony Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, while news veteran Katie Couric mingled with marketers at an event hosted by Vice Media LLC and Pttow LLC, a membership club for executives and “icons.”
But amid the festivities, pressure on digital media became a recurring theme.
Facebook has created a “new universe,” said Pedro Earp, chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch InBev and head of ZX Ventures. “In a new world you have things that shouldn’t be there, we have bad people, we have a bunch of stuff,” he said. “They are kind of trying to be the police of this new world, but it’s very uncharted territory.”
The tech giants have been working to clean up their platforms, deploying new technologies and increasing human review. Despite the efforts, unwanted content remains a point of tension in the companies’ relationship with advertisers.
“We’re in different businesses but we have similar objectives,” said Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions at Facebook, in an interview. “We want to create an ecosystem for advertisers that is healthy, that consumers feel really positive about—that they feel safe and secure on the platforms, and feel good about the brands that support them.”
In a panel to roll out the coalition, Ms. Everson also stressed the difficulty ahead. “I want to be realistic that this is not a fully solvable problem,” she said. “I can’t ensure the safety of everybody at this beach when we walk down the Croisette.”
That sentiment received mixed reactions from conference goers.
Facebook has hired thousands of people in an effort to make its platforms safer but can’t say it is working hard to fix its issues while absolving itself of responsibility, said Tim Andree, chief executive at Dentsu Aegis Network, a unit of Japanese ad giant Dentsu Inc.
“It’s about the end result making us believe they remain vigilant and that they’re pushing for a completely secure and safe platform,” he said.
Facebook declined to comment. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some Cannes attendees also called for federal regulation on privacy, partly to protect consumers and partly to preempt a potential patchwork of state legislation, an anticipated a bumpy road ahead for marketers.
The California Consumer Privacy Act taking effect next year could hurt brands’ access to data about consumers online, warned Tanya Forsheit, a partner and chair of the privacy and data security group at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.
When the new law goes into effect, every website is likely to have a link that says, “Do not sell my personal information,” Ms. Forsheit said during a panel hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
Ms. Forsheit said consumers may think if they don’t click, “their Social Security number will get sold.”
Feature Image Credit:
By Alexandra Bruell and Nat Ives
Sourced from The Wall Street Journal