At Cannes Lions this year it was impossible to ignore the overwhelming presence of digital advertising companies. From the marina where they moored their yachts, to the beach where Facebook, Google and Twitter all sat side by side, and exuberant newcomer Snapchat’s branding around the Palais – the digerati were omnipresent.

This should play into the narrative of ‘art vs. science’ or ‘Mad Men vs. Maths Men’ – but it’s a false divide. Something that Cannes Lions made clear this year. Across the festival we saw brands harnessing technology to connect with consumers on a more personal level, and using innovative new consumer tech and data-driven insights to learn more about audiences.

One of the best examples of exceptional digital creative work this year came from The New York Times (NYT), which won the mobile and entertainment Grand Prix for The Displaced – a virtual reality experience that immerses viewers in the lives of three child refugees.

The app received more downloads at launch than any other NYT app in history. Why? Because it connected with a mass audience. It’s commendable work from the NYT, a brand that’s 165 years old and at the coal face of adopting new tech to craft powerful advertising – work that actually serves to cut the waste out of our industry.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology was also at the forefront of conversation. Saatchi & Saatchi set out to answer a relatively new question for our industry: “Can a film made by machines move you?”

At its new directors showcase the agency debuted Eclipse – for which the credits include AI programs such as IBM’s Watson and facial recognition technology like Affectiva.

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones comments that the film is actually rather dull creatively but that it’s an extraordinary achievement that we shouldn’t play down. He concluded that it’s indicative of a future where we should see humans and robots working creatively, side-by-side.

If the crowd at Cannes were ever in any doubt that creativity and technology are actually great bedfellows as opposed to nemeses then cue JWT winning two Grand Prix awards for ‘The Next Rembrandt‘.

For the campaign for ING bank the agency used machine learning to teach a computer the artist’s style and create new work, indistinguishable from the real deal.

Following its win, jury president Chloe Gottlieb commented on the work in both the cyber and digital categories: “The quality of work was of such a level that its digital nature disappeared. It becomes invisible. You don’t even know it’s there. It’s like magic.”

Which is exactly how technology should and clearly is, in some cases, being used. It’s not about deciding to use technology for proof of concept, just because it’s there and to show we can. 

Instead technology should be one of the many tools at the fingertips of advertisers being seamlessly used to produce great campaigns.

It’s great to see forward-thinking agencies doing so in response to the programmable world in which we live, because this new world means we now have the opportunity to use tools like AI to connect with a mass audience, one to one. Although the scale of this opportunity has barely revealed itself, as Mary Meeker pointed out in her 2016 trends report. 

The value reaped by these agencies stems from making sense of the insights to inform the creative decisions they make. To illustrate this point, Matthew Luhn, Story Supervisor & Story Instructor at Pixar Animation Studios and Quantcast CEO and Co-Founder Konrad Feldman, discussed on the mainstage the opposing sides of creativity and data.

An interesting synergy emerged between the world of crafting an animated film and advertising – that great creativity is iterative and its wellspring is failure. 

What technology or insight provides, Luhn explained, is to give creatives more options, then enable them to fail quickly and cheaply. To get the bad versions out the way to make way for the good. 

If we can transfer that philosophy from the world of entertainment to advertising and begin to experiment with it, we can start to explore how to make creative as personalised as media without compromising or adding complexity to campaigns. This is when we will begin to deliver a more relevant and useful advertising experiences for consumers.

This article was first published on Mediatel here