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Quelle surprise!

Despite optimistic preparations for a Mediterranean gathering, Cannes Lions will officially be exclusively a virtual event, parent company Ascential announced. “The virtual festival, dubbed Cannes Lions Live, will take place from June 21-25,” writes Ad Age’s Ann-Christine Diaz. “It promises to bring the unveiling and analysis of Cannes Lions winners, as well as live and on-demand content to viewers.”

It’s not a shock, given that France entered yet another coronavirus lockdown last week, and vaccination efforts in Europe are progressing slowly. And while CDC guidelines in the U.S. allow for fully vaccinated people to gather in small groups, cruising the Croisette probably doesn’t qualify as essential travel.

Of course, this is a step up from last year and agencies and creatives looking to add a Lion or two to their portfolio will have that chance this time around. But the competition will be more intense, since all of the work entered for last year will be considered this year. Pour out a little for the juries.

But wait, there's more! MediaLink promises to do an-in person event on the ground in New York and London during Cannes week.

Piece of the action

Gone are the days of Unilever’s triennial global media reviews, but the consumer goods giant is launching something close, a review of its media in about half its global markets, including North America.

“Unilever hasn’t done a review of this scope since 2015, though it did conduct one in China last year won by WPP, whose Mindshare currently handles Unilever media in North America. Omnicom’s PHD and Interpublic-owned media agencies handle Unilever business in other parts of the world,” writes Ad Age’s Jack Neff. “Publicis Groupe and Dentsu shops don’t currently have Unilever business and would appear likely contenders, though [Unilever Chief Marketing and Digital Officer Conny] Braams declined to comment on specifically who might be involved beyond incumbents.”

Unilever is the fifth-largest ad spender in the world, with U.S. media spending alone hitting $529 million last year, about even with the year before.

Face the music

Spotify’s recommendation algorithms favor male artists over female ones, according to a study of some of the service’s user data. Listeners were served up at least six songs by men before getting one by a woman, reports the Financial Times.

While this isn’t surprising, it’s also likely not intentional. Spotify’s algorithm is based partly on a song’s popularity, and the same study found 75% of the music streamed is by men. That creates a feedback loop that’s hard to break. Women artists aren’t recommended because they aren’t streamed, and they aren’t streamed because they aren’t recommended. What at first began as an attempt at meritocracy now entrenches the status quo.

It’s a dilemma facing tech advocates as artificial intelligence becomes a more integrated part of people’s lives. Far from being objective and dispassionate, the “choices” an AI makes reflect the values and biases of its creators. So consider who is programming it and what (and whom) they might be overlooking.

Silver lining

U.S. digital ad revenue rose more than 12% last year, despite the big hits to spending brought on by the pandemic, according to a new report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The fourth quarter of the year saw "the highest revenue on record for digital advertising in more than 20 years, which was buoyed in part by advertising leading up to the election,” writes Ad Age’s Mike Juang. “Digital video grew by 20.6% to $26.2 billion, while social media ad revenues reached $41.5 billion, up 16.3%.”

With nowhere to go and no one to see, viewers stuck at home on their devices all day were a captive audience. The rise in e-commerce and delivery services with digital portals also offered easy avenues to consumers. The IAB does note that while programmatic was up nearly 25%, its future is uncertain, given the looming end of third- party cookies.

Just briefly

Reality bites: A new policy at Amazon-owned Twitch will allow the company to ban users for certain illegal or violent behavior, even if it happens offline. It’s a rare step for a social media platform, which enjoy broad immunities shielding them from user activity thanks to the Communications Decency Act. A third-party investigator will need to determine that a user engaged in deadly violence, terrorism, threats of mass violence or sexual assault. (Violence seems fine as long as no one dies?) Membership in a hate group can also result in a ban, and anyone can report a user by emailing Twitch at OSIT@twitch.tv.

Big ideas: If anything, the pandemic has proved the value and staying power of independent shops—the agility needed to move quickly, deliver great creative that drives business results, and build inclusive teams that offer diverse points of view. Ad Age is once again celebrating the tiny but mighty agencies with the Small Agency Awards. Entries close in less than three weeks; enter at adage.com/saa2021

Toot sweet: Singer Josh Groban loves beans—enough to pen an ode to the tasty legumes that features his younger, still-bearded self and a wild array of fanciful bean-related imagery. The song for Bush’s was written by Groban and "Portlandia” co-creator Jonathan Krisel.

That does it for today’s Wake-Up Call. Thanks for reading and we hope you are all staying safe and well. For more industry news and insight, follow us on Twitter: @adage. 

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