The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is a unique event that brings together a diverse global audience in a single sun-drenched spot once a year. Yes, it’s profligate and there is much ‘my-yacht-is-bigger-than-yours’ about the way the adtech companies flaunt their wares, but it is still the pre-eminent annual showcase of the best advertising on the planet.

It feels a little quieter this year. The consensus beforehand was that the big holding companies had reined in their investments, and one major advertiser has dramatically reduced their delegation. There is an air of harder times in Cannes and a sense that it may look rather inappropriate in these tighter times to be ordering the extra bottle.

There is also a sense of change. Ebiquity took part in a panel called ‘Is digital now a dirty word?’ based on the premise that the promise of digital marketing has hit some roadblocks, and specifically that tracking technologies have exceeded their original remit.

Digital marketing is now the cornerstone of most marketers’ strategy, so it has clearly not become a ‘dirty word’, even if it is no longer viewed as the answer to every question. But the fact that the question is being asked is significant.

The mood of the town and the conversation chimes with the sense that programmatic advertising is struggling under the weight of a trading eco-system that is hugely wasteful, with persistent problems of viewability, ad fraud, and ad blocking. Not to mention technology that is still finding its feet, and which is still a mystery to many advertisers.

The persistent issues of a market dominated by the ‘Large Digital Enterprises’ are never far from the surface, with the growing realization that they create none of the online content but take most of the online ad revenue.

There is much talk about how Artificial Intelligence is going to affect the advertising industry, and specifically, cost jobs. But there is a lot less about how it will improve the technology that is needed to help create personalized advertising to the right audiences. The full potential of programmatic will only be fulfilled when the technology really works, and not when the adtech industry says it does.

There is also a sense that the adtech bubble has deflated a little as advertisers start to ask searching questions of their media partners in the light of the shortcomings of the programmatic market.

Cannes may have its less attractive features (such as profiteering), but it is still the only event of its kind where the industry’s strengths are on show and there is vigorous debate about its weaknesses.

It may be quieter on the streets this year, but the debates are louder than ever. If Cannes didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.