Gary Vaynerchuk speaks onstage during Tribeca X on June 14, 2023 in New York City.

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Social media algorithms have led to a more meritocratic advertising landscape that the industry has been slow to catch up with, according to VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk.

“The social media I grew up with… it was more like email marketing,” the agency executive told CNBC’s Tania Bryer at the Cannes Lions festival, a major fixture in the advertising world’s calendar.

Vaynerchuk co-founded restaurant booking platform Resy and was an early investor in the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.

“Every brand that’s here, you would try to amass as many followers as you could, and then you would post, and a percentage of them would see it,” he said.

“Now we live in a world of social media over the last two, three years, five years, where the AI algorithms that give you the For You page, the content is finding the audience.”

“For You” is a feature of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok which serves a scrollable stream of videos based on trending content and on users’ past usage of the app.

Gary Vaynerchuk says his biggest fear around AI is that it gets overregulated

“I’ve spent, you know, 15 years amassing tens of millions of followers. And yet somebody walking down the [Cannes] Croisette today, who’s never posted once, can make one video and that could get more views than I can get,” Vaynerchuk said.

“I think that meritocracy around content is empowering… For the first time in the history of marketing, you can post something, not have any money paid to amplify it, and have millions of people see it. That is profound.”

Despite this, the advertising industry remains focused on traditional formats, such as print ads and the 30-second commercial, he continued.

“Brand is built in social and it’s time to actually respect the art and the craft and the ads within that medium. And the longer you wait and you don’t, the more likely startup brands are going to take your market share,” Vaynerchuk said.

Musk makes waves

X CEO Elon Musk delivered one of the most highly-anticipated talks at Cannes Lions, and his appearance was widely viewed as an attempt to build bridges with the advertising industry, with which he has had a fraught relationship since he took over the company in late 2022.

Musk said Wednesday that his controversial comment last year — when he told advertisers to ‘Go f— yourself’ — was not aimed at “advertisers as a whole,” but regarded “freedom of speech.”

“It is important to have a global free speech platform where people with a wide range of opinions can voice their views. In some cases there were advertisers who were insisting on censorship,” Musk said, according to an Axios report.

“Of course, advertisers have a right to appear next to content that they find compatible with their brands. That’s totally fine. What is not cool is insisting that there can be no content they disagree with on the platform,” he said.

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