Why 2016 was the year Dmexco became more than 'the programmatic show'

Dmexco has established itself as arguably the leading European conference for adtech – and increasingly martech – vendors to justify themselves when it comes to advertisers and traditional media owners including them on media plans.

Dmexco 2016

Dmexco is now a tier-one attraction

This year it was reported that more than 50,000 delegates packed the Koelnmesse in Cologne, Germany, with those attending travelling from all over the world. The calibre of participants on the conference stage was indicative of its elevation in the conference circuit.

Dmexco first earned its place at the top table of the conference circuit with those pushing programmatic advertising solutions in the advertising industry. It's now attracting C-suite executives from some of the top names in the industry.

One example was Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey ‘sharing a stage’ with WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell to discuss how the outfit wants reposition itself as a news-sharing site, as opposed to a pure-play social network, in a bid to "constantly ... reinvent what we have.”

Sorrell quizzes some of the biggest names in media

Those attending the session were quick to note Sorrell’s verbal jousting with the Twitter cofounder, imploring him (unsuccessfully) to predict the outcome of the US presidential election, plus pressing him further on his beliefs on the role of social networks and censorship.

Dorsey responded: “We have seen recently a flare-up in targeted abuse and harassment. It is something we always knew was important but we didn’t put enough engineering and product and design behind [it]; we did not address this comprehensively.”

Similarly, in a sign that Dmexco is evolving beyond ‘the programmatic show’; the agency mogul also took to the conference stage to quiz the co-founder of Vice Media, Shane Smith.

Funnily enough, Smith used the session to voice his opinion that “programmatic is putting a downward pressure on advertising - it is an auction in reverse, so that is hurting people." This was before going on to indulge one of Sorrell’s favourite talking points: the duopoly of Facebook and Google.

The search for a ‘third force’

Smith went on to warn that the consolidation of online media consumption (and subsequently media buying) was a dangerous development for the industry. "What we realised two years ago is we couldn’t be hostage to Facebook, YouTube and the other big players, so we had to go off platform and become platform agnostic," Smith mused.

The discourse went on to cover the emergence of mobile video-sharing app Snapchat, and its potential to shake up the status quo – a welcome prospect according to WPP’s chief Sorrell, who took time during the two-day event to share his views on a range of issues including: the rise of Facebook; the shifting spending patterns of WPP, and his opinion that the digital measurement is broken.

Is ‘the duopoly’ about to fall?

Discussing Snapchat in particular, he said: “It is probably the most coherent and threatening [platform] to the duopoly … It has been very innovative and quick to respond. I remember when they launched their over-the-top channels, and I think they wanted $750,000 a pop.

"It was quite difficult to sell the idea to clients, as there was no data, but they learnt very quickly, and became much more flexible.”

Videos without sound are just ‘moving banners’, says Snapchat

Indeed, one development was clear at the event: Snapchat has arrived. Also participating in the Dmexco sessions was Imran Khan, the platform’s chief strategy officer, who (in a move demonstrating the startup’s current confidence) took to the stage to have a swipe at the offerings of its rivals.

Khan argued that competitors were selling nothing short of "moving banners" by not putting enough emphasis on sound in video advertising, something fundamental to Snapchat’s shortform video identity. “If you tell a story without sound it is not really that powerful. When you are buying advertising without sound you are not buying video, you are buying moving banners," he said.

Alternatives to ‘walled gardens’

While such online platforms may prove a hit with consumers, they prove somewhat difficult for advertisers looking to cross-measure how their campaigns rate on outside platforms (hence the ‘walled garden’ comparison).

However, Sorrell went on to voice his potential interest when it comes to the potential emergence of Verizon Wireless, with its stable of online media properties, i.e. AOL, and the more recently acquired Yahoo.

AOL chief Tim Armstrong on rivalling the ‘walled gardens’

The Drum also used Dmexco 2016 to speak with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who voiced his outfit’s ambitions to rival the internet’s duopoly by 2020, which (he maintains) are more suited to direct advertising campaigns. By way of contrast, AOL and Yahoo will position themselves as the online offering for advertisers that want to launch brand-led campaigns, according to Armstrong.

He further added: “AOL got into a lot of trouble as a company when it went to a walled garden mode back in the early 2000s … We're taking the total opposite approach. We want to be the company without walls: the open company.” He went on to add: “So we take a very open mentality to the world, and we're going to continue to do that. We will not be a walled garden.”

Google moves to show it’s no ‘fr-enemy’

Elsewhere at Dmexco, Google used the opening day of the show to unveil its latest video ad format – dubbed Trueview For Action – which lets advertisers tailor their ads to become more “actionable”; by serving users with call-to-action messages such as ‘get a quote’, ‘book now’, or ‘sign up’, etc.

In addition, Google also used the show to underline the global roll out of its Universal App Campaigns offering – a service that will let brands optimise their ad campaigns to engage with mobile users beyond the initial install across its key properties.

However it was the revelation of Google’s move to axe AdBlock Plus partner ComboTag from its ad exchange, in a bid to convince the rest of the media industry that it was not surreptitiously profiteering from the ad blocking industry, that proved a more titillating talking point.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP ads and commerce at Google, told journalists on the sidelines of Dmexco: “We were just as surprised by the announcement as you. We had no knowledge that this was coming up before the announcement, and we certainly have no relationship with [AdBlock Plus owner] Eyeo [in this latest effort].”

Click here for a more comprehensive rundown of The Drum’s coverage of Dmexco 2016

The Drum, in association with The Trade Desk, will debate some of the key talking points of Dmexco 2016 on Thursday 22 September, at an event hosted in Hackney House, London, with participants from companies including AOL, Isobar, and Sky Media. Click here to attend for free.

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