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Dmexco Debrief

It’s one of the highlights of the digital calendar, but not everyone can make it to Dmexco. So The Drum, in association with The Trade Desk, brought together four veterans of the trade show to take stock of this year’s trends and insights at a panel in London.

From consolidation in the adtech industry to the continued efforts of media owners to improve user experience and the increasing overtures of management consultancies, Dmexco 2016 left very few stones unturned.

The digital advertising trade show continued its trajectory this year, attracting 50,000 visitors – up from 43,000 in 2015. With so many feet on the ground, James Hayr, AOL’s head of branded content, warns delegates to prepare their diaries in advance: “If you’re going to go out there, pre-book. Everyone is in back-to-back meetings. It’s a very rare occasion, bringing all these people together in the same place.”

Jamie West, deputy managing director at Sky, adds that every stand is “rammed”.

“You get to see the full spectrum of businesses, from four-week old startups upwards.”

It’s noted that Accenture had an especially big stand this year, raising questions over general business consultancies’ challenge to agencies, but West plays down concerns.

“It was ever thus,” he says. “A few years ago the agencies were paranoid, justifiably so, that the demand-side platforms would take away all their digital capabilities. There is always going to be a new angle that comes along.”

Sacha Berlik, EMEA managing director at The Trade Desk, who has attended Dmexco every year since 1998, adds: “I’m a strong believer in the agency model. Brick-and-mortar brands will always demand a media agency with a holistic approach. The likes of Accenture have access to the client, but they don’t have the experience there.”

Instead, Berlik points to how Omnicom’s new global media agency Hearts and Science highlights how agencies are broadening their expertise and going in the direction of consultancies.

Consolidation across the adtech industry over the next year was another theme to emerge from Dmexco. Unruly’s EMEA managing director, Olly Smith, observes: “Unless you’ve got a lock on owned and operated media, on some differentiated data or tech, I think you’re going to struggle. It’s very tough to survive.”

Berlik predicts fewer channel-specific demand-side platforms next year, complaining that there are “just too many players” in data. “I would estimate there were something like 200 data companies [in attendance at Dmexco]. If you want to use all these different data sources, you have the difficulty of how to use them. You have to add them all to your media plan or it just doesn’t work.”

West warns that parts of the industry are guilty of confusing clients by over-promising on simplicity. He says: “If you believe everything you hear from media owners and adtech businesses, we’re going to have world peace, there is going to be a single campaign across all mediums, programmatic is the answer… and that’s completely wrong.” If Dmexco showed us anything, he says, it’s the need for the industry to “master the art of managing expectations”.

For Smith, viewability was one hot topic at Dmexco that illustrates how complex the industry can be. “Expectation management is very important because quite a lot of people on all sides of the market say viewability is simple – ‘just make the ad viewable and I only want to pay if it has been seen’. And of course, the actual measurement of viewability is extremely complex. It varies wildly from desktop to mobile web to in-app. The agencies are chopping and changing the software they want to work with all the time.”

Discussing another theme that the panellists took from Dmexco – the efforts media owners are making to improve user experience – AOL’s Hayr comments: “We’ve looked at the current ad units on mobile and we think we can do better. Most of our users on the Huffington Post are on mobile; we want them to have a good advertising experience.”

Smith talks about how Unruly has been helping its new parent company, the Sun publisher News UK, get the user experience right. “A lot of publishers face an immediate revenue imperative, which can force urgent tactical decisions around the number of ad impressions they’re booked on, which I think is really responsible for a lot of poor user experiences, and therefore ad blocking.

“Getting the user experience right through all of their digital touchpoints will enrich their proposition as a media platform. At Unruly we’re helping News with that by introducing social, not antisocial, formats and helping them bridge content and distribution.”


Sacha Berlik

managing director EMEA, The Trade Desk

Jamie West

deputy managing director, Sky Media

James Hayr

head of branded content, AOL

Olly Smith

managing director EMEA, Unruly

Sky’s West adds: “Publishers are taking a much harder line and long-term view of what advertising they will take within their app or their mobile sites. Sky is increasingly blocking some of the long tail of ads to improve the user experience. We go through the App Store reviews and if we see specific ads being called out as poor examples, we block them.”

The abiding sense from the panel is the hope of further incremental improvement alongside the expectation of consolidation.

It’s apt to conclude with West’s words: “Where I see the most changes over the next year is in consistency and validation of measurement and viewership. I hope there will be a bit more agreement across publishers, adtech players and agencies about what constitutes effective advertising placement.”

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