DMEXCO UK Digital Transformation

Viva Dmexco... Five thoughts on Europe’s largest free digital marketing event

By Ben Ben |

September 9, 2014 | 10 min read

Ahead of Dmexco 2014 starting tomorrow, Propeller PR’s Ben Titchmarsh gives us the lowdown on what to expect in Cologne.

Ben Titchmarsh makes a new friend at last year's Dmexco

“Wow you’re going to Mexico! I didn’t know there was a big digital marketing event held out there? Can you bring me back some tequila?”

Cannes Lions, Mobile World Congress and SXSW have all firmly permeated the consciousness of mainstream marketers. Until quite recently Dmexco was an event some industry friends can be forgiven for mistaking for a visit to the land of Frida Kahlo and the sombrero.

Yet if ever evidence was needed of the explosion of digital marketing tech companies vying for prominence in an increasingly competitive market, one needs look no further than events in Cologne this week.

It’s a real eye-opener and some things will make your eyes water.

The undercurrent is that programmatic advertising continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. The IAB estimates 75 per cent of digital display advertising will be sold programmatically by 2017 and Dmexco has increasingly become the spiritual home of real-time advertising in Europe.

You may be a Dmexco veteran. But even if you’re not and you just want a flavour of how programmatic is transforming the advertising industry, you could do a lot worse than heading to Cologne this week. Unlike many other big industry events, Dmexco is free to enter, so you can legitimately decide to go there for two days of ‘learnings’ and also have a cracking time in the process.

Here are my five things to look out for at Dmexco 2014:

1. "This place is like…the Glastonbury of digital marketing"

Dmexco is big. I mean really big. With the exception of Mobile World Congress, which truly leaves you in no doubt at your own personal insignificance in the wider scheme of things, no European digital event comes close to the size and scale of Dmexco. Spread over three vast aircraft hangar-sized buildings, I’ve Google translated some of the numbers so you don’t have to and they’re pretty impressive.

The Dmexco website anticipates 30,000 visits from one hundred different countries with 800 exhibitors and “20 per cent wachstum im Vergleich zu 2013” – which I am reliably informed means: “20% growth compared to 2013”. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry seems to confirm the event has roughly doubled in size in the last three to four years. If you want a sense of the way the wind is blowing in advertising, Dmexco is a pretty good bellwether and there’s a tangible sense that the people walking around the halls are on the right side of history – and know it.

Advertising is undergoing its most profound shift since budgets moved from print and radio into television in the 1960s. Last year everyone in attendance (myself included) seemed rather pleased with themselves for being ahead of the curve and for backing a winning horse. One year on that ‘feel good factor’ is likely to have increased and there is a general industry perception that ‘we’ve never had it so good’. But Dmexco is also a rather unnerving spectacle.

If you blur your eyes it can feel like nearly every one of the 800 companies exhibiting is stood in front of the same glossy stands saying the same things. So how can the best companies rightfully gain the spotlight, and how can marketers looking for their next ad tech partner “separate the wheat from the chaff”?

2. "Whether 'tis nobler for the marketer to suffer, the slings and arrows of outrageous expenditure, or to take arms against a sea of stands, and by opposing end them?"

Crudely paraphrased Hamlet quotes aside, generating genuine buzz for an ad tech company over two days to Dmexco where 800 other businesses are also doing all they can to be heard above the din is very difficult – and enough to bring out angst levels to rival an existential Danish Prince in any marketer.

Each year marketing budgets go up and the money spent on stands, ‘prominent branding’ and signage at Dmexco over two days alone is staggering. Taking a step back from the throng, you can see that the boom in digital marketing tech companies is like any gold rush – there are almost as many people making money from selling pick axes and bourbon as there are from prospecting. I’m reliably informed by honest marketers that expenditure on events and conferences can sometimes feel a bit like a nuclear arms race. You have to escalate hostilities to compete with your rivals at events, but it can feel like all parties are fighting themselves into a state of ‘mutual assured destruction’ and it feels a bit…mad.

Working at Propeller, a PR company helping digital marketing ad tech companies use comms, I’m biased. But I never cease to be blown away by how similar many of the companies exhibiting have gone for almost identical super expensive stands that get packed away for the following year. Few industry observers doubt the sector will inevitably experience ‘consolidation’ in the coming years. This trend will only be exasperated if businesses can’t visually demonstrate through eye-catching branding what makes their proposition compellingly different and special.

There is also a big problem with the language ad tech companies deploy. Quite simply, saying that ‘our technology helps marketers reach the right audience, with the right ad, at the right time’ does not cut it anymore – because every tech company big and small is now saying it too. In the 1980s, Bartle Bogle Hegarty famously taught the world of advertising that “when the world zigs, zag”. Many within the realm of modern digital marketing could learn some much from this old school axiom.

3. "With so much drama in the RTB, it’s kinda hard bein’ a jargon-free DSP"

Some things are getting better though. Even compared to a year or two ago, the ad tech sector seems to be curing itself of its acronyms affliction.

But as the industry’s love of three letter words dissipates, it seems like it has been replaced by ‘ad tech jargon 2.0’. Many within the industry will have bought into the idea that advertising is now about ‘maths men not mad men’ but the simple fact is that ineffective language weakens and distorts ideas. People who are good with numbers are rarely as good with words. Failing to make yourself understood with effective sales and marketing comms is not just poor form – it’s also bad business.

Real time advertising technology may be sold to other experts working within the industry as a tool for reaching consumers. But a fatal mistake is to believe that these buyers are not consumers themselves, buying emotionally as well as rationally as they walk around Dmexco.

4. “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”

George Orwell gave the above advice in his seminal 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language. It applies just as readily to ad tech sales people as it does to their comms teams and everyone should endeavour to candidly answer some fundamental questions rather than resorting to beige ‘tech speak’:

What brands are using your technology? How much return on investment did they receive? How much better is their advertising now performing? Is the brand prepared to go on record saying your platform is better than its rivals? What is the story behind the people who created your company?

Hell I love discussing granular ad tech topics like viewability, attribution, bots, transparency and big data as much as the next man. But surely the future belongs to companies that can talk the language of marketers, business people and the well-informed man on the street?

5. “I bet that you look good on the dance floor”

Spread over a 60,000 square metres, Dmexco is so big, it is important to wear comfortable footwear to walk around it. You should also bring your dancing shoes – and perhaps give thought to moving that 8am meeting with a prospect you scheduled back just a little. For both your sakes! Because though Dmexco is a hotbed of business meetings, ideas and networking it’s also a seriously good party.

Events spread over a whole week like Cannes Lions ebb and flow with different people going out on different nights. Dmexco is a two day spectacular and for that reason Wednesday night is the night to let your hair down and meet people from all over the world working in your industry. Programmatic advertising may be bought in milliseconds based on complicated algorithms, but people are different. It takes someone to break the ice and the connections you forge could last your entire career.

In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending some fantastic industry events and parties and always remain pitifully grateful to work in an industry where we are paid to socialise. But the unofficial Dmexco party at the OMClub in Cologne’s ice hockey stadium is the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital marketing Ibiza. With thousands of guests, dancers, dodgems (called crazy cars in Dutch I found out last year) and a free bar that stays open in 4am, it’s good to know the ad tech world knows how to work hard and play hard.

So here’s to DMEXCO 2014. Look forward to seeing you on the conference floor – and on the unofficial DMEXCO party dance floor!

Ben Titchmarsh is head of media, marketing and partnerships at Propeller, which you can follow on Twitter @Propellerites

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