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Dmexco versus Cannes: Are the two big marketing gatherings beginning to converge?

Dmexco in Cologne

These last few years I have been lucky enough to attend two huge advertising events annually.

In June, as if to welcome in the summer, there is the Cannes Lions advertising festival in the south of France. Originally a celebration of great advertising craft in creative and media, it is today a mix of the art and the science, with ad tech firms rubbing shoulders with the world's top creative teams and agency leaders along La Croisette.

Then in September, as the advertising and marketing world gets back to school, comes Dmexco, the huge ‘Mar-Tech’ extravaganza in Cologne, Germany. A little less sexy maybe, and a lot less rosé definitely, but what now must be the world’s largest gathering of leaders, disruptors and innovators in the new data and technology driven marketing landscape.

Both are important, halo events for certain, and both are valuable for any brand or agency plotting a path in today’s convergent and digitised landscape. And what’s fascinating is how the events differ as much as how they are the same.

Parking the obvious differences in climate and aesthetic, the events are clearly different in origin and to an extent, in intent.

Cannes is a self-proclaimed ‘festival’ – a celebration of creativity and groundbreaking advertising agency output (primarily creative output, and to a lesser extent media & ‘digital’). At the heart of Cannes are awards and grand presentations, which are largely dominated by agencies and their people, that recognise this focus. In recent years it has been around the periphery that the ad tech community has begun to attach itself.

It’s a very visible, loud and noisy ‘attachment’, but this new community is still ultimately peripheral to the heart of the festival. Think of Google, Facebook and a long tail of well-funded start-ups most definitely cutting some shapes in the nightclub, just not in the VIP area – yet.

Dmexco is the opposite. An event (less a festival, more an expo) dedicated and built out of the advertising technology and marketing technology arena, a celebration of the science not the art, proudly geeky, un-obsessed with incumbent models and ways of working.

There is no inward facing focus on the ‘work’, there are no awards and most interestingly there is a refreshingly non-agency-centric agenda (certainly when it comes to the major global networks).

This year the most visible brands were Salesforce, Abode, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ebay, Spotify and Appnexus. Largely speaking, agency groups feel the more peripheral players, as they seek to stake a claim and maintain brand equity in the fast expanding sector.

So the two events are polarised in terms of origin and intent, and yet increasingly similar in terms of the components that comprise them. Both represent the agency world and its focus on consumer centricity and creativity, and both represent the mar-tech world and its focus on data, technology and rationality. Just in very different doses.

And interestingly, the balance between the two sides appears to be equalising over time; there were more agencies, and agency leaders at Dmexco this year than ever before (even Sir Martin took to the stage), and Cannes is more and more focused on innovation, technology and disruption every year.

Refreshingly, I hope this convergence points to the opportunity for the industry.

That there is no art or science, tangible or intangible, data or creativity; instead there must be an equal balance of art and science, and the tangible and intangible, and data must be an enabler of creativity rather than enemy.

As the worlds of Dmexco and Cannes converge we will see new agency models and new brand solutions when it comes to connecting with consumers in our converged, and fragmented media and communications landscape, and that can only be a good thing.

For now, and until we have Cannexco, I’d try and soak up both. You just don’t need the board shorts for Cologne.

Ben Wood is global president of iProspect

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