What Dmexco taught us about the state of the digital industry in 2016

As a long-time Dmexco-er, there was never any doubt that I’d be spending two unfeasibly hot days – it got up to 30 degrees last week – at the Koelnmesse. I work in digital and live in Cologne, so for me attendance is a no-brainer, yet the mass-scale trade shows are increasingly struggling to maintain their industry influence.

The times when delegates could spot great innovations and trends at an event like the Dmexco, getting an opportunity to leapfrog their peers, are simply over. On one hand this is good – it emphasises that our industry has become more universal. Yet the flip side is that digital expertise is more widely spread and its practitioners more industry aware – hence more difficult to surprise.

So while appearances could be deceiving, the number of top decision-makers visiting this year appeared to be markedly down (following the trend of recent years). The general tenor was that there is nothing new and therefore no need to go – why not send some juniors to report back?

This is a pity, as organisers claimed the attendance was higher than ever. It seemed that way on the floor – the exhibition halls were bursting at the seams, and the attendees felt more international than ever too. So what was on display to delight those who did attend, and perhaps tempt back their C-suite superiors this time next year?

Well, it’s hardly surprising giving the ongoing hype over Pókemon Go, but smartphone-enabled AR was a key focus, with the most exciting implementations being those that integrated a layer of Artificial Intelligence (AI), promising exciting fields of usage.

Blippar had a strong presence, and was keen to highlight the utility brands are already deriving from the image recognition app. Max Factor, for example, has produced interactive print ads that are brought to life just by presenting the page in front of the phone camera. The app can recognise the tone of the user’s skin and recommend appropriate products. Despite a lot of functions the app doesn’t need more than 15mb of memory, as most of the content is integrated dynamically via the cloud.

The VR wave, meanwhile, is clearly struggling to find a killer offering to brand marketers. Hardware vendors were happy to persuade visitors to don headsets and be impressed with the immersion – and I was impressed by the definition of the latest displays. However, there are still barriers regarding the entrance to the mainstream market – not least that there are not enough devices on the market.

It will come as little surprise, but big data formed a key aspect of discussions and vendor offerings. There is an acceptance that we marketers have the data we need to know our clients intimately, and target them perfectly. Yet looking around the floor, it became clear that there are few companies who are confident they are using big data to its full potential.

Of particular interest, given the international audience, was the need to take into account different countries’ laws for gathering/using big data in international campaigns. In Germany, for instance, we have more stringent data-related laws than in many other places, and I had some interesting conversations about this with other delegates.

In fact, it’s here where the value of events such as Dmexco can be found. There is still a chasm between the advertising budgets of the companies – where classic media channels still dominate – and the habits of the consumers, who focus most of their time and attention on the digital world.

Companies have to get used to the new climate. At the same time, they have to gain an understanding for profound changes, such as data laws, which accompany digitalisation. Until this process advances considerably, events such as Dmexco are still very important. Not just for digital, but for the whole economy.

Felix Holzapfel is chief executive, Germany, of digital agency Zone

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