Audience Engagement Top Stories
8 mins read

DMEXCO 2018 Review: AI becomes the new digital buzzword

It’s September. It must be DMEXCO. With 40,000 visitors, 1,100 exhibitors, and 500 speakers, the Cologne event is the largest congress trade fair for the digital industry in Europe.

Held at the same venue since 2009, it has set the standard as the must-attend event for digital execs looking to spot the next big-thing, catch the latest trend and network at the numerous after-show parties until the early hours. Or late morning, depending on what party you staggered out of.

Last week’s DMEXCO didn’t disappoint. Built around a cacophony of noise and packed to the rafters, the event had the usual suspects as speakers (YouTube et al) and most conference sessions were full to capacity – to the annoyance of latecomers who had to endure the event’s one-out, one-in policy. Only the brave dared to nip out for a mid-session toilet break.

At events like these, it’s always the off-the-record quotes and conversations that often prove the most insightful. DMEXCO was no exception with more than one attendee expressing disappointment at the lack of innovation on show, “nothing really grabbed me” being heard on more than one occasion.

Another industry elder stated that aside from “video growth” and “native growth”, the only points of discussion were “GDPR” as well as the “IAB’s ads.txt” initiative aimed at combating ad fraud….mostly well-worn themes.

Surprisingly, blockchain appeared underrepresented, with some attendees noting that it’s still “in its early days”. By 2019 we expect this to have changed dramatically.

That’s not to say there was no visible digital progress – artificial intelligence stole the Start-up Village, with AI the new digital marketers’ phrase of choice. 5G was also a talking point, with its adoption happening at pace across Europe. Programmatic OOH (what’s that?) was also said to be reaching a tipping point although media agencies still had to iron out standardised specs for the industry.

The day after the event, WNIP gathered some comments from UK industry figures for their on-the-record thoughts:

Kai Henniges, CEO and Co-founder, video intelligence

“Whilst new video types from Vice and YouTube got significant attention, media buyers should question whether these ‘formats’ really add value. It’s good to see YouTube using more of the data they have on users, but the fact that the platform is most often used in isolation is inescapable.

“Context is what gives other web publishers — whether their focus is news, entertainment or sports — the upper hand. On these sites, users are on journeys of discovery and learning, and are more receptive to well-placed and contextually relevant advertising than on the YouTube app.

Indeed, hand picked, high quality video content was very much in demand from publishers; and questions around the interruptive user experience of outstream units continued to be raised.

“A strong Germanic element was maintained, with the big publishing houses in Hall 8 increasing the volume (literally and figuratively). Other markets could look to Germany to see how to take control of their own fortunes. There’s definitely opportunities here to create significant ecosystems outside of the duopoly.”

Andrew Buckman, Managing Director EMEA, Sublime

“While DMEXCO provides an ideal setting for brands and marketers in the digital landscape to showcase their latest concepts and wares, more importantly it’s the perfect opportunity to meet and discuss the shared challenges they face.

“Despite some uncertainty following a more subdued Cannes Lions, this year’s event didn’t disappoint when it came to facing the key issues that have concerned us most in 2018. Transparency remains high on the agenda for both consumers and companies, with emphasis on the need for collaboration to rebuild trust and ensure clarity and control is handed back to all parties.

The role of data, especially with regards to personalisation and monetisation, has also been a key talking point – and has been particularly relevant over the last few months following the implementation of GDPR.

“However, DMEXCO also allows the industry to look to the future. While AI was one of the hottest topics, with a plethora of innovations and predictions offered around this tech, there was also focus on the role that more traditional messaging – such as storytelling and email marketing – still has to play.”

Lindsay McEwan, VP and Managing Director EMEA, Tealium

“Discussing the future of digital marketing is always a key focus at DMEXCO and 2018 was all about the power of data and automation. In particular, this year’s event offered the perfect platform to really discuss the onset of the fourth industrial revolution, and exchange predictions on what’s next for the martech and adtech industries. We sit on the cusp of Industry 4.0 – and although opinions differ as to how advanced we are in this next revolution – it is exciting to see what is on the horizon, particularly for Tealium as we continue to pioneer the CDP market.

“In a hyper-connected world, with vast volumes of data being created, handled and processed, AI and machine learning are fundamental in business, using data to fuel decisions in real time.

Key conversations focused around automation in the industry, how current legislation impacts advancement, and what governance needs to be introduced to keep pace with the ever-changing ecosystem and ensure innovations in tech are ethical in their application.

Thomas Bremond, General Manager International, Comcast

“Innovation is always a major talking point at DMEXCO, and this year the focus was on how to create a more personal and relevant user experience using the latest advertising technology. In particular, with predictions that a third of audio-visual advertising will be addressable by 2022, there was much discussion about how the industry can benefit from this technology – which allows selective ad segments to be served to specific audiences within a national campaign.

“There was recognition that for addressable to fulfill its massive potential, it would require collaboration across the industry, whether it be partnerships between media companies, the sharing of data between publishers and ad tech providers, or the unifying of technology platforms.”

Tanya Field, Chief Product Officer and Co-founder, Smartpipe

“The big question at DMEXCO was – who can challenge Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market? Regardless of negative headlines about data breaches and fake news, the familiarity and scale of these digital giants is still winning over both consumers and advertisers. One of the hot topics this year was Amazon pushing into the ad space – highlighting there is room for another to compete against the duopoly.

“However, my bet is on the mobile network operators (MNOs). If telcos adopt transparent, ethical data strategies and harness innovative technology they are perfectly placed to capitalise on this opportunity, thanks to their secure networks, trusted brands, and enormous data assets.

While the potential of a telco entering the ad market is a long-running subject, the growth of programmatic advertising makes market entry easier, as witnessed by the acquisition of ad companies by US telcos.

What is clear from DMEXCO is that in Europe, telcos need to invest in privacy enhancing technology if they are to grasp their data monetisation opportunity.”

Itamar Benedy, CEO, Glispa

“It was no surprise that many of the conversations this year centred on the utilisation of data, especially in light of the GDPR. Many marketers believed the lack of third-party data would set the industry back years, but this hasn’t been the case. Rather, the regulations have had a positive effect, and the industry has made significant progress.

“This is because brands and agencies have been forced to take greater advantage of their first-party data, which has far greater potential, accuracy and relevance than third-party data, and is driving the evolution of the ecosystem. This is particularly evident in mobile advertising where first-party data is helping to re-engage valuable users and target new relevant users, while ensuring companies remain compliant with consumer privacy.”

Michele Marzan, Chief Strategy Officer, MainAd

“Building a brand strategy that forges deep audience connections was a central theme for DMEXCO 2018. In the constantly evolving digital landscape, brands need to offer advertising experiences that not only convey engaging messages but also seamlessly blend in with their context. So it’s only logical that data was also a hot topic: with multiple conversations around the ability of machine learning to help identify patterns in user preferences or content consumption, segment audiences, and effectively target ads for greater resonance. Utilising digital content to maximise real-time relevance is essential if brands want to stand out and drive positive response.”

Nico Rosberg at DMEXCO 2018

Nick Welch, VP Business Development UK and Northern Europe, ADmantX

“With ongoing brand safety sagas at YouTube and Facebook, controlling the context in which ads are placed is a key challenge identified by many brands attending DMEXCO.

“It became clear from our discussions that each marketer has a different view of what constitutes a brand-safe environment – something reflected in our day-to-day experiences at ADmantX. Each side of the ecosystem – including publishers and agencies – needs to work together to pull the focus away from a generic and confusing ‘catch all’ definition of ‘brand safety’ (including viewability, fraud and generic unsafe environments) towards ‘brand care’.

“This means understanding what a brand’s needs are on an individual basis – for example, considering product recalls and negative news towards a brand’s vertical sector – rather than using generic tools such as keywords that miss context and blanket block potentially unsafe placements without considering the real context of the page. Not only will this approach benefit brands by ensuring placements are chosen with precision, but it will also empower publishers to improve their reach and delivery to advertisers by freeing up safe contexts that have been unfairly and inaccurately blocked by negative keywords.”

Andy Evans, CMO, Sovrn

“This was a hugely busy show and whilst the number of exhibitors seemed down on previous years, it felt like there was a good level of attendance. 
There was a strong contingent from the UK, with the networking at the aftershow events and unofficial parties becoming almost as important as the event itself.

“AI was a hot topic, especially in the Start-up Village, with the acronym fast becoming the latest marketing buzzword. In saying that, the level of overall innovation on display at DMEXCO shows that much of the new technology coming on stream is still very much in its formative stages.

“GDPR was also a key theme, as well as the IAB’s ads.txt initiative, and it’s clear that work still needs to progress in this area, especially in terms of ensuring that there is conformity across the digital ad ecosystem. It’s important there is a level playing field for all participants.”

Oliver Whitten, COO, Adform

“A focus on improving supply quality to match demand is essential for publisher innovation. Discussions at DMEXCO 2018 focused on the ideal balance of maximum revenue generation and buyer satisfaction. This meant the full-stack solutions vs. multi-vendor strategy was up for discussion as publishers and advertisers alike consider new media supply formats such as Digital Out of Home (DOOH) and audio.

“This year’s event also saw collaborative efforts to defeat walled gardens, from Project Ozone in the UK to the European Broadcaster Exchange, and the ID Consortiums in Germany and France. Publishers searching for new revenue streams are innovating to stand strong against the duopoly – this includes selling data via DMPs to create more video inventory, and opening up native ads in-app.”

Gavin Stirrat, VP Partner Services EMEA at OpenX

“With increased ‘openness’ high on the agenda across the industry, ad land must seize the moment to clean up its community. The IAB received an excellent response to its work on transparency, and it remains the responsibility of publishers to ensure they implement its initiatives, most notably ads.txt, which ensures that buyers are able to confirm they are buying inventory from an authorised source.

“The expo revealed that it’s not just publishers that are demanding greater clarity in the ecosystem. Rather, brands, agencies and exchanges all expressed a need for greater communication. DMEXCO has long been a place to form and confirm relationships, but publishers must now work hard to ensure they have year-round communication with these partners to ensure the continued growth of their ad sales.”