On the first day of dmexco 2017, the annual digital marketing conference, in Cologne, Germany, we overheard an American on his phone saying, ‘'They're a good company, they're moving up, they're going places.” This really encapsulated the event for the us. With so much talk of acquisitions and mergers at arguably low sales prices, such as Sizmek’s acquisition of Rocketfuel, Altice’s purchase of Teads, and RhythmOne’s acquisition of YuMe, it seems many of dmexco’s 1,100 exhibitors and 40,000 tech business attendees were here looking for future growth or an exit opportunity.
At the VIP reception, hosted by Christian Muche and Dr. Andrea Buergers, we met with Damian Ryan from Moore Stephens, an accounting and advisory network that has sized the martech sector. According to Ryan there were 150 companies in 2011, and now there are 5,000. They are therefore expecting a massive consolidation, with the winners demonstrating both commercial traction and a positive investment story. Indeed, the chat in the halls frequently turned to speculation on who would merge with or acquire a number of prominent names including Appnexus and Rubicon Project.
It’s an intricate and complex ecosystem that people are trying to make sense of. We spent time at the VIP opening reception, chatting with clients hoping to navigate their way through the landscape. People like Alfred Jansen from frozen food conglomerate, Iglo, who commented meaningfully that “the trial and error period is over.” Change is in the air, and everyone wants to make sure they were on the right side of it.
The event’s official themes of ‘Brand Safety’ and ‘Transparency’ were familiar topics to the IAA, having covered them both in detail at Cannes earlier this year. Interestingly, these are themes that should re-energise traditional media owners, as demonstrated by the audience of ‘The Authenticity Experience’ session that burst into spontaneous applause when Adam Singolda from Taboola asserted that “publishers deserve to earn more money as they are providing trusted content.” Chad Stoller from UM went on to confirm the importance of brands such as the New York Times, Washington Post and the BBC, as advertisers ask 'what partners do I want to be seen working with?'
Away from the main theatres, A.I. was this year’s buzzword and must-have technology (despite Jon Hook from Ad Colony rightly pointing out that “machine-learning been around for a long time”). Stephen Upstone from Loopme explained that there was an expectation from advertisers to make use of A.I. to help to prove client business outcomes, as his solution does.
However, James Angus from the BBC warned against an automated-only solution, affirming that “you want a human involved somewhere!” Indeed, if the industry is to become machine-led and learnt, why do 50,000 humans converge for dmexco every year! Angus went on to explain how the ‘'internet is a leveler as it lets the new guy's come through.” It was also interesting to meet Katrin Adler from traditional media owner network Gruner & Jahr. They are entering into the programmatic landscape with a multi-local programmatic offer because, as Katrin said, the time is right with brand safety such a rising priority.
GDPR and Transparency
For the last year, the IAA has been closely following transparency and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with its penalties for non-compliance running up to €20 million or 4% of annual global turnover – whichever is higher. Indeed, Mark Pritchard talked brilliantly on this subject at our cabana in Cannes this June. Chatting to businesses across the board, as you’d expect most felt they were on top of this and would stand up to the scrutiny of 100% valid and explicit consent. However, we also found that companies using third-party data were more vague than those companies that had a direct relationship with their consumers.
Dilip Shulka, Strategist at the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), said that premium publishers were in a strong position moving forward, and that the May 2018 deadline might be somewhat flexible as businesses work out exactly how to adhere to the regulations. That said, there is no doubt that GDPR will have a big impact next year, and will help to consolidate the market as the big penalties start to kick in.
Mark Bembridge, CEO of Smartology, predicts half of the market will disappear as a result of GDPR. Luckily for him, GDPR will be positive for his business since his platform as a partner to some 40 premium publishers sees him offer advertisers a cookie-free, semantically relevant content solution.
Another interesting company we met with was Iotec, who market themselves as 'The Transparent Media Buying Business'. Chatting to Emily Hanson, VP of Marketing, she explained how the industry needs trust, and how iotec’s solution offers that trust through 100% transparency with a fixed trading price and “no smoke and mirrors”. It’s a refreshing claim for weary and all too often blind-sided marketers.
The Mother of Invention
As the halls were transformed into beer gardens, we entered the twilight zone of how companies differentiate to ensure survival. With Jon Hook from Ad Colony, we discussed how the opportunities offered by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are not yet being realized. With Adam Ray, Mindshare’s Global Head of Innovation, we discussed their new programmable approach to media planning and execution. Dubbed ‘ANNA’ it will see media planners using computer code to automate how they build a media plan.
Everywhere you turned there was a new innovation. At the Inskin Gin Bar, the British multi-screen, rich-media display advertising business, we ended the last day chatting to Matt Blay. He is the founder of Inadvia, and chose dmexco to launch its new in-transit programmatic product that provides a safe, first-party data product across servers in planes, trains and other forms of mass transit.
But despite all the hard work to make a difference, at dinner that night Ben Atherton, CEO of Samba Networks, the user-selected brand video mobile network, soberly reiterated what we’d already heard a few times at the event, ‘‘Facebook, Google and Amazon … they have already won.”
So, while the rest of the industry eagerly looks to secure their place in the ecosystem and embed themselves in the minds of investors and buyers, we left dmexco with Christian Muche’s words from the opening reception still ringing in our ears. “It's always getting better,” he said, “which means we are not getting there yet!”