Dmexco 2017: Programmatic ads, bad jokes, and digital transformation
A view from Tom Ollerton

Dmexco 2017: Programmatic ads, bad jokes, and digital transformation

The collective vision of fusing programmatic, tech and creativity remains a dream at this year's Dmexco

As the ninth year of adland's ‘it’ tech event draws to a close, ‘Programmatic’ was being hoovered up like cocaine at this year’s Dmexco conference by agencies, brands and suppliers alike.

Virtually everything can, and will, be bought programmatically at some point in the future - with TV being the next frontier. According to the panel ‘The Media Intelligence Debate: The Digitally Distracted Consumer’ the modern consumer is distracted, elusive and on multiple devices simultaneously, and the only way to keep up with them now is through a smart use of data across all touchpoints. And what will we do with this data? Programmatic.

It’s not hard to imagine this data-driven future either, as predictions suggest that 1.7MB of data per second per human on the planet will be being generated by 2020. And a key driver behind this growth will be the rise of wearables and the Internet Of Things, predicted on a panel with Nicolle Pangis and Alicia Hatch, as these devices will provide new types of personal data and insight that creatives will never have had before.

This increased flow of personal data will allow programmatic ads to move from being purely focused on sales messages, towards becoming a storytelling medium in its own right. No longer will it be a case of an advert for a pair of shoes (that you probably don’t even want) following you around the web, but a story that aims to excite and inspire - and let’s hope it’s a good one.

One area that did seem to fall short this year, however, was the struggle to confidently predict just how creativity will work with data. Although this is unsurprising because no one really knows. The general feel, however, was that AI will help make the creative decision-making process and people will feed the machines the right data to make that possible. In my opinion, it won’t be an either-or scenario, and will instead be a synthesis of machine and human. But really, shouldn’t this be obvious by now?

Despite the excitement around the potential for this human/AI/programmatic Power Ranger of a solution, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard pointed out the average digital ad viewing time still sits at around 1.7 seconds, with only 20 percent of ads being viewed for more than two seconds. This, agreeably, isn’t good enough and Pritchard has thrown down the gauntlet to the media big dogs come up with "the next generation of digital ads". 

That next generation, for any who missed this year’s conference, is dynamic, personalised and automated ads which create unique content dependent on the user's location, interests, gender, age, search history, and a whole wealth of other data. The ‘one size fits all’ model is toast. And let’s face it, it has been for some time now. 

Brands need to prepare themselves for a future of creating a single powerful message, with 1000’s of different executions that they can’t sign off.

On the other side of the hall, while the man/machine debate trundled along, the big Californian heavyweights rolled out new sets of features. These aimed to reframe and re-pitch the platforms; and reassured the world that Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook are going to make looking at our phones 85 times a day a worthwhile use of our time.

In a conversation with Martin Sorrell, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey announced the platform’s official pivot towards live content streaming. After all, the channel announced earlier this summer that it was going to start showing NFL games live on the platform, as part of a new partnership valued at around $50m. Dorsey, however, insisted that news, entertainment and events are and will continue to be Twitter’s strong suit, stating that "no other service can break news faster than they can, and from the source".

By contrast, however, Facebook saw no need to reframe or pivot its positioning but merely looked to reassure the world of its reliability and maturity. At the same time, the platform declared that it was clamping down on people making money from ‘Fake News’, and promised to deliver greater transparency around ad performance - a predictable reaction to the criticism the platform has received. Yet the nature of the internet is to try and break things, and there will always be far more people trying to get around this change than there will be people trying to stop them.

During the two-day takeover of Cologne, the conference predictably trundled over topics such as chatbots and voice tech without demanding that these once new-and-shiny objects need to deliver tangible business results for brands. This was neatly put by Bob Lord, IBM’s chief digital officer, who said that "digital transformation has to enable innovation", and that brands can’t just do it for its own sake. Businesses need to make innovations that improve the performance of the company, as well as its customer’s experience.

All in all, Dmexco was an uncomfortable collective dream - where programmatic and old-fashioned creative ideas will come together to solve all our marketing problems, and maybe they will. But there was scant proof of this vision.

Moreover, this dream was tempered with everyone walking on stage to Robbie Williams’ ‘Let Me Entertain You’ and a slew of awful jokes from old, white men in suits and trainers. 

Some things never change.

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