Dmexco is failing to attract marketers and agency planners
A view from Paul Frampton

Dmexco is failing to attract marketers and agency planners

There remains a stretch of water between marketing and technology in too many organisations.

The future of marketing is being forged in the tech industry, so why aren’t marketers more interested?

I’ve just returned to the marketing industry after a couple of years building a travel tech business and last week’s Dmexco trade show was an invigorating and illuminating welcome back.

However, amid the frenetic excitement of adtech’s biggest annual show, I couldn’t help being struck by the lack of marketers and agency planners in attendance.

The future is being built by the tech players gathered at Dmexco, but If as an industry we don’t build better bridges between marketers, planners and tech players, who’s to say the right problems are being solved, and in the right order?

As 40,000 delegates descended on the small city of Cologne for Dmexco, the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe announced that programmatic revenues hit €17bn in 2018.

The adtech industry has been growing up for a while, but it felt like there was broad consensus that the industry is at a tipping point. Revenue growth is still impressive, but the prospect of a cookieless environment, combined with GDPR and the move to addressable TV, heralds a new era. Having been out of the industry for a while, I was taken aback by the sophistication and evolution of the ecosystem. 

Many of the smartest brains in the advertising sphere are at Dmexco but, in the main, the marketer and agency planning communities are notably absent. There is a small but growing number of exceptions to this, and these innovators recognise the radical shift in marketing and the need for marketing and tech to become more closely integrated – a new marketing operating system, if you like.

Dmexco is intimidating the first time. The conference centre is vast and over 48 hours step counts will be blown out of the water. The only other marketing-related conference of similar scale in Europe is Cannes Lions. 

In some ways, the two conferences couldn’t be more different, as Cannes celebrates creativity, whereas Dmexco is all about tech. Cannes is focused on debate about the future of marketing, whereas Dmexco is much more action-oriented, whether that be vendor discovery or commercial dialogue. I heard many adtech vendors say that they secured business worth millions at Dmexco last week.

When I first sat around a table in New York in 2007 with the Havas Digital global team to discuss the launch of our first trading desk, I recall thinking that all media would one day be traded like this. Fast forward a decade and a bit and addressable media is growing faster than any other discipline, as a data- and audience-driven, automated model is just a smarter and more effective way to buy media. Undoubtedly, the same will be true for TV and out-of-home, where the pipes are being laid.

Few can construct an argument that dismisses a more data-driven, automated model for purchasing media. Creativity is still fundamental to driving growth, but the eradication of waste and enhanced precision that addressability brings to both media and messaging should, by now, be undisputed. This is fundamentally underpinned by tech (martech and adtech) and data, and any company with any traction in these spaces was present at Dmexco.

Why, then, were there so few marketers and planners in attendance?

My hypothesis is that, just as the Rhein separates the old town of Cologne from the Koelnmesse conference centre, there still remains a stretch of water between marketing and technology in too many organisations. Looking from the other riverbank, though, the ad and marketing industry has a lot to answer for in how it markets itself.

Marketing is at its best when it takes complexity and applies simplicity and creativity to messaging and placement. Adtech in particular can often be an impenetrable environment for the marketer or agency planner. The programmatic trader or search engine marketing specialist is in their element at a place like Dmexco, but the language and granularity often fail to translate to a marketing or business agenda. 

Dmexco definitely demands a clear plan of action, but managed this way the discovery, insight and understanding that can be gathered in just 48 hours is unparalleled. The big discussion points ranged from cracking measurement for addressable TV to the prospect of a cookieless world.

These are huge issues that impact the whole digital economy, so they are topics that marketers and planners need exposure to. While many players are still building tech as if there will be third-party cookies in the near future, several alternatives are emerging, whether based on authenticated traffic – where identity is stored on the publisher, not browser, side – or based on contextual targeting.

Whether it be Dmexco or any conference focused on tech, the lack of exposure to such developments and the brainpower on show holds back the integration of not just marketing and tech but of the many siloes existing throughout the industry. What always inspires me about spending time with the founders of adtech companies is their focus on solving problems – whether that be how to value media more effectively, cleaning up fraud or onboarding first-party data. Our whole industry can learn from not just what they are doing, but also from this solution orientation.

Today’s agencies must possess the attributes of both a consulting and tech company – the ability to build bridges between the marketing and technology departments, consult on how to build the right marketing operating system and provide the skills and support with engineering and analytics talent to facilitate new strategies. 

Most tech companies have no desire to offer a managed service but are dissatisfied with the sophistication of the expertise they see from agencies today. There should be so many more three-way conversations between agency/consultancy, marketer and technology/data vendor.

Dmexco was an inspiring reminder of the incredible advances this industry is making, but successful transformation is as much about integration, education and culture as it is about acquiring technical capability or talent.

This is where legacy businesses are struggling to transform digitally. We need a new breed of marketing services company that is built for this new world. If we get this right, marketing can again be elevated to its rightful position as the critical growth engine for any company. 

It’s time to build that new marketing operating system and, to do that, we all need to be involved.

Paul Frampton is president, Europe, of Control v Exposed

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