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#dmexco: Not just fuzz and fizz in Cologne

Digital media and marketing is on everybody’s mind and lips these days. From the consumer to investors, from brands to politicians. However, listening to these pundits makes only one thing clear: Only few understand what is really going on. Fortunately, last week in Cologne, Germany, at dmexco (Digital Media Exposition and Conference) was the opportunity for those that try to understand it to come together with those few that do.

dmexco has become the third leg to the stool media professionals like to stand on every year to foresee the developments in the industry. After CES in Las Vegas in January and Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France in June, it has become the fall gathering. But it is not just another chat and party festival; it is a compelling environment where the largest marketers and the smallest innovators share a common (fair-) ground.

The topics that were being discussed have been the ones you would expect: Big/Smart/Offline/first party/third party Data, Automation, Programmatic, Internet of Things, Wearables, NSA, Snowden, Creative or not, the Death of the Agency, the Death of TV, Facebook’s dominance and Google’s pervasiveness etc. And some discussions of those topics were also shallow as expected – unfortunately. But there was something to the environment that led many talks to be more insightful, balanced, and questioning.

This showed right at the beginning when Michael Roth of IPG didn’t only talk about data, creativity, and utility being the cornerstones of advertising, but that a sense for ‘The Social Good’ is foundational to success. Then there was critical questioning about the state of the industry, when Rishad Tobaccowala of DigitasLBi wondered if Google is not just ‘faking’ competition with Facebook (vs the real competition between Alibaba and Tencents) and when Bonin Bough of Mondelez warns that “we have become the most distracted society in history – and we lie about it”.

Another example of more depth than often became apparent in the debate about ‘The High Cost of Smart Data’. Here the figurative meaning of ‘high cost’ probably got more emphasis than usual due to the fact that it happened in Germany, where – in the words of The Economist – people share a phobia about data privacy and about internet companies in general. Fortunately, that didn’t come through as radical as depicted in the recent Economist article, but rather drove a sense of questioning what data a marketer really needs, that the agency has a big responsibility managing the trust between a consumer’s and a brand, and that those brands themselves risk losing that trust by acting before thinking (or planning).

As Dirk Kartes from FriendsScout24 (now part of IAC’s Match.com) pointed out, brands and agencies appear too often to not have a data strategy, though data is the main ingredient in that relationship. Operating a business then quickly becomes a ‘gamble with the consumer’s trust’ (Rishad again). It should therefore not be surprising that people are suspicious of what happens with their data, if they hear from the industry insiders about so much lack of competence.

These concerns had to show in other presentations and panels and dmexco did not disappoint. When platitudes are called strategy (‘We have to redefine the relationship between the brand and the retailer’) or when Jonah Peretti from BuzzFeed in all honestly can threaten to ‘hire all the staff ourselves [to do compelling native content] if the agencies don’t do it’ a spotlight shines on those that really do not get the nature of the ongoing industry transition (transformation? revolution?).

Fortunately the halls of demexo were filled with competent people from practically every important advertising tech player around the world. So it would have taken an engaged professional just hours and few footsteps to gain tremendous insights. And a couple of side discussions showed that especially those that were hardly present in the public space were doing just that: Brand Marketers that asked, looked and shopped for solutions they can bring inhouse or request with much more competence from their agency partner.

Obviously much more was going on during the two days than one can see, let alone share. However, if the journey to Cologne showed one thing then it is that there can be more to a media conference than just fuzzy talk and fizzy drinks.

Hagen Wenzek

Dr. Hagen Wenzek is the Principal at Freestyle Consulting LLC, advising start-ups in marketing services, social media, ad-tech and eHealth on how to become a trusted business as well as large companies on how to cope with the challenges of digitisation by leveraging those innovative start-ups. Before that he served as the global Chief Technology Officer for IPG Mediabrands building on a long career in consulting and strategy at IBM. Often he can also be found doing a triathlon somewhere in the world.