As a buzzing dmexco show wraps up for another year, we take a look at the hot topics on everyone’s lips – from GDPR and brand safety to the complexities of header bidding. Speaking to some of this year’s attendees, we find out exactly what was being talked about and what the future is set to hold for the ad tech industry. 

Alex McIlvenny, UK country manager at Ligatus: “In the past, native advertising was a contentious subject in the marketing world; however, this year’s dmexco finally declared that native is no longer just a buzzword, and could realistically replace other less creative ad formats.

“Still at the top of the event’s agenda were brand safety concerns – with a lack of transparency in programmatic trading taking the blame. However, there was also recognition that programmatic has evolved rapidly and is fast becoming an essential tool. Increasing the adoption of emerging creative content is key, as marketers seek partners with organic traffic, so they can start focusing on the user experience and – as the tech continues to evolve – find real-time opportunities to deliver the most relevant messages at the right time.”

Andy Evans, CMO at Sovrn: “It’s no surprise that brand safety and solutions to protect it were at the top of the agenda at dmexco. There were repeated calls for end-to-end adoption of ads.txt and a single user ID system, and the importance of revamping the supply chain to make it more transparent and trustworthy was hotly discussed. During a session on the digital advertising supply chain revolution, LUMA Partners founder and CEO Terence Kawaja summed this up when he called on the industry to ‘move closer to the performance curve’, and for CPM to be replaced by an engagement metric, with selling based on time and engagement rather than CPM based impressions.”

Max Pepe, VP marketing at Mozoo: “Header bidding – a tool that exposes each impression to maximum demand – is known to significantly boost revenue and fill rates for publishers on the web. So where asks mobile publishers, is the equivalent for in-app publishers?

“This was a vibrant talking point at dmexco – in-app publishers, frustrated with the historic waterfall, were calling out for a header bidding tool optimised for the unique mobile environment. While the dmexco agenda is often dominated by creative considerations, customer experience, and exciting, futuristic technologies, successful mobile monetisation forms the foundation of the advertising industry, and cannot be ignored.”

David Gosen, GM EMEA at Sizmek: “Facebook’s new brand safety features continue to be one of the bigger stories to come out of dmexco and reaffirmed just how imperative ad placement is. This is not an issue that’s going to go away, and we’re certain to see other tech companies making a media splash for all the wrong reasons before the problem is solved.

“For too long, the industry has sat on its laurels and focused on trying to win back consumers following brand safety breaches, rather than avoiding them in the first place. But brand safety needs to be about prevention, not cure. Facebook’s launch of pre-campaign reporting sounds positive, but too many others in the industry still rely on outdated techniques such as keyword targeting, which leave brands open to serving ads against the wrong content.

“Instead the focus needs to be on practices such as pre-bidding and semantic targeting that enable brands to build a strong, positive image with no risk of appearing against irrelevant or damaging content. During my session with IBM, I explained the role artificial intelligence [AI] plays in identifying the sentiment of online news stories. Technology is now able to vet hundreds of thousands of online stories every seven minutes – an impossible task before the advent of AI – to ensure brand owners that their authentic messaging is seen and safe and resonates with the right audience. 

The bottom line is that brands can no longer afford to risk working with partners that can’t guarantee their safety. So if there was ever a time to get your ad targeting in order, it’s now.”

Chad Wollen, CMO at Smartpipe: “Given this was the last dmexco in the pre-GDPR era, it was surprising that the most significant pieces of European law to ever affect the ad tech sector – the GDPR and ePrivacy Directive – were not given more prominence. The subject was awarded just two slots on the conference floor, alongside a handful of seminars on company stands.

“At the marquee conference debate the audience was asked to vote on their GDPR readiness – 22% said they are preparing for the GDPR, 27% were unsure if their business was preparing, and 51% had yet to start preparing. If this is an accurate reflection of the industry we should ask what it takes to hear the alarm bells and shake off complacency on this landmark legislation. As Stephen Loerke, CEO of the World Federation of Advertisers said, ‘We will look back on these times as the good times – when things were free and easy’. For those of us providing platforms that future-proof digital advertising into the post GDPR era we need to shout clearer, louder and more often about the real availability of innovative solutions to this oncoming market disruption.”

Marlene Grimm, analytics director at TVSquared: “Dmexco 2017 was, as expected, a fun and fast-paced couple of days – this year the industry seemed more open to collaboration than ever before. With meetings between all three pillars of the marketing industry – marketers, tech vendors, and agencies – the dmexco atmosphere works as a catalyst: moving conversations forward and breaking down barriers. The key topics for discussion were, as usual, TV’s ability to accurately measure and optimise ad slots, plus interest in the use of AI across the ad tech and mar tech space – notably exploring how you can measure TV like a digital channel, while also aligning with online data for a real 360 degree view.

“When it comes to TV data and analytics, particular interest was paid to the evolution of programmatic and addressable TV. Clearly, there are still obstacles to overcome before programmatic or truly addressable TV is a reality, especially in dmexco’s home country, Germany, where industry regulation and data privacy concerns, coupled with inventory scarcity mean efforts are still in their infancy.

“Discussion at this year’s event indicates that rather than thinking about the challenges of programmatic, the industry should consider systematic and addressable as two themes under the programmatic TV umbrella. By focusing on developing these two elements the industry will be well on the way to harnessing programmatic TV’s potential.” 

Thomas Bremond, general manager international at FreeWheel: “dmexco 2017 has long been the definitive industry event for the TV industry, and the perfect occasion to observe and discuss what major broadcasters need to do to stay in touch with an evolving TV ecosystem. The convergence of TV and online video, and the need to unify these two video mediums is creating a multitude of challenges for both broadcasters and advertisers, so a prominent topic at our booth was how to navigate complex viewing habits to provide effective and engaging content.

“To successfully tackle the challenges it is facing, the video industry must adopt hybrid business models that combine the scheduling capabilities of the linear ad system with the dynamic nature of digital content. Through automation, and by embracing the premium video medium, advertisers can create valuable content that enhances the user experience and benefits all parties in today’s video advertising world.”

Andrew Buckman, managing director EMEA at Sublime Skinz:  “dmexco was buzzing about three big topics this year. Firstly, the growing concern about the upcoming GDPR. For those who didn’t seem worried, perhaps they don’t know enough about what the changes mean and how it will impact the industry. There is certainly an education job to be done here ahead of the May deadline.

“There was also hype and genuine excitement about Blockchain. However, it’s very much a buzzword at this stage, and it certainly seems that not everybody fully understands the technology yet – that doesn’t stop it from being a hot topic of conversation though. 

“Lastly, M&A in the ad tech sector is generating a lot of hopeful gossip – without doubt, there were plenty of late night chats between board members and CEOS.”

Wayne St. Amand, CMO at Visual IQ: “It’s by no means a new topic, but measurement continues to be a key focal point at dmexco. Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote address placed great attention on this issue – given the social media giant’s leaps in addressing the lack of third-party measurement data available on its platform in recent months.

“This has been a vital turnaround for marketers, who have long been pushing data owners to break down the barriers to consumer information as they find themselves under increasing pressure to justify spend and boost ROI. Multi-touch attribution remains essential to this process, and Facebook’s commitment to ensuring advertisers can understand how their ads are directly impacting revenue through outside measurement is a definitive step toward a fairer, more transparent industry.” 

Claudia Collu, chief commercial officer at MainAd: “At this year’s dmexco event, conversations focused on cross-device solutions – how in this increasingly complicated ad universe, effective media planning and attribution can ensure reach across multiple devices and platforms. It’s clear we need to continue to consider consumers and how the industry can improve its use of creativity.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning, as expected, created a buzz across the halls, with plenty of conversation around the tangible opportunities and processes these technologies can offer. But if we get carried away with innovation we run the risk of fragmenting our media landscape further. We need to be implementing technology in an efficient and creative manner to solve issues, improve our users’ experiences, and derive quantifiable results – not just use this technology because it’s new, shiny, and the latest ‘buzzword’.

“And finally, as a woman in tech I was greatly encouraged to see that gender equality was a clear consideration – although it would have been nice to see a little more ethnic diversity in the speakers’ pool!”

Ben Alpren, head of vendor partnerships at The Exchange Lab: “It goes without saying that GDPR was a hot topic at dmexco, taking the place of ad blocking as the biggest threat to the industry. Scaremongering was rife, with talk largely focusing on the fines companies will incur if non-compliant.

“There is no escaping the regulations, but we need to be working together as an industry, discussing what’s required in terms of tech upgrades and how companies can get their operations in order. We’re all aware of the consequences of flouting the privacy rules, but focusing our attention on the challenges instead of the solutions, will not prove helpful to the industry.”

With the advances in digital technologies, it’s easy to see why so many people are excited about what lies ahead. It’s an industry led by innovation, where everyone is on the lookout for the next big thing, but it’s important to not lose sight of the foundations of advertising. Regulations such as GDPR aim to refocus on the customer as a person, a perspective which will benefit all parties.