With multiple discussions on the opportunities and challenges taking a grip on the digital advertising industry, we round up some of the industry experts thoughts on the key takeaways from DMEXCO 2019 – from the duopoly, GDPR and transparency in programmatic advertising to the future of cookie tracking, voice technology and the exciting potential of Connected TV.

Steffen Svartberg, CEO and founder of Cavai: “The duopoly is forecasting for $176.4 billion in ad revenues amounts to a 22 per cent increase in 2019 and Google and Facebook’s combined share of the global online ad market in 2019 is 61%, up from 56% in 2018 (WARC 2019). This is causing the rest of the advertising industry to be squeezed for money and talent, particularly the ad tech companies, which match advertisers with online audiences but don’t have access to the vast data pools accumulated by the duopoly. The platforms want yet more of the pie and the publishers want to claw back their slices. How are they going to achieve this? 

If DMEXCO is anything to go by, then innovative, response-driven creative ad solutions are the only way. Brands have to engage and interact with consumers in a 1-2-1 conversation either through contextual or conversational advertising placements.”

Mattias Spetz, managing director EMEA at Channel Factory: This year more than any other year at DMEXCO, brands are talking about brand suitability and about the sensitivities to politically and culturally hot issues in their regions. In the current geopolitical climate, political, racist and sexist content were particularly sensitive; raising an interesting position on brand suitability and buying truisms. At the TAG panel on day 2 of DMEXCO, they discussed how brand safety is a component of a larger effort to control ad placement that a few digital advertising buyers and sellers are now starting to label as Brand Suitability. Expect to see Brand Suitability on the agenda post DMEXCO as we continue to persevere in delivering transparency and brand protection for marketers.”

Anna Forbes, UK General Manager, The Trade Desk: “The one thing on everyone’s lips at DMEXCO this year? The exciting potential of Connected TV. It’s not surprising – TV has long been one of the most powerful mediums for advertisers and the injection of technology will only make it more so. Combining the channel’s inherent impact and scale with the precision afforded by programmatic will be transformative for advertisers and consumers alike. But while we can all recognise the exciting future of CTV, questions remain. With Apple announcing its entrance to the already crowded streaming market this week, are we close to reaching peak subscription? And how much longer can Netflix hold off before it’s forced to introduce ads?

Of course, it wouldn’t be DMEXCO without a little healthy industry debate and one thing we could agree to disagree on was the future of the cookie. Cookies have developed a bad rep for being synonymous with annoying ads and relentless retargeting – leading many to claim the death of the cookie to be imminent. But what it’s easy to forget is that the cookie is fundamental to the free internet. Without cookie-driven advertising, the internet would cost consumers or have to be privately run. So, while I agree that it’s inevitable the cookie will evolve, instead of counting down to its death, let’s be grateful for what it does for us now.”

Nick Beck, CEO & founder of Tug: “A key conversation on the ground was the diminishing status of third-party cookies, and what the impact for buyers and sellers is as we move away from this kind of ‘heritage’ tracking system. The number of would-be solutions up for discussion is extensive, but the ultimate prize is still very much to play for.

Given the slightly smaller conference space at DMEXCO this year, what also struck me was the profusion – perhaps over-saturation – of data analytics platforms. Too much noise is not a good thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised – or disappointed – if many didn’t return next year. To get to where we need to be, the focus needs to move from just new bells and whistles and data for data’s sake to better and smarter implementation of existing tech.

From noise to sound, perhaps the most exciting development was the conversation around audio. Discussions around ‘sound logos’ and around ‘sound brand language’ was particularly interesting. Voice technology and marketing is still just in its infancy, so we’re excited to work with brands in this space. However, this space will create new consumer concerns that marketers will need to tackle. It may well be, to quote one spokesperson, that “Big brother isn’t watching – he’s listening.”

Mike Klinkhammer – director of advertising sales EU at eBay: “While VR and augmented reality sparked conversations at DMEXCO this year, the true reality was that those bells and whistles were there to mask some of the bigger more tangible problems brands and marketers are facing.

The one seemingly absent topic was the importance of supply path optimisation. Marketers are demanding more transparency from their suppliers, and this should be front and centre of these conversations. More knowledge around the supply chain and the infrastructure around how suppliers are buying ads is key for marketers to understand and maximise the value of their spend. These things are technical – and perhaps not as glamorous as VR head-sets, but it’s crucial as advertising becomes more digitally enabled. Skimming over this in favour of more futuristic and less accessible technology felt like an oversight, and one that should have been better considered through DMEXCO this year.”

Gavin Stirrat, VP Europe, partner services at OpenX: “One theme that arose repeatedly in our conversations at DMEXCO was the ongoing development of OTT/CTV. There’s a real buzz around the topic – we find ourselves in the midst of the streaming wars, with player after player – from Amazon to Disney, to Apple – joining the fray.

It’s exciting times for tech providers and advertisers alike, and it’s easy to see why – with OTT offering top-notch content for consumers and a wealth of actionable data for marketers, it’s not just a valuable platform in its own right, but the cornerstone of a cross-platform strategy. 

As the market grows increasingly crowded, the smallest advantage is a differentiator – so players should be well aware of what sets their proposition apart. Content is king, but with battles raging over original and proprietary content it’s becoming increasingly important to focus on who owns the castle.”

Marc Fanelli, GM, Forensiq and Altitude at Impact: At the TAG panel on the second day of DMEXCO, Smaato proclaimed that you can bring down ad fraud by working with the right tech partners which led to a discussion – and ultimately a fundamental question – why are there still two-thirds of businesses who are not protecting themselves? The problem is, events like DMEXCO are lacking so many of the brands who would be ideally placed to use the event to learn about the tech products that can solve the many challenges that they are facing around ad fraud and trust. However, the brands that were present this year who took to the stage were rewarded with packed audiences and engaging conversations. As a global business, DMEXCO is still very much worth the air miles for our teams from the US, EMEA and APAC who converge in Cologne to meet with our global clients, such as Facebook and generate new relationships and partnerships but more brands need to get on board in order to learn how to win the fight against ad fraud.”

Damon Reeve, CEO of The Ozone Project: “DMEXCO 2019 was a lot smaller than in previous years. Where it had previously felt like the conference was growing, this year almost all of ad-tech could fit into hall six with plenty of space to move around.

Another thing I noticed was that everyone seemed preoccupied. The fever of deal-making seemed to be missing. There was an absence of big partnerships and exciting announcements. By the end of Day 1, the conversations over beer time saw more references to the ICO and CMA than was ever previously heard of. Recurring talk about the time being consumed by regulatory enquiries seemed profuse.

I also learned that the ad-tech community is not yet properly addressing the future of browser-based identity and tracking. The topic of the conference was heavy on highlighting issues but very light on any material solutions, which is where the problem lies. The browsers (including Google) have made it clear that tracking, as we know it in programmatic advertising terms, will be a thing of the past.

What we need is a real shift in the conversation from finding ways of duping the browsers on cross-domain tracking, to how programmatic advertising will operate in a cookie-less world and how to evaluate its effectiveness. Matt Brittin (Google) hinted at some of their thinking on micro-segmentation on stage with Emily Henderson.

It’s a pity that others aren’t having similar discussions.”

Grant Munro, SVP Shutterstock Custom: “The word on everyone’s lips at this year’s DMEXCO conference was ‘trust’. How do we, as an industry, maintain and build it in an era characterized by its decline? Ad campaigns are coming under more scrutiny than ever before, with standards for delivering honest, relevant campaigns at an all-time high, in parallel with that of consumer expectations.

One slightly different conversation that took place examined how marketers can strengthen customer relationships by adapting to deliver fast-paced marketing, for a fast-paced world. Reflecting current cultural trends and significant issues in your brand’s campaign is key to showing your customers you understand not only them but what matters to them. Marketers have to be sensitive of the markets and cultures they’re operating in and reflect this thought process in marketing materials, whilst maintaining true and consistent to the brand. We’re addressing this by allowing brands to leverage our extensive resource of global contributors from all and deliver authentic marketing materials that can be localized to any respective market.

Quick-turnaround, high-quality visual marketing materials that are in keeping with what consumers respond to and care about is one of the most significant ways brands can uphold valuable customer relationships and continue to thrive.”

Ben Walmsley, Commercial Director – Publishing, News UK: “In the early days DMEXCO was a niche, German ad tech gathering, but word spread and the event grew on an international scale as quickly and as erratically as digital advertising itself. But DMEXCO 2019 struck a more sober tone. The halls were quieter for a start. The health of the humble cookie – the thing that has been so instrumental in bringing us all to Cologne over the years is deteriorating quickly. Talk has turned into the serious business of the ICO’s investigation and the more dramatic proclamations of privacy ultras.

We’re at a fork in the road. We need to rethink our business quickly, to devise a user-first and privacy-first world that supports a free information economy, or face a very uncertain future. For all the adblockers under a different guise, I’d suggest the right answer is going to be harder to find. That comes down to identity, the new battleground. As one ad tech CEO said, “identity (the loss of it via the cookie) is the worst thing that ever happened to publishers”. There’s some truth in that when you think how it commoditised context. We’re not going to turn the clock back on that overnight though. In 2019, as browsers are turning the internet’s lights off, we need to find a way to turn them back on whilst protecting the rights of the consumer, our most important constituent. 

Of course, not all ad tech is reliant on the cookie and some active campaign against it, however, we can be certain that future DMEXCOs will be a lot smaller if we don’t unite to find a robust, privacy-first alternative. And, aside from a few last displays of cocky exuberance and excess, for the most part, the down-to-business attitude as ad tech faces its first existential threat had the air of quiet, mature confidence.”

Jenny Stanley, founder and MD of Appetite Creative: DMEXCO 2019 played host to a number of sessions which delivered incredible innovative solutions for marketers. One session from Holoride presented their AR goggles which synchronise the motion of the vehicle with the video ad playing by aligning data points in real-time. This was just one of the many examples of how the industry is producing ‘elastic content’ which is immersive and adaptive for each channel. The reality is often unsatisfactory and flat advertising so it is great to get a glimpse at the real potential of creative innovation. Hopefully, marketers will walk away from DMEXCO with renewed enthusiasm to invest in creative ingenuity and unique ad formats and solutions.

Dave King, CMO at Asana: “With ‘Trust in You’ as the motto for DMEXCO 2019, a prominent discussion on the ground was the interconnectedness of brand trust and storytelling. Storytelling is central to building an emotional connection and trust. For thousands of years, storytelling has been our most effective form of communication – humans, after all, are emotive creatures.

We may be in the era of data, but a fact sheet isn’t going to convince people to trust in a brand. As marketers, we need to create compelling stories that resonate with our customers. Only then can trust be built and maintained.”

Check out the full highlights of the conference on the event website.