‘Buzz, noise and a little bit of bullshit’: Inside the weird world of Dmexco

Swap the French Riviera for Cologne; the rosé for beer and Wienerschnitzels; opulent yachts for gargantuan stands, dial up the ad tech, and you’ve got Dmexco.

Dmexco, which wrapped up its two-day run yesterday, has transformed from a niche European ad tech trade show to a regular stop in the media world’s seemingly never-ending global circuit of gatherings. The media circuit kicks off in Las Vegas in January at the Consumer Electronics Show and then decamps to the Riviera in June for the Cannes Lions before arriving in sleepy Cologne at the start of autumn. It’s any wonder any work gets done. With 50,000 attendees and 570 speakers this year — all jammed into just two days — Dmexco is impossibly intense. It is not for the faint of heart — or the hard of hearing as the 1 million-square-foot airplane hangar makes hearing anything quite a chore.

“It’s very overwhelming if you’re not prepared,” said Deutsche Telekom’s head of international media, Gerhard Louw. “I’ve known brands to not return because they had no idea what was going on. The best way to tackle it is decide what your strategy is and then take meetings that fit in with it; don’t just turn up. There’s a lot of buzz, noise and a little bit of bullshit.”

Each year another hall is opened to jam another wave of ad tech vendors stands. Publishers also flock to Cologne. The New York Times International’s sales team is scoping the show out this year for the first time. Along with meetings and sessions on VR, its team’s focus is firmly on what vendors have to offer for video — an area where, like all publishers, it wants to expand. Germany’s publishing giants Axel Springer and Gruner + Jahr naturally have a massive presence, but there are more American brands exhibiting on huge stands this year: Vice has a huge stand; Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter all have mega booths.

Like CES and Cannes, the real action isn’t on the speaking stages. It’s in the meetings, lunches and dinners that take place throughout this German city. Plenty of companies gin up deal announcements for Dmexco. Witness WPP and Vice announcing its agreement for WPP to funnel millions of ad spending to Vice, which it owns a chunk of. Vice CEO Shane Smith was his usual ubiquitous presence, speaking on the main stage with WPP CEO Martin Sorrell and playing host to a party Vice put on with Tumblr. He seemed to enjoy himself.

A photo posted by Shane Smith (@shanesmithvice) on

Like Cannes, ad tech firms are out in force, perhaps more so. Ciaran O’Kane, CEO of ad tech publication ExchangeWire, calls the event “Disneyland for ad tech.” There’s something of a reunion in the air, as ad tech veterans see one another. And there is also quite a bit of peacocking. In Cannes, ad tech firms like to see whose yacht is bigger. Here, the name of the game is in tradeshow booths, some of which are more like small buildings. Rubicon even got a little frisky with its booth theme.

There is also a kind of hierarchy to the layout of Dmexco. Halls 7 and 8 are where the big fish are, the established ad tech players that can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of Euros on their stands. On the other side is the startup village, rammed full of a bunch of companies you’ve never heard of. For all the talk of ad tech consolidation, there sure are a lot of new companies out there, even if it seems like all the good names in ad tech are already taken.

Like Cannes, it’s easy to be cynical about boozy affairs like Dmexco. But real deals do get done here, often ones that were nurtured at CES and Cannes. And the media world continues to get more complicated, which paradoxically means periodic gatherings like Dmexco have real value as the industry confronts issues like viewability, fraud and ad blocking.

“More than ever, these challenges require the global cross-stakeholder platform that Dmexco offers by bringing together players from across the ad ecosystem,” said Ben Barokas, CEO of ad tech firm Sourcepoint.

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