Dmexco Conference Provides a ‘Trail Map’ for Marketers to Learn Ad-Tech

Twitter's Jack Dorsey among the keynote speakers

More than 50,000 ad-tech execs, companies and marketers are in the Rhine-Ruhr city of Cologne, Germany this week for the annual Dmexco conference to talk about global trends, new technology and industry issues like ad blocking.

Compared to other tech conferences like CES and Mobile World Congress where attendees can either hold or see the most futuristic gadgets available, Dmexco is more focused on breaking down the ad-tech space for marketers and publishers, said Chad Stoller, evp and global innovation officer at IPG Mediabrands.

"If you've ever looked at a LUMAscape, it's like a trail map for what you would find at Dmexco," he said. "You can go to all the sessions, but you can also just walk the booths and ask questions."

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is one of this year's biggest keynoters, who will likely pitch marketers on the future of the micro-blogging site (conveniently, Twitter's first much-hyped NFL livestream starts this week, too). Other top keynote speakers include Google ads boss Sridhar Ramaswamy; Carolyn Everson, vp of global marketing solutions at Facebook; Snapchat's chief strategy officer Imran Khan and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.

The 8-year-old conference has grown from 2015's estimated 40,000 attendees and will cover everything from the newest programmatic tactics, the evolving ad agency model and how marketers navigate open source and closed-wall platforms.

"How can we better utilize data to reach people on a more personalized level than we currently are?" asked Rachel Powney, marketing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at OpenX.

To put Dmexco's size in comparison to other big tech conferences, this year's CES brought in more than 170,000 attendees while Mobile World Congress attracted 100,000 folks. But being small isn't necessarily bad.

"In the other conferences mentioned, ad tech and the advertising industry in general feels like a gatecrasher rather than an invited guest," said Andrew Bloom, Sizmek's svp of international sales and business development. "If you are small, those conferences can make you feel very small indeed."

And while ad blocking has been on U.S. publishers and marketers' radar the past few years, expect for the topic to be heavily discussed at Dmexco since Germany is at the center of the ad-blocking war. Cologne is home to AdBlock Plus maker Eyeo GmbH, which has recently run into legal problems with German publisher Axel Springer. AdBlock Plus is also launching the beta version of its controversial Acceptable Ads program this week, which will allow publishers and bloggers to cherry-pick approved ads from an online marketplace that they can plug into their websites (stay tuned to Adweek.com for more on that later this week).

Despite its ad-tech focus, the event also draws a sizable crowd of folks who are more broadly interested in digital media and marketing. After all, Dmexco is an abbreviation for the conference's full name—digital marketing exposition and conference. Vice Media's CEO and founder Shane Smith, Lego's CMO Julie Goldin, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff and Laura Henderson, global head of content and media monetization at Mondelez, are a handful of media and marketing execs who will speak about digital in the coming days.

This year marks the fourth time that Stoller has been to Dmexco, and he said he's noticed a shift towards attendees and session geared at digital marketers, too.

"When I first came here, I felt like it was all about ad-tech, but now I feel like it's like digital marketing—it's about more of a story now," he said. "You can't really grow with just being [focused on] ad-tech."

For IPG Mediabrands' part, the agency network brought seven of its ad-tech partners to Cologne—Placed, Grand Visual, Innovid, Layer, Yext, AdMobilize and Samba TV—to set up shop in its booth for the two-day conference, complete with work stations. The so-called "partner pavilion" is designed so that guests and clients can see how all the ad-tech companies use their technology to reach actual people as opposed to targeting a segment or demographic.

The idea is to inject a little creativity and emotion into the often dry and jargon-heavy world of ad-tech.

"We invited seven partners that we think are doing interesting things, but more importantly, it's about humanity in ad-tech," Stoller said. "As an industry we're always rushing, but at the end of the day, some of these technologies are absent of a human connection."