Attendance at Dmexco, the annual digital marketing and ad technology conference held this week in Cologne, Germany, grew another 10% this year to more than 30,000 people, seemingly reflecting the clamor by global advertisers for new insights into digital marketing.
Ad blocking and measurement shortcomings dominated the conversation at Dmexco. But sprinkled throughout the six-year-old, two-day meeting was also talk of opportunity in fast-growing markets like Africa, general excitement about the promise of better consumer targeting and a bullish attitude on solving the problems that are currently plaguing ad and marketing technology.
"We have to be realistic about the fact that this change isn't going to happen; its already happening," said Babs Rangaiah, VP-global media innovation and ventures at Unilever, during a session on code and culture. "Fifty percent of viewing of TV shows happens on devices other than television; 90% of people multitask while watching TV and 75% of that happens during commercial airtime."
Then there's dealing with new barriers that block effective use of ad and digital marketing technology. "With ad blockers coming in, we don't know what effect that'll have on all this," he said. "Complexities are more than just the basics. So much is happening that's actually a barrier to us getting to the promise of what is the internet. Until we can get through that with not just realistic but logical ways to do business, we'll run around in circles."
Mr. Rangaiah, and nearly every speaker on either of the conference's two stages, agreed that inconsistent metrics across platforms, and common metrics such as CPM, or the cost per thousand impressions, stand in the way of efficient marketing and measurement.
"There's fragmentation of platforms," said OpenX Co-founder Jason Fairchild, in a conversation with execs from IBM and WPP media agency Maxus. "Buys across all platforms with a holistic view -- those technologies don't exist at scale."
"CPM is not a real metric," said IPG Mediabrands CEO Henry Tajer during another session. "We're having discussions around cutting through the b.s. and getting to what is the simple product measurement that will allow us to make a decision."
Ad blocking, a growing phenomena threatening the way publishers make money, was front and center during most conversations. Ben Barokas, CEO of Sourcepoint, a new company whose selling point is helping publishers defend their businesses against ad blockers, opened his talk with an informal audience poll. He asked who in the audience used an ad-blocker. More than half raised their hands.
"We need to take [ad-blocking] very seriously," said Soren Hagh, exec director of global marketing at Heineken, during a different session. "If we don't talk properly to people it'll be a real issue."
What he meant by "talking properly" was providing digital content that people actually want to see or be part of. He used the example of a recent campaign in which the company, working with media agency SMG, enlisted football legends to host real-time video shows during games and communicate with fans using a Twitter hashtag.
But even the definition of content was up for debate at Dmexco. During a separate session, former P&G CMO Jim Stengel showed an emotional video of women giving birth -- what he considered to be "good content," he said. Wunderman CEO Mark Read agreed that it was really compelling, but he didn't agree that it was "content." "I don't know if that's content marketing in the sense most clients are thinking about it. It feels like an ad people share." Rather, he said, "content" is better construed as something more along the lines of a how-to video, or a lifestyle post that helps you figure out where to travel.
During a session about the future of TV, there was also disagreement among panelists on how they defined TV.
Brian Lesser, CEO of Xaxis, said that TV is "still a device that sits in the family room." Rene Rechtman, international president for Maker, said, "There's no difference between screens for us." And Jimmy Maymann, president of consumer brands at AOL, skirted the question a bit, saying only, "We need to cater across all channels."
What panelists did agree on throughout the conference was that there is opportunity for digital marketing progress in international markets, albeit with unique approaches required in each market.
"Digital is maturing differently in different markets," said Mr. Hodara. For example, in Africa, digital is growing "at a speed you can't imagine," he said. But people aren't using the latest iPhone 6 on the outskirts of Kinshasa. How do we overcome that and communicate? The key challenge, he explained, is cost. SMS, for example, costs a lot. So a company may use USSD, another messaging function, which costs one-tenth of SMS, he said.
In Africa in particular, the digital opportunities are about understanding the mobile platforms that work, as well as the urban infrastructures. Taffi Ayodele built her Thando's Shoes business in Africa, starting with a crowd-sourcing shoe design effort on Facebook. "Mobile is everything," she said. "We're a Facebook-first platform." There are also opportunities to market to people during their commutes, which are long and slow-moving due to Africa's poor road infrastructure.
"Facebook is the Internet where they start," agreed Jeremy Hodara, managing director at Rocket Internet France and co-founder of Africa Internet Group. "From there they go on other websites. The way of thinking is very different from the U.S. When they see pictures, they say I want to buy this product on Facebook. We have to adapt to their needs and where they use the Internet."
Another area of adaption is in e-commerce. In Africa, where people don't like to pay with credit cards because they don't trust the transaction, Mr. Hodara has built his own delivery infrastructure – guys on motorbikes -- that enables consumers to purchase product and pay only after they receive the product.
"A lot of opportunities have not been fulfilled yet," he said. "If it was easy, many people would have already done those services."