How Dmexco Is Different From Cannes Lions

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Dmexco's entrance hall.
Dmexco's entrance hall. Credit: dmexco

If you've heard a lot about Dmexco—and you've probably heard more every year—but haven't been yet yourself, we've got your cheat sheet right here.

Dmexco. What does that stand for? Digital Marketing Expo and Conference. It's a two-day event that takes place Sept. 13 and 14 at Kolenmesse, a giant exhibition site just outside Cologne in Germany. (No, it's not in Mexico).

How long has that been going on? Nine years.

Is it Cannes for techies? Not exactly, although Dmexco is becoming more and more international. But you're clearly in Germany. Some sessions are in German, and Germans make up 50% of exhibitors, up from 29% in 2014, and beer isstill the preferred tipple for delegates.

What, no rosé? Instead of the overpriced wine and world-class restaurants you get at the Cannes Lions festival, Dmexco is all about the free beer and bratwurst. At 5 p.m., the music is turned up and the drink begins to flow, often distributed by young women in heavily-branded Lycra suits. That's when the real conversations happen, away from all the devices.

Where's the glamour? Erm … German airline Lufthansa is wooing U.S. delegates with the "Flying Lab," a mile-high ad-tech panel that takes place on a flight from JFK airport to Cologne. And Stewart Copeland, the drummer in 1980s new wave band The Police, is a speaker.

A cut-price Cannes? Kind of. Dmexco delegates only have to cough up €99 ($120) for two days; a basic-level pass at Cannes costs €3,115 ($3,743) for eight days. And don't bring your yacht to Dmexco. There's no €25,000 ($30,000) Yacht Pass to moor next to the Palais like at Cannes. But you can still spend a lot at Dmexco. It's €50,000 ($60,000) to rent a modest booth, and hotel rooms that cost €45 ($54) a night in August soar to €450 ($540) during the conference. That's pricier than staying on the Croisette, where rooms at the Majestic and Carlton hotels start at €300 ($360), with a minimum five-night stay during the Cannes Lions.

Dmexco's 'Motion Hall'
Dmexco's 'Motion Hall' Credit: dmexco

So who goes? Anyone who's anyone in the digital ad supply chain. And because of its location, delegates can get the train for the day from Paris or Amsterdam, for example, which makes it pretty accessible. All the big tech players have a significant presence this year: Amazon, Facebook, Google, eBay, Microsoft and so on are all there, alongside global media agencies and Israeli start-ups. Speakers include CMOs from Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Samsung and Ikea, plus Facebook Chief Operating Officer and keynoter Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey and the ubiquitous Martin Sorrell. At Cannes, the WPP chief executive is a featured speaker somewhere almost every day of the festival.

What do veteran Dmexco-goers hope to see this year? "Less talk and more action. It's time to get more clarity from ad tech, which can be complicated. Brands want to see the value of ad tech and what it can really contribute," says Ryan Kangisser, founder of ad tech advisory business Stack I/O. The motto of this year's expo is "Pure Business," indicating that Dmexco gets the message.

Is it just for bearded techie guys? Not this time. "Diversity has arrived at Dmexco," says Sascha Martini, managing director of R/GA Berlin. One-third of speakers on the main stages are women this year. That's up from last year (although Dmexco isn't saying by how much). Equal opportunity highlights include Sheryl Sandberg's talk on "Building Community and Discovering Growth;" and high-profile women from Time Warner, Criteo, Ikea, Unilever and Deloitte Digital getting together for a discussion on "The Age of Diversity, Equality and Opportunities."

What's the must-have piece of equipment to be seen with? A hand-held fan. The air conditioning system struggles when there are 50,000 people (three times as many as attend Cannes) and all that technology under one roof. And comfortable shoes—there's a lot of ground to cover.

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