dmexco has come and gone, but what did the industry learn? Here are the top themes of 2018 in the words of those who ought to know: ad tech leaders.

GDPR was a major theme at dmexco. Before and after its arrival, debate about the impact of the new laws – stronger consumer bonds or limited targeting – has dominated the industry. In fact, at the event, the latest OVK report revealed reduced estimates for online ad growth in Germany, partly due to the GDPR. But the focus wasn’t all on compliance.

Forward-looking speakers were also keen to shift discussion towards initiatives that could help improve digital advertising experiences and results, including embracing high-quality video and better metrics.

Tanya Field, Chief Product Officer and Co-founder, Smartpipe

“One key area of discussion at dmexco was how consumers are demanding greater control of personal data and ownership of their digital identity, and how the industry handles this following the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and in anticipation of ePrivacy.

“Detractors focus on a legal debate about uncertainty and lack of guidance from the regulators. This confuses the real issue. Businesses need to put their customers at the heart of data compliance and understand their needs, and expectations to build a robust privacy strategy.

Digital businesses need to think more about how consumers feel about the use of their data as the first step to build more trusting relationships. The next wave of digital innovation will come from those who can deliver privacy-enhancing technology that maintains the flow of data while meeting the privacy requirements that consumers demand.”

Stewart Maurer, Vice President of Marketing, Crownpeak

“GDPR was a popular topic at this year’s dmexco. Concerns were raised about how the regulation has affected advertising technology, and under the pressure of weighty fines, it was apparent that many marketers are still battling with their data supply chains.

“Ultimately, there is still some confusion about the context in which it is necessary to gain consent. More education around the six lawful bases for processing is clearly needed to ensure the most appropriate basis is adopted. The exhibition booths of compliance technology providers were certainly attracting lots of attention this year, which is not surprising.”

Oliver Whitten, COO, Adform

“The rise of consultancy firms at dmexco continues unabated, with multiple major firms present at the event such as Deloitte Digital and Accenture Interactive. As CMOs come under increasing pressure to deliver a return on their investment, the need for expert advice from consultancy firms and others on subjects as diverse as how to build an improved brand strategy or invest in a tech stack, is growing.

“In particular, CMOs want to maximise the value of their tech, implementing a curated selection of tools and solutions that better achieve their business goals.”

Marlene Grimm, Analytics Manager, TVSquared

“As both a dmexco veteran and TV advocate, I was impressed by this year’s debate around OTT and connected TV’s cross-generational usage trends. TV is changing. ‘Watching TV’ isn’t simply tuning in to scheduled programmes anymore, but now an umbrella term for streaming content from providers such as Netflix for immediate viewing.

“It’s no wonder that global OTT video ad spend is predicted to top $27 billion in 2022. Speakers at dmexco highlighted this shift seamlessly, and it’s now up to TV advertisers, the networks, and the tech vendors to seize the opportunities with this increasingly versatile and performance-driven ‘traditional’ platform.”

Itamar Benedy, CEO, Glispa

“As expected, many discussion at this year’s dmexco focused on the progression of the ad tech ecosystem and the connection between creative media and data marketing plans. Previously, agencies worked largely with separate companies for data enrichment, media, and creative, but a huge lack of communication existed between each of these players.

“What’s exciting is we are now starting to see macro-level marketing strategies, which aim to break down the silos and connect all aspects of advertising. In turn, this is leading to a more holistic and transparent experience as all components work together seamlessly.”

Andy Evans, CMO, Sovrn

“Unsurprisingly, following its implementation earlier this year, GDPR remained a key topic at this year’s dmexco. Associations such as the IAB continue to drive the ads.txt initiative, as well as the GDPR framework, encouraging widespread transparency across the digital advertising ecosystem. The IAB’s announcement at dmexco that they have launched a CMP validator further supports the sustained growth of a distributed CMP infrastructure.”

Adam Singolda, CEO, Taboola

“As a crucial element of marketing strategy, it’s not surprising that brand safety dominated discussions at dmexco this year. It’s vital to consider how safety levels can be improved across the open web. According to a TAG white paper released at dmexco, consistent and scalable global standards are key to enhance trust between consumers and brands.”

Lindsay McEwan, Vice President and Managing Director EMEA, Tealium

“Many attendees felt they had achieved the bulk of GDPR compliance but worry that a lack of visibility of all data across their organisation is leaving them open to fines, and more work still needs to be done to connect disparate data silos.

“The general consensus is this is part of a larger challenge in digital marketing: ensuring data does not remain disjointed. Connecting all consumer interactions to provide personalised, relevant, and timely communications, remains the ultimate goal - and not just for marketers. We are now moving to a place where businesses recognise the value of data-driven decision across all areas of the organisation, and the need to integrate data within each department and job function.”

Gavin Stirrat, VP Partner Services EMEA, OpenX

“As the ad world convened at dmexco to share best practice, one of the key learnings came from Viacom. The media firm demonstrated a growing awareness that performance is driven not by transplanting campaigns from TV to desktop to mobile, but by considering small screen audiences individually. Only by doing this can marketers create campaigns that reach individuals in the right way at the right time.

“With mobile given more attention than ever at dmexco, and mainstream usage of 5G just around the corner in the UK, publishers should focus on creating formats that allow brands to make the most of this new technology, creating exciting and compelling experiences for audiences alongside editorial content.”

While the continued emphasis on transparency, accountability, and the GDPR made for a more serious mood at dmexco, this wasn’t necessarily negative. To maintain growth, the industry must keep an eye on issues as well as innovation — ensuring it doesn’t drop the ball on one in pursuit of the other. In the coming year its likely the industry will see a balanced emphasis on refining existing practices and doing what digital advertising does best: delivering new and engaging experiences.