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Cologne v Cannes: the battle of the shows

Cologne v Cannes: the battle of the shows

Dominic Mills wonders whether Cannes has had its day, while almost choking to death following the arrival of the new monthly issue of Campaign

Oh, those City analysts can be so mischievous. Last week, as the phenomenon that is Dmexco in Cologne attracted record attendees, those at Barclays Capital chose to turn negative on Ascential, owners of rival Cannes.

Up to now, nobody has seen the two as rivals since they differ widely. But that will change. After all, they compete for adland time and money and neither is in plentiful supply currently.

Looking at the bigger picture, there will be those wondering whether Cannes has had its day, and whether Dmexco (it stands for Digital Marketing Expo) – and maybe others of its ilk – is the future.

Barclays’ thinking is that, as adland in general has a wobble, so Cannes – as a proxy – will suffer too. Certainly, Ascential shares took an immediate hit, down just under 4 per cent, before recovering about half their losses by the end of the week.

Even putting the impact of any squeeze on the wider advertising economy to one side, Cannes is not without its issues. There’s a long list of moans: cost; too many awards; the fact that it goes on a whole week; the takeover by tech; pointless celebrities; pointless talks; and a general sense of both self-congratulation and self-indulgence.

This year’s festival ended with Publicis pulling out for a year and WPP considering its position.

Dmexco is nearly all of the things Cannes isn’t. In the centre of Europe, Cologne is accessible by train, air or road. And it’s in September. Now these might be disadvantages to some, but in straitened times they make a difference to those signing the cheques.

It’s short – a mere two days.

It’s cheap, both for a ticket – €99 vs €3,000 – and the cost of living.

It’s efficient too. You can see who you want to see without a mega fuss. Everybody’s there for the duration, no-one’s at a ‘villa in the hills’, and loads of people – ok, nearly all techies – have exhibition stands. (Check out this humungous floor plan to see who’s there). And there’s lots of them too; all told, Dmexco was expecting 50,000 delegates this year.

There’s no awards, meaning less wank and no endless awards ‘inflation’ (i.e. more awards every year, and higher entry costs), as at Cannes.

And the conference programme, shorn of the luvvies, the wannabes and the plain out of place (UN bureaucrats on a Cannes jolly this year), is tight and focused.

Indeed, increasingly the likes of P&G’s Marc Pritchard see Dmexco as the place to make set-piece speeches or agenda-setters.

Of course, there are things that could be better. Dmexco is still quite Germanic and, using German cars as analogies, a bit VW Passat (reliable, unexciting) to Cannes’ Porsche (i.e. racy, fun, but fundamentally impractical). It also has an ongoing gender issue. But hey, it’s been going less than a decade. You’d back them to make improvements every year.

Improvements or not, you’d have to ask yourself if the Dmexco-style event – less glitzy, less fun but more practical, more affordable (and therefore more open), and less self-congratulatory – isn’t the way of the future.

And there’s one other way Dmexco differs from Cannes. It’s owned by the Bundeswerband Digitale Wirtschaft, an IAB-badged trade association. This makes its motivations and its business model very different to Cannes owner Ascential which, let me remind you, makes a margin of 47 per cent on, to simplify it drastically, every pound spent at Cannes by a delegate or on an awards entry.

New Campaign – it almost killed me

I survived the arrival last week of the new monthly Campaign. But only just. As I ripped it out of the bag, I needed to auto-Heimlich myself to expel the chocolate digestive that had gone down the wrong way.

Let me explain. It was the cover price – £17.50!$%**!!! – that caused me involuntarily to swallow my biscuit.

I read the other day that you can get a finance package on a second-hand car that costs £25.00 a month.

£17.50 – FFS! What are they thinking of? Are they having a laugh?

I think so. It may be that the price is entirely nominal designed to convey a sense of ‘premiumisation’, and there is no expectation that readers will buy print copies only. Or it may be an attempt – with some dodgy maths – to protect as much of the old £5.00 a week cover price income as possible.

After all, if you’ve sold someone a year-long sub you don’t want to hand back any cash just because you’ve cut the frequency in four.

When I worked on Campaign I inherited a rule-of-thumb pricing policy that had stood from day one: the magazine was always pitched at around the cost of a pint in a Soho pub. The staff obviously drink in different places these days. It was reasonable, easily explained and allowed for gentle upward revision in terms readers could understand.

Gripe #2 was the cover visual, on this occasion a typographical one that was unreadable. It says ‘TRANSFORM’, but it could have been ‘Erasure’ or, I don’t know, ‘Trashcan’.

I have a theory: for whatever reason (it’s not easy to take an elusive concept and turn it into something visual) the original cover illustrating ‘transformation’ didn’t work. Cue panic and the desperate search for an alternative. “I know,” says a bright spark, “let’s do it with some really cool, cutting-edge, typeface.”

But because they knew it said ‘TRANSFORM’ they assumed all the readers would too. Mistake.

And a word of advice. With the weekly, everyone knew it came on Thursday. As described here, it defined Thursday for the industry. The new issue appeared last Monday (11th), the second Monday of the month.

Who on earth will remember that? It needs to land, without fail, on the same day every month. Without that, where‘s the excitement, where’s the anticipation?

Oh yeah, what did I think? Not bad. Lots to read. Plenty of variety. Some ballsy writers. The trick is doing it all again.

Talking of which, I’m looking forward to the next issue, if only I could remember when to watch out for it.

P.S. I asked Campaign to explain the cover price thinking and the publication date, but they didn’t get back in time.

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ChristianMuche, Co/Founder, DMEXCO, on 18 Sep 2017
“Thanks Dominic and much appreciated. Just one correction, DMEXCO is not owned or run by Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft, they own the trademark due to a contractual agreement, otherwise they are called the ideational and professional national partner”
BrianJacobs, Founder, BJ&A, on 18 Sep 2017
“Good piece. 'Campaign' was always for good of ill about wins and losses - a priority that doesn't really work with a monthly. Maybe the industry will focus more on the business of the business and less on transitory matters now that the weekly mouthpiece has gone?”

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