M&IT: Reimagining the rules of the expo world

The Online Marketing Rockstars (OMR) festival isn’t your usual expo: it’s a festival of creativity, conversation and opportunity for brands to reimagine the rules of the expo world. 

With 800 speakers, 1,000 brand exhibitors and over 70,000 attendees, OMR promises a lot.

Our Strategy Director, Jonathan Izzard, attended this year's festival and shared his thoughts with M&IT Magazine on why this festival is reimagining the expo world

  • It’s immediately striking how OMR’s audience is both younger and more female than other industry events. It was also the first time I’d ever seen people with infants, toddlers and buggies at an industry event of this ilk - another refreshing embrace of different audiences. 

    What’s clear is that people aren’t just there as buttoned-down representatives of a brand - both independent digital marketers and influencers are included in the mix. Tattoos over neckties; fun over formality. OMR equals openness. 

    Additive Tech Dubbing itself ‘the festival for the digital universe’ naturally sets expectations of OMR’s use of technology pretty high. Nonetheless, the event rises to the challenge. And this isn’t just through flashy moments (the area between Halls A and B featuring the largest jumbotron I’ve ever seen at an event of this kind), but the elements that underpinned the entire event. 

    From clear digital wayfinding and screens that filled dead space, to non-dropping wifi, a seamless event app and a wristband-based payment system that *just worked*, the focus of technology at the event was about letting attendees stay connected, stay engaged and stay in the moment. 

  • Whilst technology is clearly important to the event audience, there was a refreshing absence of hardware and software on the majority of exhibitor stands. Rather than endless screens, slideshows, circuit boards and product showcase, the majority of stands felt dedicated to conversation space. And it wasn’t just the exhibitors who prioritised chat - OMR themselves dedicated entire halls to facilitating conversation. This meant communal areas replete with sofas, tables, benches and bars. 

    That’s not to say that exhibitors at OMR weren’t interested in showing their wares, chief among them being event sponsor Vodafone. Their brand space (and it really was a cavernous space) housed all manner of demos for the company’s products and services, encouraging interaction and facilitating conversation (a retro gaming joystick my gateway to understanding more about the complexities of anonymised mobile data). 

    More analogue interactions were also very popular. As with the Cannes Manifestival, Pinterest used its space to actively immerse audiences in the latest Gen Z trends, whilst Tony’s Chocolonely’s grabber machine was a sweet sensation and there were more Wheel of Fortune-style spin-to-win games than you could shake a stick at. All helping raise a smile and spark a conversation. 

  • While other brands and industry events are starting to catch up, OMR has long showcased the type of talent it sees as most relevant and engaging to its audiences. Serena Williams, Quentin Tarantino, Ashton Kutcher and, this year, Kim Kardashian - fresh from the Met Gala only hours earlier - have all graced the main stage with their OMR keynotes. Not only do all of these help sprinkle a bit of international stardust on the event, but they also provide an often unexpected or unconventional perspective on creativity and commerce. 

  • There’s a distinct cadence to the OMR Festival. Day one was bursting with life, almost every stand jam-packed with visitors - whether invited or organic. And this energy is not wasted, but bottled and redirected come 6pm when the festival shifts gear. Stands (though not all stands) transform through DJ sets, drinks and doorstaff, offering more than just a post-event lighting change. While the face-off between rival stands’ sound systems was definitely palpable, this was a reminder of the non-stop intensity of the festival - the flip to ‘Night Mode’ helps ensure attendees aren’t immediately lost to the bars and clubs of Hamburg, but have a chance to let their hair down and live in the moment…without leaving the premises. 

  • Though ostensibly a ‘business’ event, one of the particular delights of OMR was the number of B2C brands on show. Demonstrating - all too often disregarded - consideration of how event attendees really behave as human beings. Sure, they are probably there for work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also want to be entertained and diverted across the two days. The presence of brands like Hendricks (with its Gym), Hyrox (with a distinctly sweaty ski-erg challenge), Stanley (with a 6-foot drinks flask) and the aforementioned Tony’s gave people something to explore beyond their day job - perpetuating a more complete and engaging ‘whole self’ experience. 

  • You need to understand that not every conversation will have a tangible business outcome. At Wonder, we pride ourselves on our ‘audience-first’ approach, because we know that more human experiences are always more meaningful ones. And in this respect, OMR certainly delivers. A more diverse audience means more diverse motivations, so while a lead might not get qualified, they can still have quality. It’s an event where brands - both familiar and unexpected at an event focused on ‘the digital universe’ - seamlessly co-exist and blend. 

    This makes for a heady, yet refreshing cocktail - part tech showcase, part urban street festival - that’s really only possible when you reimagine the rules of the expo world.