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Living in a multi-screen world

Juggling content between different devices has become more of a circus than ever as apps and digital look set to dominate the MENA market. Eleanor Dickinson asks how marketers can keep them in sync


Keeping up with new technology has become harder than keeping up with the Kardashians. And with more screens available now than in an Orwellian nightmare, marketers face even greater challenges staying one step ahead as devices continuously change the consumer market.

In reality, there are four screens that matter – television, laptop, smartphone and tablets –  but they are evolving at pace. When more than one is used to complete a task – either sequentially or simultaneously – that’s when things get tricky. For one thing, if people are looking at a screen aside from TV, the chances are they are either chatting with friends or playing games rather than automatically consuming content. So how do advertisers get past these ‘distractions’?

“As consumers are jumping from one device to another, advertisers face a challenge of knowing when, where and why,” says Saadeddine Nahas, associate digital director at Initiative United Arab Emirates. “A challenge for both creative and media is how to capture the audience’s attention, and how to provide a seamless experience across the platforms, while having content customised for the different screens. This consumer behaviour first challenges the old way of thinking and metrics of measurement. If TV is no longer capturing the full attention of the viewers, how do we look at current TV metrics – gross rate points (GRPs), opportunities to see (OTS) and frequency?”

The apparent (un)reliability of TV statistics is, however, only part of the problem. The shortage of official figures from around the Middle East and North Africa regarding people’s online habits undoubtedly adds to the difficulties. Nevertheless, various numbers have been floated around from time to time. Research commissioned by Facebook in 2014 found that 43 per cent of people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE use at least one other device while watching television. The Google Consumer Barometer meanwhile found that 53 per cent of people in Saudi Arabia spend their time ‘stacking’ – browsing online while watching TV.

Regardless of whether marketers choose to trust tech companies’ statistics or use their own ways to track consumer trends, the need to
consolidate figures across both TV and digital channels has become essential. For Nahas, single source panels – which allow advertisers to calculate the cumulative reach and OTS of a video plan – are key for today’s planning.

Although, measurement is not the only area complicated by the rise of multi-screening. Now more than ever context and personalisation are coming to the forefront, says Nahas. He explains: “People move across different devices, in different situations; their media interactions are shaped by where they are, how much time they have and what they need in that moment. Traditional cookie based data is no longer sufficient, as it tracks users on each device separately. In today’s world, there is a need to identify consumers as they move through their shopping journey, from one device to the next.

“‘Moment Marketing’ has given birth to new targeting tools. Digital campaigns can now be synchronised with what is happening on TV (a competitor ad appearing). They can be synchronised with key sports moments (a specific ad is triggered when Messi scores a goal) or even weather conditions, influencing our ad bid and budget for that day, in a completely automated manner.”

For Ali Nehme, managing director of digital at Starcom Mediavest Group (SMG) MENA, this synchronisation between the TV screen and the web has to be executed seamlessly in order to maximise attention. “We know that the attention span of the user watching TV is a lot less,” he says. “For them to grasp all of that advertising is a lot harder and harder. That is why you are seeing in the industry a lot more integration on the shows. If you see 1,000 adverts online, the possibility of you grasping an ad is becoming harder and harder so you have to do something different. So to maximise the opportunity of the advert on TV, I make sure that the rest of my activities talk the same language, so there is a higher possibility people can process the message.

“If I am sponsoring a show and I have something big in it, I make sure all the copy on TV is matched when people search for it. We do see a small spike every time you see an ad – people go and search for it in real time. But, also I think it has to do with social editing and communication that is on screen. We make sure it is either a continuation or a follow-up of what is happening on TV.

“There is a product called TV Sync. Every time you have the advert on TV, automatically it pops up on your mobile or tablet while the campaign is running on TV. This is a way to maximise the attention because when the attention span is coming down, it is easier for us to get the user’s attention if the advert is everywhere at the same time.”

He adds: “Now I do not plan TV anymore, I plan video across all the streams so that the video can appear on the PC. It can appear on YouTube. It does not matter because I have enough data to tell me to reach your target, you need this much money; this is the piece you are getting and this is how you split your money.”

But, just as marketers begin to get to grips with aligning TV and the internet, yet another digital revolution threatens to throw a spanner in the work – the TV box. As Fayaz Hussain, associate TV planning director for MEC MENA, points out: “There is a fundamental change in the way TV is viewed. It is moving from shared to personal consumption.”

In the UAE, the demand for digital TV boxes such as Android or Apple is believed to be even higher due to the country’s large expat population. Nehme adds: “There are no official figures. But we know that here versus the rest of the world, it is much, much higher here. The big stations here are used much more among Arabs, so by nature it is not what they watch – 70 per cent of the UAE is non-Arab – so the big, big TV stations are much less consumed here.”

So what can be done to overcome this? For Hussain, marketers must simply “adapt” to the changes in motion and create more “personalised and relevant” adverts. Likewise, according to Nehme, personalisation is key. “Today the difference that you might see is that I am not talking to a person,” he says. “I am talking to the masses, even on social [media], which is supposed to be one-to-one – you are blasting everybody. With time, I will be able to say this is this person, this is what she likes and it does not matter where she is. But at least the brand I portray to her is what she wants to hear.”

He adds: “On the whole I think advertising is going to become much more personal. What I can do today on Facebook with data is a bit scary; I know every single thing about you. So imagine that I show you any brand today, I show you a message different from what I show myself, because they know everything about me – where I am from, my interests.”

Echoing Nehme’s comments on the potential of data, Nahas adds: “People are now continuously connected, offering advertisers more data on actual behaviour, habits and needs. From impulsive searches on their mobile phones to video watched online, to time spent consuming content on an advertiser’s platform consumers are opening the door to their world. Analysing this influx of information will help marketers and planners understand the key moments and the context in which they are present.”

While the battle between TV and the internet proves one of the biggest challenges for advertisers, where does the meteoric rise in smartphone usage fit into the equation? For Nehme, there are some big opportunities. “We started seeing a lot of MCNs, the company that creates short-form videos for online, opening here and I think that is going to continue. Does that mean it is going to start killing TV? No. But it is taking a big chunk of the youth from TV. There are a lot of youth who want to use their mobile on the go. And [these videos] are very funny and very good. They have good production and I think there is a lot of shift towards that. It has been a difficult two years but I think we are seeing much better diversification and much better content.”

With users increasingly turning to apps to run their lives, from paying bills to buying groceries, does this mark the demise of the web browser? “On mobiles, definitely it is all apps,” says Nehme. “But I do not see the desktop ever being replaced. There are certain tasks, for example, where 90 per cent of the conversion is by desktop. Users are still not always comfortable with some tasks. In some cases I want to see a bigger screen, for example; to see this transaction, to double check it. There are so many things where a mobile is not convenient. I use the Amazon app 90 per cent of the time but if I am making a big purchase, then I do want to check it online. But on mobile, a big chunk is already on apps. Every single task I use an app because it is much more convenient. But web will always be there to search or to find something not part of your everyday and I think it is always going to be there.”