Predictions2020: The Year Ahead for Clients

By Alex Malouf, corporate communications for the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa at Procter and Gamble

Please don’t hate me. I so much wanted to start 2020 off on the right note. It’s a new decade, with a year that sounds full of promise, which we’ve been speaking about for years (let me get that word out of the way right now: ‘Expo’). But I have a nagging feeling 2020 won’t be everything it’s cracked up to be.

Why do I say that? Because the fundamentals haven’t changed over the past three years. Globally, we’re dealing with a swirl of politics and economics that are slowing growth. Regionally, mid-range oil prices, diversification plans and localisation efforts are resulting in lower single-digit growth. In other words, consumers aren’t spending as much. And then there’s the continuing chaos in the media space, with publishers shutting down, and money pouring into digital (primarily Google and facebook).

But I’ll stop before I go down further into the rabbit hole. Here are a couple of specific predictions for the 12 months ahead:

1. Clients are going to keep cutting budgets
I’m already hearing about brand managers cutting back on their plans for 2020, mainly due to budget constraints. This is especially true of a number of big events happening in the Gulf. Margins will fall, and we will see agencies that can’t manage cash flows close. I hope I’m wrong, but I see few signs that there’ll be more marketing spending in 2020.

2. There’s going to be less experimenting
Smaller client budgets will lead to two outcomes: the first is a squeeze on agencies, and the second is that brands will play it safe with their ideas. Which is a shame, as we need more brand creativity in the region.

3. Tech takes over
2020 is the year when digital spending will cross over 50 per cent for a number of big brands (I’m including ads, tools, content and influencer marketing). Digital marketing has taken over the industry globally, and we’ve been slower to adapt here (which surprises me, given how pretty much everyone here has had a smartphone for what seems like an age). If you have digital skills and a flair for marketing, you’ll be in demand now more than ever.

4. Influence or die
Influencer marketing: two words that’ll make any senior marketing executive turn red. However, the spend on influencers continues to grow. And the public (still) love their influencer content. There’ll be  more pressure for both brands and influencers to be transparent about paid content, and influencers who post too much paid content are going to face a follower-backlash. Aside from that, 2020 will be a great year for the region’s influencers.

5. Get ready for TikTok
Another year, another platform. A few years back, the rising star was Snapchat. This time around, it’s TikTok. The fifteen-second video-sharing site is the place of choice for youngsters, and the region’s brands – the likes of Emaar and Namshi – are turning to the platform to engage with this audience. With a regional office and team now established in Dubai, expect TikTok to surge in 2020.

6. Do brands need a purpose?
One global trend that has yet to have any real effect in the Middle East is the concept of brand purpose. Few regional brands have taken on a cause for the long-term, despite governments pushing rational initiatives (we’re on to our fifth “Year of…” in the UAE), and consumers increasingly asking what causes brands support. Will 2020 usher in a new era for MENA brands seeking to adopt as societal cause? I’d hope so, but I feel this is a long-shot.

7. The online battle for truth:
Does anyone know what’s real or fake online? There’s a plethora of tools to create fake content for sharing through the internet, and there’s little in the way of tools to help us determine what’s real and that isn’t. Those who have spent the past few years really engaging with followers and building up a loyal fanbase online will side-step the worst of what’s out there on social media. Others, particularly marketers who work on prominent national brands, are going to struggle to fight online rumours and fake news in 2020.