Predictions2020: Year ahead for Adtech by MMP’s Ayman Haydar

Ayman Haydar is CEO of MMP World Wide

Well, here we are again. Back to business. New Year, new you… Any more clichés I’m missing before we get to the main event? No? Good. Then let’s take a look at what’s in store for ad tech in the coming year. I’m the first to admit I’m no Nostradamus – anyone can stick their fi nger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing and declare a trend, even in a market as unpredictable as this.

Disruption has become a way of life, affecting every industry and forcing transformation at every level. Standing still is no longer an option. To survive today, businesses must pivot to think digitally. To thrive, this needs to be a big proportion of their overall strategies. Last year, I predicted that programmatic and associated technologies would come into their own, which by and large turned out to be the case. According to fi gures from the World Advertising Expenditure Summary, between 2018 and 2019 digital ad spend increased by 6 per cent in MENA to now account for 39.3 per cent of the total regional advertising spend. This is only going to get bigger in the coming years. But before I look ahead, let’s review my 2019 predictions to see where we sit today.

• More transactions through private marketplaces
This is on the rise – programmatic is moving from being a buzzword to become a key component of strategies.
• Putting audience data into use
The conversation surrounding data is changing, as the focus shifts from how it is collected to how it is used. Now we are starting to look at how we can bridge offline and online data effectively.
• Publishers under the spotlight
2019 was the year when publishers came into their own, taking an active role in understanding the digital ecosystem and its advantages, as well as working on upgrading their infrastructure to become more compliant and work better with the ever changing ad tech world.
• Talent
The division of labour is shifting between humans and algorithms, which is changing the programmatic talent pool. 133 million jobs are expected to be created by 2022, according to the World Economic Forum, in line with the ‘Fourth Industrial Age’. While we haven’t seen anything significant yet, there is a defi nite uptick in talent interested in understanding and leveraging programmatic right now.
• More in-depth education
This is still ongoing, but we’re seeing more conferences and seminars emerge to keep everyone up to date on incoming regulations and new technology.

2019 may have felt like a year dominated by social scandals in an ongoing battle for privacy and control, but in truth we have made real strides in rebuilding trust. 2017 was essentially ground zero, but as we enter this new decade it’s time to leave past mistakes behind us and take decisive action to shore up the ecosystem, putting everyone on a level playing field once more. Granted, things may not have happened as quickly as we would have liked, but things like planning and execution have improved greatly, giving us a solid base to build from in 2020 and beyond.

Here’s a video in Programmatic advertising in 2020 from Campaign’s Marcomms360 Predictions 2020 by Nader Bitar, deputy GM, MMPWW.

Here are the key talking points I believe will shape strategies in the coming 12 months:

The ‘cookie crumbling’ narrative will continue this year, strengthened by browsers cracking down on user tracking, more regulation coming into play with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) joining GDPR legislation and, regionally, further guidance from the IAB GCC. Things will still look uncertain for a time with regards to how this will affect all the different players, since the lines are too blurred to make a clean break. However, one thing is certain: private market places (PMPs) will be affected the least by this move because they use first-party rather than third-party data.

In tandem, the more valuable the word ‘data’ becomes, the more restrictions we will see, levied at those that caused the issues in the first place: the social players harvesting personal – rather than behavioural – data. In many ways, we were the collateral damage, the casualties of the ongoing data war, but as education improves and users become more aware of their digital footprint, as well as the need for a fair and open exchange of data for advertising, it’s clear that this will open up further opportunities online. We could see a completely new offering in 2020 from platforms like Facebook, which spent much of last year pivoting to privacy, unifying all its apps under one corporate umbrella and putting transparency at the heart of future growth. Last year I predicted that Facebook could end up as the middleman or broker, with user data moved to a decentralised database via blockchain. While this is unlikely to materialise just yet, it’s looking increasingly likely that this could be a viable path for the platform to take as user control comes further into the spotlight.

Audio, gaming, OTT… the list goes on. 2020 will see us embracing new mediums like never before. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what podcasts can do yet, and as that channel matures from a ‘playback’ platform to a means of circulation and communication, we can expect to see it grow as a multifaceted channel for education, entertainment and more. OTT is another medium to keep an eye on in the coming year. With the widespread roll-out of 5G enabling unlimited creativity, we’ll likely see programmatic OTT initiatives start to crop up. Greater emphasis on interactivity across different platforms will also be key, as brands will need to create increasingly immersive and personalised experiences to appeal to their consumers. On the back of this, we’ll see digital video explode.

Worldwide, we’re seeing a 20 per cent jump in online video spend, coinciding with a rise in total time spent watching videos online. In 2018, for example, the total time spent watching videos was 70 minutes per person per day, increasing to 85 minutes in 2019. In 2020, this will reach 100 minutes a day. Changing consumer viewing habits and AI developments will further enhance this medium, allowing for more personalisation in digital video and helping brands to tailor video ads as a result.

We’re done pitting man against machine – the future is one of cohesion and collaboration. That’s a fact. A study by the Boston Consulting Group looked at how the combination of AI, machine learning and human intervention and judgement can improve marketing campaign performance. The findings showed that machine-learning algorithms were able to optimise marketing campaigns quicker, with human modifi cations adding 15 per cent greater campaign performance overall. This is due in large to the division of roles, playing to each other’s strengths (algorithms optimise faster, humans ensure context and relevance) and working together to achieve the most effective outcome. As we head into Expo year, the conversation about technological transformation will shift up several gears, helping underscore the government’s vision for digital change. AI is fundamentally altering the way we live and work within the UAE, helping us to advance our thinking and become pioneers in our relevant fi elds, a feat only made possible because of the country’s leadership. You only need to look at initiatives such as the smart tunnels at Dubai airport to see how frictionless our society could become, but only if we stop seeing technology as the enemy.

Let’s not get too carried away. Amazon is what I like to call a classic overachiever. Granted, not everything it does works out, but beyond all the impressive headlines and grandstanding, we’re looking at a business with one very specifi c goal in mind: dominance. Pure and simple. It has done enough worldwide to justify its inclusion here, especially given where it now sits in the digital advertising arena. We’ve been braced for impact since Amazon entered the region by acquiring Souq in 2017, but we’ve yet to feel more than a few ripples when it comes to threatening the Google and Facebook stronghold. However, Amazon released a number of improvements to its ad-buying interfaces last year, strengthened by adding Sizmek’s ad server into its stack. Purchasing rather than building this tech in-house is a shrewd move by CEO Jeff Bezos in helping Amazon compete with the walled gardens much quicker. It’s unlikely it will catch up to the giants this year but with new mobile, over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV ad inventory entering the space, there’s still everything to play for and I wouldn’t rule out Amazon’s chances at really shaking things up.

You could be forgiven for thinking we have completely mastered voice advertising, given the amount of coverage it racked up in 2019 alone. In reality, of course, we are just at the start of this journey. The upsurge in smartspeaker adoption has intensified the race to be first past the post in achieving this at scale, but I have a different concern: in this age of increased scrutiny surrounding user privacy, how does a device that listens to your every word (passive or when activated) fit into that? There’s a wider discussion that’s needed here before we start getting ahead of ourselves on implementation, considering where voice search and respective ads sit in the changing ecosystem today. This is a conversation we need to have sooner rather than later as Google, Facebook and Amazon are already moving to establish themselves as key players in the voice search game. With 20 per cent of its searches already coming from voice, Google is leading the way to increase market share in 2020, but don’t discount Amazon’s ace up its sleeve in the form of Alexa, the (almost) silent member of the family, ready and waiting to cater to your every need. Ultimately, there will be a fine line between intrusive and useful, but rapid growth for voice is inevitable, which is why the foundation needs to be in place now to ensure we don’t get embroiled in another data and privacy battle further down the line.

Whatever lies in store for us in the coming year, action must be swift to ensure our capabilities match our ambitions, embracing change and adopting a digital-first mindset. So, with that in mind, I’ll sign off with this: 2020 won’t drastically alter the digital advertising landscape as we know it, but we will see the continued evolution of technological solutions merging with human intervention and insight to power better decisions over all. We ended the last decade in a good place, fighting back from the negativity of years gone by and strengthening our resolve for better transparency in our ecosystem as a whole. That in itself is worth celebrating, so let’s start the next 10 years as we mean to go on.