The need for speed – By MMP’s Ayman Haydar

MMP’s CEO, Ayman Haydar, looks for balance in digital advertising

I always have the same question in mind when writing for this particular issue: How do I strike the right balance between optimism and realism? New opportunities exist, but there are challenges to overcome in an increasingly fragmented media landscape fraught with complications around privacy, continued walled garden dominance and the detrimental knock-on effect for local suppliers.

It’s a tricky subject matter, new media. Unpredictable and complex in the main, yet also extremely rewarding when we get it right. For me it’s all about trial and error, implementing the right tactics to unite every stakeholder under one common aim and secure the future of digital advertising.

Think of the ecosystem as a Rubik’s cube. Each of us – the tech suppliers, publishers, advertisers – needs to work together to align everything, but with volatility in different markets, talent shortages across the industry and slow digital infrastructure upgrades, it’s a case of trying different combinations until things begin to click into place. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, only that we need to be more creative in how we solve these problems.

When it comes to harnessing the latest technology, the thinking tends to be if you can’t beat them, join them, which goes some way to explaining why the majority of budgets end up with the Googles and the Metas of the world. It’s not easy to break away when everything is skewed in their favour.

If you want to create your own tech that competes on both the buying (DSPs) and selling (SSPs) side then you’ll need to have very deep pockets, because the scale of that investment will be astronomical. It boils down to the same dilemma as always: go ‘all in’ and play the game or wait it out?

Nothing is certain as we navigate things post-pandemic, with looming recessions likely to affect us on a local level too. Interestingly, when you look at the figures, the picture is optimistic. We’re hearing things have rebounded to grow at double-digit rates year-over-year, but what this really means is that the walled gardens are only getting bigger and richer. The local guys? Forget it; equality within the sector is still a long, long way off.

If you look at what the UK is doing, they are trying to level the playing field with how budgets are split, ensuring the local publishers, content providers and tech players get a fair share allocated to them. It may not be a fair fight yet, but it’s moving in the right direction, as evidenced by the IAB UK’s Digital Ad Spend Report for 2021, where spend grew across the board, up 33 per cent excluding the industry’s five largest companies.

Looking at programmatic specifically, there are reasons to be optimistic here as well, with eMarketer forecasting just over 90 per cent of digital display ad dollars will be transacted programmatically this year. The sector is ripe to expand within CTV, DOOH, and audio, with advertisers having access to more programmatic inventory to better connect with their audiences like never before.

However, there is untapped demand for local content, with a shortage of supply creating a big opportunity for regional media players to explore investments in high-quality local content and offer global players a potentially lucrative way to increase their presence in the region.

Overall, it’s a promising outlook. Now we just need to find the specialised talent to power programmatic at this scale and across different mediums. Discovering these ‘all-rounders’ has proved nearly impossible to date, and that’s because of two things: inexperience of this market and competition from tech giants who are recruiting heavily and drying up the already very small talent pool.

Attracting the right talent is one thing, but equally we need to be investing in upskilling and reskilling our people now to create and plan for a future that is based on data. The IAB GCC has already begun to crunch the numbers, working on a new market-sizing exercise and implementing educational programmes to tackle this.

At the end of the day, ‘the need for speed’ is crucial for us to keep pace with how fast tech is evolving, while observing the relevant compliance laws and regulations. You can’t just pay lip service to being privacy-focused anymore, which means more collaboration with the likes of the IAB and ABG is welcome so we’re all on the same page, benefiting both sides of the business.

Ultimately, it comes down to your willingness to advance along with the market and the industry. Stay still and watch the opportunities pass you by or get on the train and make it to the next checkpoint, whatever it may be. For me, it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination – we just need to keep moving forward.