About six months ago, I published my ad tech predictions for 2020. It may as well have been six years ago. Disruption, so often rippling under the surface of our industry, has become a way of life. The ‘new norm’, whatever that means.
It wasn’t optimism on my part that led me to project positive growth for the year ahead; it was reading the signs, understanding the market shifts and coming to a rational conclusion. The pathway to a new programmatic era was starting to take shape. Education was improving. New channels were beginning to mature. Trust within the ecosystem had been rebuilt.
Apparently, Covid-19 didn’t get the memo. This pandemic bulldozed everything in its path, forcing change at every level. For clients and advertisers that didn’t buy into digital transformation until now, it’s been a rude awakening. Some major corporations are finding this out the hard way too; size and scale mean nothing when your business isn’t optimised digitally.
We’ve become used to seeing dire headlines; it sells better. Evidently, we love misery. The US economy lost a record 22.5 million jobs in April. Currencies around the world are expected to drop in value as the situation worsens. This recession is set to be the worst in living memory. And it goes on. This is the news that will stick. That’s not to say this isn’t an accurate depiction of what’s going on, but still, if this is all you read, looking for opportunities amidst the doom and gloom becomes that much harder.
I’ve never been one to sugar coat things either; things are tough right now. There are winners emerging from this economic downturn and there are industries struggling; that’s a given. E-commerce, already pegged for substantial growth this year, is booming, accelerated by the coronavirus-heightening demand. Majid Al Futtaim Retail’s online orders increased threefold year-on year in March and reported a 59 per cent annual jump in new online customers.
Separately, purchases of skincare products and makeup in the UAE soared 144 per cent and 275 per cent respectively in the same period, according to data from Itcan. It paints a promising picture; however, it’s unlikely this can be sustained longterm, particularly if job losses continue to mount during lockdown. Nothing, no industry, is untouchable.
Elsewhere, the big spenders in advertising, such as telcos, banking, automotive, travel and tourism
and governments have either restricted or stopped expenditure for the foreseeable future. Now, when
one industry freezes, regardless of how big other industries grow, there is a knock-on effect that’s felt
throughout. What may seem disconnected at first glance is much more complex. Enterprises rely on
one another, the wheels need to keep turning and everyone must play their part, otherwise it’s only a
matter of time before everything shudders to a halt.
That’s the biggest challenge, operating in a climate that’s so volatile. Our business is robust based on three major factors: talent, ad tech and other associated technologies, and internet connectivity. As long as these three things continue to be readily available and utilised, we are in a good position, and fortunately we’re not reliant on being in an office to operate efficiently either.
Programmatic still offers the most effective way to run media campaigns today; that hasn’t changed, even in the midst of a global pandemic. The fact that things are evolving so quickly online is actually an advantage. Algorithms can anticipate, interpret and optimise in real time to ensure brands stay in step with the shifting consumer mood. Opportunity wise, there’s still a lot to tap into, as audio, OTT and connected TV begin to take shape programmatically, buoyed in lockdown as audiences listen to more podcasts and stream for longer.
Add into the mix that social media is experiencing a surge like never before (Facebook is closing in on 3 billion total active users across all of its platforms, whilst TikTok has just surpassed the 2 billion download mark) and it’s clear there is potential here. Don’t discount digital gaming either. Billed as the ‘one to watch’ for a while, in March, figures from Statista show global spending rose to $10bn on this medium.
Ultimately, our role isn’t just to offer solutions, but to support our clients in maximising their opportunities and safeguarding their reputation; that won’t ever change. I’d be making a false promise if I said we’ll return to normal any time soon. In reality, perhaps we never will. As humans, we aren’t the best at learning from our mistakes, but if anything, once we overcome this, our attitudes need to change. No more stalling, no more excuses; we need to be fearless pioneers, taking technology and the digital world more seriously moving forward.
In a fight for survival, action must be swift, embracing change to rebuild and thrive. Retreat and it’s game over. So, what will it be?