The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘mobile phone’ as “a telephone with access to a cellular radio system so it can be used over a wide area, without a physical connection to a network” and the word ‘mobile’ as “able to move or be moved freely or easily”. However, with the introduction of phablets, tablets and even ultrabooks with SIM cards, this definition of mobile might seem rudimentary. And with smartphone ownership in the UAE reaching 90 percent in 2014, up from 78 percent a year before, according to the TNS Connected Life study, naturally advertisers are turning their attention to where their consumers are: on their mobile. So how does the industry define a device, the functionality of which is changing ever so often? “In my mind mobile has one single definition, which is portability,” says Dana Adhami, regional head of mobile, Mindshare MENA. However, she warns, although all devices might be the same by function, it isn’t necessarily so by definition. “We have to be careful when we say ‘mobile’ because what is mobile? It could be a smartphone or a tablet, so we need to change our language and start calling things for what they are,” she says. For Yusuf Pingar, managing director of Spark*, a mobile goes beyond functionality to become a lifestyle accessory.Jon Hook, global VP, advertising evangelist at Phunware, however, has a different take: “Mobile is just a word to describe almost a way of life. Simply put, a mobile device is a piece of hardware. What connects all those devices isn’t the Internet; it’s the software.” When defining mobile, it seems that advertisers are cautious – and aware – of its many implications. Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, chief innovation officer, Leo Burnett/Publicis Group MENA, agrees that the definition of mobile has changed and that “You need to be conscious of where your audience is and it’s a big part of how we devise mobile strategies. You can’t have a Swiss army knife that does everything at once; different channels do different things.”
Yet, as advertisers become aware of the changing landscape of mobile, by default, the buck is passed on to brands for being reluctant when it comes to investing in the medium. “The challenge is when you talk to brands or agencies about mobile, they’re trying to figure out where mobile fits in their media plan. Mobile is in silo and it’s just about putting banners on a screen,” says Hook. Sagar Shetty, managing partner of Clique Communications, concurs: “The biggest problem is educating them on what they can do with it [mobile media],” while Adhami, too, feels that mobile as a medium is underestimated and that brands “need to think how to create a mobile strategy and integrate mobile as part of their business”. But shouldn’t the supposedly educated – agencies – be educating brands? Cautiously, Adhami says that brands need to be open to investment even though agencies should be educating them – something Saad Naamani, social media manager at Wetpaint, thinks agencies are failing at. Shetty is rather frank when he says: “The problem is you start off saying it’s not our problem as marketers; we need to be told, but why should you be told? It’s a new age. You should learn to figure out what you can do with your brand instead of waiting for someone else to tell you.” He goes on to suggest that just as brands have evolved from appointing marketing directors or digital marketing directors, it’s now time to have a mobile marketing specialist.
But isn’t that the job of the digital marketing director? “That’s like saying digital should be covered by TV. You’re talking about a different psychographic and user behavior. Unfortunately, people don’t understand that it is a marketing job, not a technical job. It’s about how can I use the medium to market myself, not about how can I use the medium to do something more techie,” he asserts. In fact, Hook is brazen enough to pin his resignation as head of mobile at MediaCom UK, on agencies lagging behind and “they will take at least another three to four years to catch up with software companies like Facebook and Google, who are the ones really setting the pace [of mobile advertising],” he says. Michel Malkoun, COO at DMS, feels that agencies play – or at least, should play – a big role in educating brands. “There are challenges obviously, as we are still in the early stage, but we [agencies] need to keep preaching this idea until it really sinks in,” he says, adding that since brands don’t have the time to understand the vast complexities of digital and mobile, they need to trust and depend more on their agencies for the right advice and revise their marketing plans and strategies accordingly. As regional players debate and squabble over the shifting responsibility of education and investment, Tuqan feels, that everything – agencies, brands and advertisers – has to change. “Nobody is cracking it yet. Consumers have already changed but media, agencies and advertisers are still changing,” he says.
Behind the screen
With the UAE smartphone ownership rate growing fast, it seems surprising that mobile advertising is not keeping up. “Most of what you still see is an evolution of [print advertising] so you see a lot of banners. Or people want apps, even though 70 percent of apps are just used once,” says Tuqan.
Clique’s Shetty says, “When you’re doing something on mobile, you have to entertain first and then inform. I don’t think brands understand that yet. Only if I like your concept, then maybe I will listen to what you have to say as a brand. That’s missing in the region.”
But even in terms of apps – something agencies deem useless, yet clients claim as necessary – is there much need and scope for growth? “Yes, mobile penetration is really high in the region, but are brands doing anything new? No. Users are using the same popular apps and platforms on their Smartphones, even though every week there are new apps,” says Naamani. However, Adhami is one of the few who insists that even if an app is used only once, it may be crucial to the brand experience as is the case of Emirates airlines, wherein “all the touch points and all the channels from customer service to the airport journey to the customer journey to probably even the plane journey are mobile-centric”. However, Hook and Shetty, both feel, that for a lot of brands mobile advertising is just about putting a tick in the box or spending the remainder of the budget, or as Naamani puts it, “mobile just became another bullet point in the media mix [for brands]”. Andrew Coroneo, director of digital strategy and planning at Havas Middle East, says, “ [brands] are doing standard mobile formats like banners and think [they] are doing mobile,” adding that though a lot of brands invest in mobile displays and the standard banner, there is a slow shift to more engaging creatives and the key emphasis is on good content. Even in terms of ad formats, there doesn’t seem to be much innovation. But, then again, Shetty points out, “if you call ad formats innovative, yes, there’s loads happening. People are using in-banner video, expandable banners, and rich media on mobile, but that’s just using the medium for what it is. That’s not creative use of the medium, just the space”.
When it does come to creative use of the medium, for Tuqan and Adhami, it is Facebook that really stands out. “Seven quarters ago they didn’t have a mobile offering, and now it is 50 percent of their revenue and it’s growing. Facebook realized that advertising has to live in the stream and the whole concept of auto-play videos is brilliant. As an advertiser, I can have a shitty little banner at the bottom of the page that no one cares about or I can embed an expandable auto-play TVC, and suddenly, the creative canvas has become so much bigger,” says Tuqan. Another evolution is Shazam, wherein users can ‘Shazam’ a TVC to provide more information, but even then, “it’s what you do with the consumer after attracting them that matters, so your mobile site where you are taking them, makes a difference,” says Shetty. It seems as though it might be futile to talk about new formats and apps, when even the most basic asset for a brand, its website, isn’t mobile-friendly. As of last year, 85 percent of mobile websites, were not even mobile-friendly meaning customized for the mobile, just mobile-responsive, which basically means shrunk to fit the screen. “And a mobile-responsive site is not ‘mobile’ as commonly thought. It’s just a bad experience,” says Shetty. But, Adhami is defensive as she points out that mobile-responsive websites are not necessarily a bad thing though she does admit that the lack of specialized consultants advising clients about the benefits of a mobile-friendly site and that the cost of creating one could be deterring clients from doing so. Maybe there’s some solace for agencies in the fact that whether brands are investing – openly or reluctantly – they’re at least thinking about mobile. “Yes more and more brands are thinking about mobile but that’s the point; they are only thinking about mobile,” says Shetty.
If the lack of education and awareness about a medium that’s new – at least, relatively – is making brands uncomfortable about investing in it, then maybe it’s time to link it back to a medium that traditionally resides within brands’ comfort zones. The TNS Connected Life 2014 survey found that users in the UAE use up to four devices/screens at a time. Yet, when it comes to multiscreen usage, only 26 percent in the UAE and 27 percent in KSA use other devices to look for related content while watching TV, according to Google’s Consumer Barometer. Although this might seem like a deterrent for advertisers, it’s actually an opportunity in disguise. As Coroneo explains: “When consumers are watching TV and they tune out and start browsing or scrolling on their mobile, brands can actually use that to put consumers back into the show and pay attention to it.” In fact, according to Millward Brown’s 2014 AdReaction study, of the 66 percent in KSA who use other screens for unrelated content, 41 percent are using social media, while 40 percent are just using it to fill time during ad breaks.
Even brands such as Microsoft and Samsung are keen to provide advertisers with multiscreen solution. Other than data, insights and hyper-targeting options, Microsoft’s ad offering allows brands to tell a multi-part story on different devices through its “creative sequencing” service. Brands can show their consumers different variations of their ad on different devices in any order they wish, enabling brands to “tell a deeper story in logical chapters, even if your audience switches devices,” explains Microsoft. Samsung has a slightly different approach to the multiscreen phenomena. Its new “multi-link screen” allows users to use two to four screens for different purposes – be it gaming or chatting, or even TV – on their main TV screen.
But, “the challenge when it comes to multiscreens is that brands get the concept of it and they know the user is jumping around with screens, but the agencies have to prove to them the attribution. All the agencies and brands use the Gross Rating Point (GRP) metric,” says Hook, adding that the GRP is absolutely meaningless as it only assesses if the viewer is in the room when the TV is on, irrespective of whether he is watching it or not. Wassim Kabbara, head of retail and e-commerce at Google MENA, says that Google focused on integrating TV with digital in a broad sense of the term. “Most, if not all, TVCs were complemented with YouTube campaigns. And, today, most video online is actually mobile video, so they’re kind of interchangeable.” He adds that as an unsaid general rule, clients are making sure that they’re present across all screens. “They no longer have desktop strategy versus mobile strategy; it’s more about having a multiscreen approach towards digital,” he adds. So what exactly comprises a brand’s “multiscreen approach”? Adhami, who is fascinated by the idea of combining multiscreens to achieve a larger advertising objective finds her spirits dampened by its inhibited use in the region: “The majority of what we do is just linking [content] to a certain time slot or targeting using Twitter or Facebook or some kind of multi-device targeting. I would love to move beyond that and see how we can use the data that is generated from the TV screen on to the mobile screen or tablet.” For Shetty, Pepsi and Arab Idol seem to be the brands that are getting multiscreen right, but Naamani disagrees: “All they [Arab Idol] do here is put a hashtag. They don’t engage more and not in the right way. The problem here in the region is that all brands are seeking to do what global brands are doing, which seems like just a hashtag, but it’s not just that; it’s the whole activation behind it.” Even when it comes to multiscreens, Shetty feels that marketers are wary of “trying new things until someone else does,” adding that once some brands do try it out and win an award for it, other brands don’t want to do it anymore because someone else has already won an award, “and we know how the advertising industry works”. While it is important for brands and agencies to customize their advertising for different screen sizes, Kabbara says that the “story around screen sizes is blurring”. For him, it’s all about context; and “what devices people are using when. We have seen mobile phones are what people use all the time. It’s largely an on-the-go device but also used at home, when on the couch. As an advertiser, if you can have different campaigns depending on the time of day then that’s usually important,” he explains, adding that the type of ads during the day are targeted to more on-the-go individuals, whereas the campaigns that run in the evenings are more engaging and targeted to people at home.
While brands and agencies struggle to redefine mobile and grasp the concept of the multiscreen phenomena, broadcasters are quick to embrace the latter. MBC relaunched Shahid.net in July 2011, with free video-on-demand (VOD) and broadcasted content from MBC’s different channels. Similar, OSN launched its multiscreen offering, OSN Play the following year. Regional telco du is expanding its multiscreen offering as well. After some experiments with the iPad 1, du noticed an increase in multiscreen viewership and decrease in live TV as screens with better resolutions became available in the market. Today, any du user can watch du TV – including live channels – free of cost on their devices. According to du’s internal research, there are two categories that perform well on live TV: real-time events such as sports and award shows and movies. Binge-watching, a term that has become popular due to Netflix and closer home, icflix, also leads to increased multiscreen usage. As tablets become the new-age nannies, kids’ content makes up 55 percent of du’s multiscreen consumption, followed by news (35 percent) and general entertainment and music (20 percent). Currently, du offers 55 multiscreen channels, which are expected to go up to 150 channels in about ten weeks and 3,000 VOD assets that will go up to 4,500 by end of year. However, since ten percent of the VOD content is changed every month, there’s always fresh content available.
du is currently in talks with advertisers to try out new multiscreen advertising options – including the easy ones. “If someone is watching a lot of travel shows, the next piece of advertisement shown to them on their own TV is a travel package,” says Samer Geissah, vice president – consumer home & multimedia services at du. However, he adds that du is also trying to be innovative and non-intrusive in terms of providing complementing multiscreen experiences, such as, the dead area in the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). “In the beginning, it will be generic but later it will get more personalized without being creepy,” says Geissah. Another such format is pre-rolls for VOD content, which are easy to implement and brands can buy the complete asset outright. “Content costs a lot of money and the margins are not great from a business perspective, so instead of charging the customer to watch something he may or may not like, I give him that content completely free of charge but then it’s advertising-driven,” says Geissah, explaining the rationale behind pre-rolls and mid-rolls, while maintaining the sanctity of the viewing space so as to provide viewers with a quality experience.
Other “innovative” solutions include audio watermarking. Similar to Shazam’s ad offering, a particular clip on TV can trigger a relevant message on a viewer’s mobile app. Of course, this requires the viewer to be aware that such a thing is going to happen and keep the mobile app open. “In our TV we are able to do things like time- or event-trigger,” says Geissah, which basically means that certain video clips can trigger off an ad or banner. Similarly, pre-selected channels can be programmed to air the same ad at a preset time. For instance, du is in talks with Emirates; if there’s a scene of someone taking a flight, as soon as the scene appears, the event-trigger will send a push notification on the multiscreen device saying Fly Emirates with a button for more information. “Stuff like that is easy to do from a technological point of view, but we are trying to build a business logic behind it because we don’t want it to be intrusive, otherwise things will pop up and it gets annoying,” adds Geissah. Considering the popularity of live events on TV as opposed to multiscreen devices, it comes as no surprise that real-time social media platform Twitter introduced its TV ad-targeting tool earlier this year in the MENA region. The tool uses video fingerprinting technology to detect where and when a brand’s TVCs are running. Then, it identifies Twitter users engaging with the program during which a TV ad aired. Based on this data, it is able to deliver Promoted Tweets directly to these Twitter users. Similarly, its TV conversation targeting analyzes conversations on Twitter to reach users talking about particular TV programs. Another such tool is Amplify. The service taps in on user behavior patterns of starting a Twitter conversation about something they’ve watched on TV. So far, users can tweet about it or take a quick picture and post it to the platform. However, if someone has missed the show or a certain segment users are talking about, it’s hard to go find the exact clip. “Twitter’s TV targeting tool is an extension of Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends to enable higher engagement in a more timely manner with a more focused approach,” says Mohamed El Mehairy, managing director of ConnectAds, which exclusively and officially represents Twitter in the region.
Doom and gloom
As content – whether it is news or entertainment – becomes more easily available on different screens, there might be a threat to TV. “Though CNN is a free-to-air channel, its viewability on du has significantly dropped because everyone has their own app,” says Geissah. Elie Khouri, CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA, raised his concerns regarding the decline of TV in a separate interview with Communicate (check page 52) going as far as to say that it may witness a negative growth of about five percent in 2015. However, other ad experts remain optimistic. Adhami says that “whether us digital people like to admit it or not, TV will always be king.” In fact, “If you look at it internationally, TV is becoming stronger as a medium. Not so much in terms of advertising, but in terms of the content, quality of TV shows, the talent…it has completely changed and is trickling down into the region,” justifies Coroneo, adding that TV isn’t going away, but rather serving as a platform to encourage conversation between devices – as well as brands and consumers – and bring consumers back to TV when they tune out. “It is a bridge, not an island,” says El Mehairy, that is “connecting things, not isolating them,” adding that there’s a 58 percent increase in purchase intent when Twitter use is complemented with TV. Shetty adds: “As of 2013, 66 percent of worldwide budget was for TV. In 2016, it will still be 60 percent and a six percent deficit is all right given that other mediums are coming up much more quickly. Whereas there’s a 12 percent increase in mobile and tablet combined.” Malkoun has a different approach to the situation. “It doesn’t work this way. All publishers, including TV [stations], should think as ‘content providers’. This way, the publisher – TV or not – should have nothing to worry about,” he says, adding that he has seen growth in TV through 2014. Moreover, as Hook explains, the integration of digital and/or mobile with TV doesn’t just lie in the multiscreen experience but in purchasing TV ads programmatically. Mondelez was one of the first advertisers to purchase TV spots for its brands during the 2014 Super Bowl programmatically, marking a real milestone in TV advertising, says Hook.
When it comes to mobile’s different screens, technology has enabled consumers to move on and embrace them, while brands, advertisers and agencies are left bickering over new media, old mindsets and developing attitudes. It is now time for brands to be where their consumers are and that means combining the traditionally ingrained habit of TV-viewing with the modern round-the-clock habit – or addiction, as some may call it – of mobile consumption.
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