Alongside Rayan Karaky – now agency head at Google MENA and previously chief digital officer at Starcom Mediavest Group MENA – Mohammad Itani, general manager at Middle East Communication Network’s (MCN) digital arm Platform5, and Dimitri Metaxas, managing director MENA at Omnicom Media Group’s Resolution Media, Ali Jaber probably felt like the odd – and old – one out in the Digital Media Forum (DMF) 2014’s “Recognizing achievements” program. The latter aimed at celebrating the careers of those who contributed to the media industry – and to the digital one at that. Just before receiving his recognition, however, Jaber, MBC Group’s most recognizable face and group TV director – and now TV personality as a judge on MBC’s Arabs Got Talent show – said in an on-stage interview: “I was probably invited here to make the case for TV. The digital train has missed me.”
Jaber is a TV man to the bone; so much so that, mentioning the “digital hoopla” in passing, he claimed that “TV is and will remain the backbone of the media industry,” a statement that did not sit well with the DMF crowd of geeks and digital advocates, among which Boye Balogun, regional head of digital at Mindshare MENA, retorted to Jaber in a panel discussion that followed on second screen and social innovations, with: “TV is not the backbone of the media industry. Content is.” In Jaber’s defense, panel moderator and chief operating officer at Choueiri Group’s Digital Media Services (DMS), Michel Malkoun, said that “TV is probably going to be the star,” but that the challenges lay in diffusing it across screens. And although Abed Bibi, panel member and partner at HoneyBee Tech Ventures claimed “there is no such thing as first screen anymore,” Platform5’s Itani more realistically said: “TV will always enjoy a high viewership regardless of whether people are using one, two or three screens; second screens started a long time ago, when desktops became a household product.
Then laptops fueled the multi-screen activity. Does it affect the consumers? Definitely yes. But will it shift TV viewership to other devices? Maybe. But your first best option is always the TV.” Such statements might sound prehistoric to some; and very aptly so, as, funnily enough, most of the DMF’s presentations on the future of digital drew on the past, loaded with anthropological references and ancient history to map out communication’s reinvention in the new age. In his presentation, titled “Becoming Digital Assyrians,” Zeeshan Latif, senior community manager and head of media planning at digital marketing company Neesh, invited the audience to take a step back and observe consumers’ “transformation from rock to digital carvings,” to get an understanding of why they are no longer as engaged with brands as they were before.
Moments in time
Speaking on how brands can indeed be more engaging through the optimization of real time marketing, Parminder Singh, managing director at Twitter for Southeast Asia, India and MENA, went over the evolution of the consumers’ shared experiences throughout history; from campfires, “when groups of people would share different stories,” to the “printing press, when consumers were reading stories, but not sharing them anymore,” to 1915, when TV was introduced and “people were watching the same content, having a shared experience, but without the power of communication.” The hashtag was the social catalyst, and the medium – like Twitter – the platform that allowed consumers to share experiences globally, publicly and live; “a global digital campfire,” explained Singh, adding that “if the medium is the message, then the moment is the medium.”
Singh listed several “moments” that marked global shared experiences this past year; like talk show host Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie with Hollywood stars at the Oscars 2014 ceremony, which was retweeted 3.1 million times, and which generated 254,644 tweets per minute (TPM). Coming in second, at 158,159 TPM, however, was another Oscar moment, this time for the Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizzeria, which delivered pizza to DeGeneres on-air during the ceremony; the next day, the pizzeria witnessed a six-digit spike in sales, and garnered over 60,000 visitors to its website. In an example about a different Ellen, Laura Ellen, a Twitter user who happened to tweet: “Can tell I like chocolate a bit too much when I’m following @kitkat and @oreo,” Singh demonstrated how Oreo and Kit Kat engaged in friendly competition over Ellen’s affection in a visual back and forth game of Tic Tac Toe.
“There are 1 billion tweets every two days. Each of these tweets is a moment for a brand to engage with customers. Mobile is one of the powerful platforms that will capitalize on these numbers,” said Singh, supporting his case with several figures: against a 40 percent increase in desktop internet usage, mobile, tablet and smartphone usage has jumped by 593 percent in the last three years; 76 percent of twitter usage is on mobile; the UAE’s Twitter users are 17 percent more likely than its internet users to browse the internet by mobile phone; and over 28 percent of Twitter users in the UAE are key decision makers in their workplace.
By the numbers
Elie Aoun, president for the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan (MEAP) region at research firm Ipsos’ media, content and technology research arm, also unveiled findings and numbers from a recent study by the firm, which covered nine MENA countries and 25,928 people. The study showed that in the UAE, social networks penetration jumped from 71 percent in 2012 to 87 percent in 2013 – with Facebook penetration among social network users currently standing at 99 percent, and that of Twitter jumping from 28 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2013 – and that smartphone penetration rose from 61 percent to 72 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, the penetration of online streaming among internet users in the UAE stood at 60 percent, and the proportion of online users downloading content, at 64 percent. E-games penetration in the UAE among the total population, and that of online games among e-gamers stood equally at 29 percent – with mobiles ranking as the top device used on the UAE to play e-games.
Indeed, the well of audience data is growing ever more bountiful for advertisers and research companies; and, “in Google’s mind, audience is the new currency in digital advertising,” said Tariq El Haj Omar, strategic partner manager at Google, in his presentation on the power of audience data in digital marketing. But, he said, “although we’re progressing with the mechanisms through which we reach consumers, there is a bit of a backlash.”
In fact, El Haj Omar drew parallel timelines on the evolution of direct advertising, and that of the world, to prove this very point. “In 1,000 B.C., people started using iron in weaponry and agriculture. It was also the same time of the very first direct advertising, when a very rich Egyptian lost one of his slaves and put up an advertisement written on papyrus; fast forward a few years to 1872, when people started receiving direct mail in the post. Nowadays, 44 percent of direct mail is discarded before it’s even read; in 1900, marketers in New York started calling consumers directly and engaging with them. Now, there are 200 mil- lion phone numbers in the US that have registered to block marketers; in 1917, the Ottoman Empire collapses. At the same time, the Direct Marketing Association is established to look out for the needs of consumers and direct marketers. They did a very good job; direct marketing is now a $150 billion industry in the US, generating $1.8 trillion of incremental revenue; in 1995, the world gets together and creates the World Trade Organization. At the same time, marketers start spamming users in a new practise of direct marketing.”
Today, 90 percent of all email on the internet is spam, added El Haj Omar, totaling 90 trillion messages every day. And, in this regard, it is targeted display advertising that shows prosperous prospects; “it is a $4 billion industry in the US alone, with 44 percent of publishers believing that it is key to their incremental revenues, 92 percent of media buyers wanting to buy audiences, and 48 percent of money being spent on audience data,” he explained.
Stating that Google’s demographics data was 80 to 90 percent accurate relative to information that people declared, El Haj Omar revealed the internet giant’s latest tools in classifying audience data and targeting online users – like the affinity segment categorization, whereby Google identifies several segments within the online population that are meaningful to advertisers, and are based on beliefs and interests. “And these are actual segments that we target using our platform: dream-living enthusiasts, lunch-hitting travelers, technophiles, and romance and drama movie fans. We have 80 affinity segments in 1,900 very specific interest categories,” he said. Another Google tool, Similar
Audiences, expands advertisers’ reach by automatically finding people who have shared interests with people on their existing user base.
Concluding his presentation, El Haj Omar said: “Publishers don’t realize that they are sitting on a gold mine of data.” However, Aida Al Busaidy, senior manager of stakeholder communication at Dubai’s department of tourism and commerce marketing, clearly does. In her presentation on “how the power of social media has turned residents into tourists,” Al Busaidy shared Dubai’s ambition for 2020 of being the world’s leading family destination, moving away from being the regional events hub to being a world leading events and entertainment destination, and maximizing its position as the business hub of the region – all with the support of audience data and social media.
Around 52 percent of Facebook users said that their friends’ photos inspired their travel plans, claimed Al Busaidy, showcasing several case studies of successful web-based tourism campaigns, like “#Meetsouthafrica,” launched by the South African Tourism Board in 2013, which invited 15 international bloggers to spend ten days completing four South African itineraries across the country’s nine provinces. “By June 2013, it generated 10,000-plus tweets and 89.3 million tweet impressions – and reached 3.7 million Twitter accounts – 1,177 photos on Instagram and 119,000 YouTube views. But “the best marketers of a city are the people who live in it,” she said.
The first day of the DMF was capped with the MENA Digital Awards, the first regional awards show dedicated to recognizing digital work. The show’s categories were as follows: Best Performance Campaign; Best Use of Video; Best Use of Social Media; Best Application; Best Integrated Media Campaign; Social Brand of the Year; Best Use of Mobile; Best Search Marketing Campaign; Best Use of Data and Best Integrated Digital Campaign.
A total of ten Gold trophies were handed out, most of them to OMG MENA and its agencies. OMD MENA won four Golds: one in the Best Use of Video category for Pepsi’s “Let’s complete our gathering” Ramadan campaign; two under the Best Use of Social Media and Best Integrated Digital Campaign categories for the brand’s “Yala Na3ti” campaign; and one under the Best Use of Mobile category, which it shared with Resolution MENA for the “A New Mobile Experience” campaign. Resolution MENA grabbed a Gold in the Best Integrated Digital Campaign category for talent show X Factor Arabia’s launch campaign. Meanwhile, PHD took home a Gold in the Best Use of Mobile category for Sony Xperia’s “Step into Z” campaign. Magna Global bagged a Gold in the Best Use of Social Media category for the “AXE Obama” campaign. UM took away a Gold in the Best Integrated Media Campaign category for Coca-Cola’s Coke Studio show’s second season, while the network’s Cairo office won a Gold and a Platinum in the Best Integrated Digital Campaign category for the brand’s“Crazy For Good” campaign.
Lastly, MEC took home a Gold in the Best Use of Video category for Kit Kat’s “Comedy Break Show.”