Trading Places

Trading Places

Originally featured in the August 12th 2018 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine

Facebook might be the undisputed king of social media when it comes to the scale of it’s digital advertising machine, but for how long? It’s a well worn trope over the last few years that younger users are eschewing the platform in favour of photo and messaging apps like Instagram and Snapchat, but more concrete evidence of this continues to come to the surface.

A Pew Research Centre survey released earlier this Summer has shone some more light on this trend with a study on the social media habits of users between the ages of 13 and 17 in the US. In 2018, the most popular social media platform for this group is Instagram with 72% of users claiming to use it. Snapchat was close behind at 69%. Further down the field was Facebook with just over half of this group (51%) claiming to use it, and only 10% admitting to it being their most-used platform. This is in stark contrast to the results from a corresponding study in 2015. Since then, Facebook and Instagram have almost perfectly switched places; Facebook down from 71% to 51%, and Instagram up from 52% to 72%. Quite a staggering role reversal in just three years.

Mark Zuckerberg last year announced a shift in focus from ‘passive consumption’ of news and media to ‘meaningful interactions’ between friends and family. But it seems that Facebook is losing ground on both fronts: YouTube being preferred for passive consumption, Instagram and Snapchat for social interaction and self-expression. The Facebook News Feed, and it’s focus on a never ending cycle of ‘news’, seems to be a diminishing pull for younger users, and they are voting with their feet, more interested in pictures of their friends’ lunch and pets.

Teens leaving Facebook en masse is indicative of a wider trend. Over the last couple of years, the company has had to battle with scandals involving ‘fake news’ and privacy breaches, and it seems that many users have used this as an excuse (or an opportunity) to leave the network. In Europe alone, 3 million daily active users have left in just the last quarter (likely as a result of the implementation of GDPR), while daily users in the US have remained flat. In the Middle East in particular, Facebook usage declined by 20 percentage points between 2013 and 2017 according to research conducted by the Northwestern University in Qatar (94% in 2013 down to 74% in 2017) with the UAE, KSA and Qatar accounting for the biggest declines. In the grand scheme of things, this is just a drop in the ocean, but as new user sign-ups slow down (monthly active user growth is down from 13 per cent to 11 per cent year-on-year), users that visit the platform less, or even leave it altogether, will be more strongly felt. Meanwhile, Instagram’s user numbers continue to skyrocket, doubling from 500 million MAUs to 1 billion in the last two years.

Where eyeballs go, ad dollars eventually follow. Facebook’s stock price plummeted by over 20% in one day last month following a weak earnings announcement, the largest one-day loss in market value by any company in US stock market history. Not because of a fall in revenue (ad revenue was up 42 per cent year-on-year), but simply because this growth had slowed (down from 49 per cent). Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer, David Wehner, said that revenue growth would likely continue to decline for the rest of the year, partly because Facebook is planning to give users more options with their privacy settings, including letting them limit the kinds of ads they see.

Enter Instagram to save the day. In 2012, Facebook paid $1 billion to acquire the photo-sharing app, a price that many people balked at at the time. While Facebook doesn’t break out revenue from Instagram individually, data marketing technology company 4C estimated a 204 per cent growth in Instagram ad spend year-on-year during the last quarter, and the unit is expected to generate $8.06 billion in revenue in 2018 according to research firm eMarketer. By 2020, Instagram could contribute $20 billion to Facebook’s revenue according to some analysts, accounting for roughly a quarter of total revenue. In hindsight, it looks like that was $1 billion very well spent.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Facebook
The paradox of long-form vertical video

The paradox of long-form vertical video

Originally featured in the July 8th 2018 issue of Campaign Middle East

Not content with pick-pocketing Snapchat in 2016, Instagram seems determined to muscle in on YouTube’s turf as well by launching a video hub and standalone app that they’re calling IGTV. And for good reason too. According to a recent Pew Research survey in the US, Instagram is trailing only YouTube in usage among teens. 85 percent of Americans aged 13 to 17 say they use YouTube, with Instagram coming in second at 72 percent, and Snapchat close behind at 69 percent. While Instagram could definitely do with a better ‘home’ for its video content outside of users’ Stories or Feeds, their emphasis on catering to the longer-form video that YouTube currently dominates clashes somewhat with their insistence on using vertical video.

The vertical format that currently features on Instagram and Snapchat lends itself well to shorter content; an impromptu piece to camera, a quick glimpse around a quirky cafe, a short makeup tutorial etc. But the type of video that typically garners a following on YouTube, the kind that Instagram wants to attract to its platform, is a fundamentally different type of content altogether; longer, better structured, with a higher level of production value, and more importantly, horizontal in format.

Viewers on these ‘vertical’ platforms have been primed for brevity and, because of this, the big question for Instagram is whether users will spend as long watching vertical videos as they already do with horizontal videos. The average YouTube viewing session on mobile is an impressive 40 minutes according to Google. But for Instagram, the average mobile session duration is a mere 3.05 minutes. Instagram hopes that, by increasing the maximum time limit for its videos from 1 minute to 60 minutes, it will enable longer-form quality content to flourish and keep users on the app for longer. But will users really watch 10, 20, even 30 minute vertical videos on their phone? Instagram clearly thinks they will, but there will need to be a change in current viewing habits for this to happen, especially as these platforms currently appeal to short attention spans with quick-fire content that is easy to jump through.

From a creation point of view too, there is a chicken-and-egg challenge of trying to encourage longer-form content creation without evidence for creators that it will find an audience on these channels. Instagram must try to both convince their current top content creators to fundamentally change the type of videos they make for the longer format, while also trying to attract YouTube creators to the platform, which would in turn require them to drastically adapt their content for vertical video. For these creators, the vertical format is a restrictive one in comparison, with valuable screen real estate at the sides being sacrificed for length, and a heavy trade-off in the amount of information they can show on the screen at any one time. For YouTube content creators, this could be a serious stumbling block.

At the moment, Instagram has said that they will not show ads on the new IGTV, although this will inevitably change over time once the platform finds its feet. But by shutting off a potential revenue stream for creators at the beginning, and by not making direct payments to stars either, they could initially struggle to attract the talent that they want to come to the platform. It seems like a stretch to expect YouTube’s most popular creators to jump ship to a format that doubles their workload without cutting them in on the ad revenue. Ultimately, the old cliche is true, content is king, especially for video. Facebook has already found this out the hard way over the past couple of years by not being able to take market-share from YouTube due to a lack of exclusive quality content on the platform. Can IGTV succeed where Facebook ultimately failed? Stranger things have happened, but it’s certainly a tall order.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Mobile, Snapchat, Social Media
The Louvre Abu Dhabi “Highway Gallery” wins at Cannes

The Louvre Abu Dhabi “Highway Gallery” wins at Cannes

This was one of my favourite campaigns in the region over the last year so it was great to see it flying the flag for the Middle East at Cannes last week picking up a Gold Lion in Outdoor and a Bronze in Radio & Audio.

The campaign by TBWA/RAAD Dubai placed 10 billboards showcasing some of  the masterpieces on display at The Louvre Abu Dhabi along the 100km road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, syncing them up with local radio stations so that drivers could hear stories about each masterpiece as they drove by. An excellent use of multiple mediums.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Location, Tech
8 ways AR platforms like Google Lens can work in an advertising capacity

8 ways AR platforms like Google Lens can work in an advertising capacity

Google’s augmented reality platform, Google Lens, is expanding outside of the Google Assistant app to being accessible directly from the camera on some Android devices, as well as in Google Photos and Google Maps. With it only being a matter of time before Apple rolls out ARkit functionalities directly within its cameras too, users are about to have even more avenues for accessing this tech than ever before.

Google Lens enables your smartphone to visually scan your environment and pull up information about items in the real world, anything from buildings, people’s faces and household objects, as well as text from street signs, screens, restaurant menus and books etc. It basically lets you search for info about items in the real world as you’d search for keywords on the web, and call up actionable prompts like purchase links for products and Wikipedia descriptions of famous landmarks etc. The goal is to give users context about their environments and any and all objects within those environments.

Here are 8 ways that this type of technology could work in an advertising capacity:

  1. Scanning billboards or OOH ads, Shazam-style, to find out more information on a brand or apply for an offer. Like with QR codes in magazines etc. but less lame, on a larger scale, and without the need to download / access it through a standalone app.
  2. Scan the outside of a retail location or restaurant to find out its opening hours or offers.
  3. Scan a product in a supermarket to find product info or price comparisons.
  4. Placing AR elements in a real world environment, like BMW’s Snapchat AR lens for the X2.
  5. Integrating street ads with AR location information on how to get to the store.
  6. Scan an ad or product to access a promotion that can be redeemed online or in-store. Maybe a function that can ‘bookmark’ vouchers or discount codes for example.
  7. Scanning a product to view customer reviews.
  8. Turn empty retail locations into augmented reality storefronts like Net-A-Porter.

 

 

Posted by Rob in Augmented Reality, Google, Mobile
5 Key Aspects Of A Localized Digital Marketing Strategy In The Middle East

5 Key Aspects Of A Localized Digital Marketing Strategy In The Middle East

A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur Middle East

It can be daunting as a mid-sized company when entering a new international market. Especially so when entering a region as diverse and fragmented as the Middle East. Although no matter where you go around the world, you can’t just copy and paste a strategy that has worked well elsewhere and expect it to succeed in a different market. With digital channels becoming more and more essential in today’s business landscape, here are some key aspects to consider for your digital strategy when entering a new region.

 

  1. A LOCAL WEBSITE – Understanding the competitive digital landscape

You’d be surprised how many companies come to the Middle East and don’t create a region-specific website. Nothing will frustrate your customers more than if they can’t find simple information about you when they search online like basic product details, your location and contact information, opening hours etc. According to a recent Gartner report, only 15% of businesses in the region have an online presence. This is some very low hanging fruit, so make creating a local mobile-responsive website your first port of call when entering a new market. Don’t forget to include an Arabic language option for the content on your site too.

 

  1. LOCAL KEYWORD OPTIMIZATION – Understanding local online search behaviour

Speaking of customers searching for you online, it’s important to realize how people’s search behaviour differs around the world, and that it is essential to treat each market separately when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Conducting simple localized keyword searches around topics related to your product is a must, as well as doing so for the Arabic language also as the most highly-searched keywords can differ across languages. Don’t forget to include the local country in the meta tags of each of the web pages in the process, and make sure to create business listing pages on Google for your head office and retail locations. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find out about you online.

 

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA – Understanding the social media ecosystem

With almost 50% of the people living in the Middle East region being under the age of 30, it’s no surprise that social media is incredibly popular here as a form of expression and communication. In such a diverse region, visual channels such as Instagram and Snapchat have become especially popular in recent years as a way of propagating a common visual language. Similarly with video content. YouTube is the most used social platform for video consumption in the region and Saudi Arabia, with a staggering 90+ million active daily video views, has even surpassed the USA to become the #1 consumer of content on this platform.

The Middle East as a region is built on respect for people and culture. Whilst most markets in the region have been adopting a more relaxed approach to social content, countries like Saudi Arabia have far stricter rules regarding the type of messages and imagery that can be leveraged. Despite, or maybe because of that fact, User-Generated Content (UGC) is an extremely popular form of content that brands here try to encourage. The Middle East also has its own community of super-influencers who use Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube to collaborate with brands and communicate a more relatable, yet personal story. This could be a relevant approach to consider when entering a market in the region.

 

  1. eCOMMERCE – Understanding how your consumers shop online

While some regions around the world embraced online shopping more than 20 years ago, the Middle East has been somewhat slower to join in. Up until recently, most purchases made online would be paid for in cash on delivery as many customers remained skeptical of shopping online. This has changed over the last 5 years or so, with more and more businesses accepting online payments and customers finally feeling comfortable with handing over their credit card information to companies online.

Amazon’s acquisition of Dubai-based Souq.com in 2017 was a boon for the region and signals a validation of the concept of eCommerce here in general. According to the Midddle East-based online payment platform PayFort, the e-commerce market here is set to double to more than $69bn by 2020 with the UAE accounting for $27 billion of that and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia $22 billion, making them by far the two largest eCommerce markets in the Middle East. Food for thought when considering whether or not to facilitate online payments on your local website.

 

  1. TECH ADOPTION – Understanding your market’s technological fluency

In case all of the above didn’t convince you of the importance of a localized digital strategy in the Middle East, maybe these statistics will. Even though many people around the world might consider the Middle East to be somewhat of a traditional region, the population here is surprisingly tech-savvy.

For a starters, Middle Easterners are a very well-connected bunch with more mobile connections here than there are people (128%), higher than in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Africa. Smartphone penetration is exceptionally high here also, with the UAE having the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world at 80.6% according to Newzoo’s 2017 Global Mobile Market Report. Saudi Arabia is not far behind at 65.2%.

When it comes to internet penetration, UAE (99%), Qatar (99%) and Kuwait (98%) are the three highest ranked countries in the world according to the 2018 Hootsuite & We Are Social Global Digital Report. Mobile internet usage in particular is very high here too, with Saudi Arabia (64%) and UAE (61%) in the top 12 countries globally when it comes to using a smartphone as opposed to a computer to access the internet (StatCounter).

 

Take the next step

While it might seem like a lot to take in, you should consider digital channels as an opportunity rather than a challenge to overcome when entering a new market like the Middle East. Understanding the region and how the people here use digital technology in their day-to-day lives can help you build up a loyal customer base and create a solid foundation for future success. Utilizing a local expert who knows the region can give you a head start so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to take the next step!

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Dubai, Social Media, Tech, Web Design