The headline in the LA Times on Dish Network providing its customers the option to skip commercials (something possible on Youtube most of the time), further emphasizes the speed at which technology is advancing is faster than the speed at which advertising agencies are able to react. Consumers are increasingly getting the tools to choose whether they believe an ad is worth their time. If every consumer was able to skip any advertisement which they deemed irrelevant, boring, or pointless, the measure of the success of a particular advertisement becomes very binary: watched or not watched, relevant or not relevant. Obviously, this type of measurement is most suitable for web, mobile, or internet-connected TV sets. However, measurement is increasingly possible in the offline world: how many people scanned a QR code on a print ad? How many consumers typed in a coupon code on a newspaper ad? How many users visited a Url on a billboard? How many Groupon customers came back a second time after their first discounted visit?
As technology becomes intertwined with consumer behavior, Lord Leverhulme’s well known saying “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted and the trouble is I don’t know which half.” will cease to be relevant. Every passing day increases our ability to measure advertising and decreases the uncertainty associated with it. This will be painful for some whose campaigns will be demolished by a lack of user response or engagement, but it will herald a golden age of creativity. It will challenge creative directors to not only create beautiful imagery, but to also understand the context, behavior, interests and reactions of consumers.
Technology is changing the nature and format of advertising. It will also change how advertising is judged and evaluated. The creatives who understand the impact of their work on the behavior and actions of the consumer stand to gain the most.
In general, telecom operators in the MENA region have a very sweet deal. They are either operating as monopolies, comfortable duopolies, or are in markets where the incumbent was heavily entrenched before deregulation kicked in. They regularly rake in massive profits and many have stockpiles of cash. Yet, what are they doing with this cash? Where is the feedback loop that is taking this cash and injecting back into the economy to drive innovation and support the development of new ecosystems? In competitive markets, telcos have tried to innovate with mobile operating systems, mobile payment mechanisms and mobile content distribution. Unfortunately in MENA, most seem to be content to just upgrade their networks to faster speeds using technology developed elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, telcos in the region have done much to increase access to information and allow people to connect, but they have in general failed miserably in making an impact that is proportional to the billions they have collectively made in profits over the years. Where are the Arabic operating systems? Where are the unified payment mechanisms to enable e-commerce? Where are the funds for launching mobile and online startups? So far, the combined score for telcos in MENA is, at best, a C-. Only they can change this for the better, if they ever decide to move beyond increasing short-term dividends to shareholders.
Every time I attend MIPTV or MIPCOM, I am enthused by the dynamic nature of our industry around the world. Every “constant” is changing at the same time: audience behaviour, business models, media consumption habits, viewing technology. This is a time of great disruption but great opportunity and is very exciting.
Then I return to the Middle East, and it feels like we are dinosaurs happily going about our daily grazing while oblivious of the approaching asteroid. We are still debating twentieth century concepts while the world has surged past us. We don’t have a real understanding of our audience due to a lack of the most basic measurement tools. Our business model is broken and means no media company would exist today if it hadn’t been supported by a government or a wealthy individual. We have a huge mobile base, yet all we seem to do with it is generate tons of profits for telcos from good old voice and sms sending. Satellites are a boon to cheap distribution but at the same time dilute the boundaries of individual cultures and oversimplify content development. Producers are too busy sticking to the tried and tested 30 episode Ramadan cash cow. The web and mobile are still seen as “novelties” while other markets have placed them at the heart of their business strategies. We are losing the connection to the vast majority of our young population as their attention fragments either to politics (where else do news channels feature so prominently in the viewer psyche?), corners of the web or chatting to break away from their daily monotony. There is innovation, but in pockets not proportional in size to the population numbers and unsupported by a healthy eco-system of financial backers or business support systems.
How to change this before it is too late?