Elda Choucair, CEO, PHD MENA

How have ad agencies fared in 2018? What were the biggest areas of growth?

“Digital is rising rapidly, even at the expense of TV, but particularly print,” said Elda Choucair. “As budgets are under pressure and market conditions are soft, clients are prioritizing short-term results and investing more and more in data and technology, programmatic, content and influencer marketing. In turn, we’re seeing growth in our more data-driven and content-driven marketing services, as well as our technology and transformation consulting services. Following our network expansion into the Levant, we’ve seen good results from both Lebanon and Egypt.”

What are your predictions for 2019? In which direction do we see the industry moving? (Technology, Mobile, Web, Print, TV, Outdoor, etc.)

“In 2019, we will see a continuation of most of the trends we’ve experienced lately,” said Choucair. “These include a focus on the lower end of the purchase funnel and sales, on performance marketing, on data and analytics, micro-targeting and tailored content at scale. Programmatic advertising will spread further and deeper into various media, including OOH, and into premium formats and inventory.

“The digitization of marketing will see Google and Facebook claim an ever-higher share of total investments in MENA, reaching a third. Other media will see their share of the total decline further. Mobile marketing will keep on growing. Let’s not forget that 5G is around the corner and many telecoms in the region are already testing the technology. What’s really driving all this is a move from mass-marketing to individual marketing at scale and we will see progress into addressable TV, with the rise of IPTV homes in the region.”

What is the ‘next big thing’ in the advertising industry?

Choucair shared, “The biggest change will actually be invisible. It is all about marketers creating a new infrastructure, choosing the right technology stack and putting it in the hands of the right talent to create meaningful experiences and outcomes out of data and analytics. New roles are surfacing and so are more agile structures and processes, at the client, agency and media end of the spectrum.”

Everyone has been talking about the duopoly between Facebook and Google and that they’ve won the ad tech power game. What are your thoughts on that?

“Ad tech is certainly taking prominence in our landscape and there is a rapidly growing number of players in this space, promising brands a higher level of relevance and performance,” Choucair told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Obviously, Google and Facebook dominate the digital landscape and as such are the default setting for countless advertisers. The rapid growth in digital advertising has presented several challenges for advertisers, such as viewability, fraud, measurability, brand safety and data security. We’ve addressed these through technology and, in some cases, regulations like GDPR. Facebook and Instagram have addressed concerns with the measurability of their audience numbers through the compliance with an independent audit of their internal data collection process by the Media Ratings Council (MRC), for example.”

What do you predict for the ad business within the next 5 to 10 years?

“There are several angles to consider,” said Choucair. “Technological developments will lead us to more personalized communications, enriched through augmented reality and responding to more instantaneous physical or behavioral stimuli detected by sensors and devices. Brands will need to evolve further in such a context and rise above their mere functional dimension to reach and stay in people’s consciousness.”

She continued, “Our role as marketing agencies will be to engineer the environment in which these brands will evolve and thrive, creating engaging and effective experiences, be they physical or virtual. We’re rapidly expanding beyond media planning and buying, but what remains is our consultative, advisory and executional role for our clients and our mission to grow their business. As automation will take care of the more mundane aspects of our work, we will be able to operate at a higher, broader and even more strategic level with our clients. We may be experiencing disruption and facing our own business transformation, but we’ve always been an agile and resilient industry, so it will be a part if not a contributor to the change and we will not be sidelined by it.”

Do you think mixed reality will make a big impact in the ad sector in the coming years?

“Mixed reality is in its nascent age, it’s not a mature technology yet.” Chourcair added, “However, it is certainly going to happen and will impact the entertainment, retail and gaming industries before it hits the marketing world. Interruptive advertising approaches will be replaced by more relevant, convenient and useful brand experiences, tailored to the individual, the context and the moment. More than a gimmick, mixed reality must add value to people’s lives if it is to succeed.”

Read all of the trends on Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East.