Charbel Jreijri, general manager at Mediaplus Middle East, evaluates how brands can effectively leverage the emerging trend of gaming as a marketing channel.

From the first ad ever recorded to modern day advertising, the common denominator has always been the same. Marketers across all industries have the same objective: reach their customers and grab their attention across any touchpoint possible. In the last decade, we have seen the rise and fall of many such touchpoints or media channels, from newspapers to the metaverse and everything in between, the opportunities and risks are infinite. Identifying which touchpoints should be part of your mix and which ones to avoid can lead to the success or failure of both brands and marketers alike.

There are many examples of brands that caught on early to the potential success of social media, eventually becoming successful through this digital avenue. On the other hand, there are brands that took a little too long to accept this digital transformation and are now struggling to retain their market share. However, not everything with hype around its novelty will be a success. We have witnessed a few examples of different platforms’ rise to fame, only to fail miserably. Is this the case with gaming?

Gaming is now the new trending topic; however, it is not a new touchpoint. The history of gaming dates back to the 1970s with the Atari console. From then on, innovation in technology meant a constant flow of new hardware and games that increased the gaming market globally.

Let us first try and understand the reasons behind this hype: the numbers. There are over 3 billion gamers around the world, and this number is only growing. In our region, we see a similar trend with the average time spent on game consoles increasing by 25 per cent in the last 3 years to more than 1 hour and 40 minutes per day. And this is across the total population, not just hardcore gamers. In addition, 34 per cent state that gaming is the reason they use the internet.

Clearly gaming is here to stay, and it is home to a sizable audience that possesses a high disposable income. This makes marketers eager to jump on any opportunity to target gamers. However, as keen as we are to chase after this highly sought-after demographic, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are many opportunities for brands to establish themselves in the gaming universe – from in-game advertising, influencers, and tournaments, the options are limitless. This is where understanding both brand and audience plays an important role in identifying the right solution.

Azhar Siddiqui, Managing Partner at Mediaplus Middle East, assesses how the model of bid-based media buying is shaping the media agency landscape, focusing on the rapid changes in the media business.

I started my career in media planning in 1998 with OMD which, back then, was still called the media department of BBDO. In those days, media planning was mainly centred around satellite TV. We media planners were obsessed with how to distribute budgets between the top TV channels. Agencies were chosen based on how cost-effectively they could buy the maximum spots or GRPs across the top 10 TV stations. Hence the term media-buying agency came into existence.

This is where large agency volume made a difference. Big agencies were able to negotiate discounts based on how much of the brand budgets they would be committing or spending on these channels. The higher the budget a media agency managed, the greater the discounts the media would give them. This would always spiral as bigger agencies would get the best discounts, which attracted more brands to them and increased their volumes, which increased their discounts and attracted more brands and so on and so on… This is why, for years, the same handful of media agencies dominated the landscape.

Fast forward 20+ years later, we have a very different scenario. More than 60% of brand budgets are now spent on bid-based media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Snapchat, TikTok etc. – there is no friend to call or clout to leverage and negotiate discounts irrespective of the volume or budget an agency is willing to spend. The algorithms automatically price the inventory (audience attention) based on supply and demand. Agencies have to work carefully on understanding these algorithms to be able to bid accurately and get the best rates for their brands. Bid higher and it results in wastage, bid lower and you end up not getting the media because you get outbid. Agencies are still buying media, but there is no negotiation happening. Agency volume, or clout as it was called, has become irrelevant – and so has the media buying model. 

Enter the independents. The new bid-based media buying model has finally opened doors for independent media agencies who struggled to survive between the networks 10 years ago. Today, the bid on Meta is the same whether your budget is 100 USD or 1M USD.  What makes a difference now is the tact of the agency. The ability to understand the plethora of data that platforms provide and navigate through it to 1. find your audience, 2. bid for that audience at an accurate price and 3. take that audience through the digital journey to achieve the brand’s end goals. 

This isn’t to say the independents are better or worse at this, but the fact is that the DNA of independent media agencies is digital, because that’s the only media that’s given them a fair shot at playing the game. And that is something to think about.  

Programmatic advertising (PA) is a multi-faceted term. Many market players use it as a buzzword, a label for the hype that has at times raised very high expectations among lots of market players, especially advertising customers. Others frequently use PA as a synonym for automation projects that are several years overdue, especially in so-called classic media, but in which nothing is “programmatic”. At mediascale, we generally define programmatic advertising as data-driven media-buying and as a process we are only just beginning.

Therefore, the disappointment that may have occurred with one or other advertisers is not a fundamental issue for programmatic advertising. Rather, it should be an incentive to take programmatic to the next level: on the one hand, by rethinking the set-up of service providers and technology; on the other, individual expectations should be reasonably calibrated.

In recent years, it has mainly been venture capital-financed players, who wanted to be part of the media value chain, who have fuelled the programmatic hype starting from their own interests, which has led to high expectations. And of course they have claimed “their” part of the supply chain. But those who worked more intensively with the market knew that the quantity and quality of the available profile data for programmatic campaigns is limited. However, only good data can increase the efficiency of campaigns significantly enough so that the additional costs for the additional members of the value chain are reintegrated. A possible disappointment was thus an announcement or based on unrealistic expectations.

In many conversations with our customers, we have realistically presented both the possibilities as well as the limits of data-driven advertising in order to rule out exaggerated expectations of PA from the outset. In doing so, the following assumptions were made, which our customers, sometimes against their initial will, have been getting along well with so far:

  • Programmatic advertising is not a new channel with completely different rules to traditional display business. Also when auctioned and backed by data, a content ad remains a content ad and will not develop the advertising impact of an instream pre-roll large format
  • Meaningful, validated data is the indispensable basis for programmatic advertising. Here it is important to look carefully and carry out comprehensive auditing of the available data offers. At first glance, the data market in DMPs seems expansive. But data segments that deliver what they promise (delivering a corresponding uplift to campaigns) are by no means abundant. And they have their price.
  • An impression that cannot be assigned to valuable data should not be bought programmatically. As meaningful as it is to uniformly track all advertising contacts and accumulate all campaigns and pseudonymous profile data in one system, it makes little sense to put untargeted campaign volume into systems just to have bought it “programmatically”. This results in costs and technical performance losses that are not offset by financial added value.
  • The open market, open to all, originally proclaimed by many to be programmatic’s central promise of salvation, has created more problems than it solves, as it has also opened up the market to a plethora of dubious players. The efforts of the large, open sell-side platforms to push the black sheep out are commendable, but unfortunately not always successful. That is why we only buy inventories that we can thoroughly test, both technically and commercially. Furthermore, whenever possible, we buy from partners (often in private marketplaces) that we know and have established business relationships with – including any sanction options which may be necessary in the interest of the customer in an emergency.
  • And we’re not forgetting the creation: What use is the most sophisticated planning on a profile basis, if only one means of advertising is available? That’s why data driven creativity is, in our view, the indispensable fourth pillar of programmatic advertising – alongside technology, media space and data.

Today, programmatic has already caused major changes in the digital media business. But we are sure that this transformation process is far from finished yet. And it will encompass more and more media types in the future: TV, out-of-home, audio, cinema and eventually also print. In five years at the latest, we will be able to plan, book and control more and more channels via programmatic. In addition, people’s media use is evolving, new, relevant platforms are being created at ever-increasing speed, and data protection requirements also require fundamental and sometimes new solutions. All these challenges keep us busy and agile. Staying at the current level of development is not a solution. Particularly as we are just scratching the surface with programmatic.

This article was first published in adzine.