In an interview with MarTech Vibe, Nader Bitar of MMP Worldwide breaks the myths about programmatic advertising, the opportunities that come with MaDTech (blend of MarTech and AdTech), the growing need for data-driven strategies and his 2020 predictions for the region.

What has been the most common misconception with regards to what defines programmatic advertising or what purpose it serves?

I think people still perceive programmatic as this black box of secrets or something that is more complex than it actually is. We seem to attach importance to this technology, labelling it as ‘difficult’ when, in reality, it can be the gateway to greater proficiencies and profit if utilised correctly. Let’s break it down in simple terms. Essentially, programmatic is a transparent mode of buying. For brands, it makes things easier and more targeted, and for publishers, they can understand the value of their publications and take action to further improve their inventory in real-time. Misinformation starts to creep in when our environment evolves faster than we’re able to keep up with, which is why we need to take things back to basics. For most, that starts with understanding the very nature of ad-tech and the value behind what programmatic can offer. It’s no longer about simply driving traffic any more. Programmatic provides the means in which to attract and delight both advertisers and the end-user alike. It powers the creative forces to think outside of the box to produce custom and innovative high impact formats, which encourages interaction beyond just simple viewability metrics. In short, effectiveness today is measured in engagement, which means we need to shift our thinking from automation alone and look at the big picture that programmatic advertising can afford us.

Programmatic Advertising has usually been slotted as a format used mostly for the publication sector. What would you say to break this myth?

Programmatic Advertising isn’t a format; it’s a mode of buying. We’re coming up against misconceptions like this all the time, which is why we need to place education higher up the agenda in helping everyone understand the fundamentals. As I’ve said before, it isn’t difficult, but as budgets tighten and businesses become more cautious, we need to be able to show the value and ROI that programmatic can deliver. Ultimately, it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ but an essential component in helping companies succeed digitally today.

In the battle between data collection and data privacy, what do marketers need to do to continue to thrive?

OK, let’s start by looking at the type of data that is collected. We’re not talking about personal data here, but about informative data and preferences that can help advertisers target their users more effectively. The problem with ‘data’ generally is that it’s too broad and used as a blanket term for everything, which as we’ve seen from past scandals, doesn’t exactly help when you’re trying to show the true value of personalised ads for the consumer. It’s an ongoing battle, but as more regulation (GDPR, CCPA) comes into effect, we’ll start to see the balance of power tip in favour of user privacy first and foremost, with the rest of the ecosystem learning how to navigate this new framework for interacting online. We’re not going to see the end of advertising, but rather a continued evolution. I think as a result there will be more ad-tech, mar-tech or ‘MAdTech’ solutions being used as a tool to fuel effectiveness overall, as they work together to automate the entire data collection process that will then match, target, and segment data more efficiently by blending CRM data with DMPs. The upshot is this will offer a richer and more holistic data offering for marketers; an extremely valuable commodity when you consider how competitive the landscape is right now.

Give us an insight into a recent breakthrough campaign that you have been proud of.

We worked with a renowned bank based in Abu Dhabi recently, where they wanted us to create a campaign that would target high net individuals to promote a new service. The parameters were based upon salary income, so we began building audience segments using contextual targeting and adding data points into the campaign (interests, hobbies, reading habits, etc.) in order to target them. We then wanted to test how effective this data was so we removed it a few weeks into the campaign, adding it back in once we saw the dip in performance and knew it was working. We then created ‘local likes’ to the audience, which helped the campaign go on to be very successful, converting 50 key leads to invest. What’s great is that we initially started with just one campaign, and we now work with this client on a regular basis, helping them to deliver effective campaigns with a solid data foundation.

In your experience, what are the common challenges that CMOs are battling in the region?

We’re living in an increasingly borderless world, which means we need talent to work across multiple disciplines at any given time. We need the rulebreakers and the mavericks who push the limits of what’s possible, who look to identify and shape trends ahead of others, and most of all, have a hunger to succeed. But, and it’s a big but; this talent isn’t so readily available right now, and it’s a problem we keep coming up against, not just regionally, but on a global scale too. Top talent is attracted to an environment that gives them the opportunity to thrive, where they are encouraged to speak up and make an impact. Experience and attitude now trump skills and accomplishments. It’s not so much what you know, but what you think that matters and this will only get more important as technology continues to advance around us. Within this, CMOs need to lead from the front in adopting a digital-first mindset, empowering their employees to keep evolving with the times, understanding the technology available, and how best to utilise it. All of this is conducive to the environment as well – you may be willing to change, but your surroundings need to adapt in tandem; otherwise, progress will be far too slow.

MarTech and AdTech are constantly evolving; some would even say the lines between the two are blurring. What are some of the top technology applications that you are excited about?

I think this blend of ‘MaDTech’ is exciting because it’s still in its infancy and we still have a lot we can learn. As customizable solutions become more of the norm across both the advertising and marketing sectors, we’ll continue to see mar-tech and ad-tech collide. As a result, we’ll see more ‘MaDTech’ offerings crop up to answer this growing need for data-driven strategies. We’ll also see a bigger shift to understanding the importance of DMPs in driving better campaign performance and more measurement tools that will favour publishers in the coming years. On a broader level, I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that not every technology will work for every party. You can’t unify the technology for all, but instead, we should look to build our own tech stack that makes sense for each business and their purpose.

What are your top 3 predictions for the MENA region in 2020?

  1. The ‘death of the cookie’ or the ‘cookiepocolypse’: Google recently joined Apple and Mozilla in blocking support for third-party cookies, however, unlike their counterparts, this won’t come into effect until 2022. In the meantime, we should start to see a shift away from the doom and gloom we have become accustomed to and instead focus on a more practical solution. New privacy regulations, cookie blockers and changes to how browsers operate show how the ecosystem is changing – users want greater control, and the big guys are responding. Yet, this also presents an opportunity for publishers – now is the time to take steps to actively own their data. Everything that has been collected directly from their audiences in the past now needs to be nurtured to understand behaviours for better segmentation and targeting. The key is finding partners (tech vendors, etc.) who can help consolidate and organise this (now extremely valuable) first-party data to help enable a greater level of autonomy.
  2. I, Human: The days of man vs machine are over; collaboration is now expected between both parties, with the former leading the way in how technology will be deployed for greater efficiencies. From both an ad-tech and mar-tech perspective, algorithms make us aware, but human insight fills in the blanks and is a crucial part to the overall success. Hiring the right talent that can consistently evolve along with this technology, with an agile skill set and an ability to adapt to changing business needs will be essential. I predict that after the pendulum has been stuck in favour of technology for so long, we’re now seeing it start to swing back in favour of humans, placing them at the centre for powering Programmatic 2.0 – the next iteration of growth.
  3. The Rise Of Enter-gagement: Welcome to the all-singing, all-dancing programmatic circus of fun, where engagement and entertainment intersect, greater emphasis is placed on data usage, and storytelling begins to mature through new and immersive formats. In short, this is the experience economy elevated to meet the increasingly high client, and by extension, user expectations. It’s no longer enough to provide an experience today, there now needs to be a level of entertainment attached as well in order to achieve the desired engagement outcome. Alongside this shift, we’ll see conversations around DMPs, and their use come to the forefront, with a focus on campaign objectives right from the start so that the right creative solutions can be deployed, using CPE as the best way to measure effectiveness overall. On the back of this, I believe we will see more experience platforms emerge and provide the key to sustained future growth.

About Nader Bitar

Nader is an expert negotiator turned programmatic superhero. With over ten years of advertising-focused experience and a passion for understanding the tech nuances of the industry, he has broken new ground in shaping the creative application of tech solutions. Nader currently serves as the Deputy General Manager at MMP World Wide, a position he earned given his natural ability to engage with clients and strong leadership skills.

His advocacy for publishers, agencies and brands to gain a stronger grasp on the ecosystems at play, and the tools available to ensure a more secure advertising space, is evident through his active thought leadership at events and in published articles. Today, he uses personal insights, fluency in data and enthusiasm to teach by helping partners in the media space navigate the complexities of programmatic.

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