2017 will be a year that will see the advertising and media industry start to redefine itself in Pakistan. It is a big statement to make, but the changes on the horizon are all pointing to that fundamental shift that many evolved markets have seen and been through.
Let us first understand what this fundamental shift is.
In the simplest form, I would define it as the impact of technology and digital platforms on consumer behaviour that renders some of the traditional media channels and advertising methods less effective.
This happens over time, and one must note that this shift does not mean that the print media will suddenly die or that TV will lose its significance overnight because of the internet or the omnipresent smartphones. However, regardless of the speed of this shift, penetration of digital platforms and the availability of paid digital media channels WILL eventually eat into advertising revenues of print, TV and other traditional forms of advertising.
In Pakistan, one observes many signs that point to this shift. There are roughly 35 million internet users in the country, growing at a rate of 50% to 60% annually. This penetration level is one of the lowest in the world; however in absolute terms, the Pakistani internet population exceeds the population of some European countries. This is significant. With mobile internet and fibre optics fixed-lines on the rise, this number will double in the next two years.
With the growing number of internet users comes the supply of digital channels and publishing platforms. There is a tremendous amount of ‘online only’ content available in the form of videos or the written word. For many people in Pakistan, ‘small screen’ is the only method of information and entertainment available to them.
This growing ecosystem is beginning to attract international investment. Already, Google’s and Facebook’s commitment to invest in Pakistan has seen a significant rise recently. Furthermore, there are legitimate ecommerce start-ups in Pakistan that will soon grow enough to attract the attention of big players such as Amazon as acquisition targets.
Pakistan’s ad industry is also one of the fastest growing in the world. At an estimated size of $650 million, it will likely grow by 10% in 2017. Currently, the share of digital advertising is two to three percent, sized up to $20 million (at best). This number will more than double to $50 million in 2017.
So what will 2017 look like on the ground? I can give you an outsider’s view of that change, having experienced it first hand in several markets.
Here are some trends and industry events that might just be impossible to avoid in the next 12 to 18 months:
1. There will be new digital creative agencies everywhere, not all of them will fulfil the promise
Starting a ‘digital agency’ will be the new fad in the industry. Almost everyone will be doing this, but not all of them will do it right. It is like the mushrooming of TV channels in the late 90s. “I own a TV channel” became a fashion statement. Brace yourself for digital to become that fad now.
The challenge for these agencies will be to simplify ‘digital’ and articulate its business benefits to the client. This will be crucial for their survival. The use of jargon and complicated ways of selling a simple digital ad unit will not help.
Some of the fresh, independent agencies might turn out to be better at digital than the big established houses. These small agencies will not have the legacy of a glorious past, and will, therefore, be more nimble and agile in responding to the changing industry, in order to stay competitive. The biggest challenge facing big established advertising agencies will be to bring in the right talent and structures to be able to embrace this change in a timely manner. The process might be slow for some of them.
“Pakistan’s ad industry is also one of the fastest growing in the world. At an estimated size of $650 million, it will likely grow by 10% in 2017. Currently, the share of digital advertising is two to three percent, sized up to $20 million (at best). This number will more than double to $50 million in 2017.
2. The battle for digital talent will be fierce
With the rise in digital revenues comes the demand for digital skill sets. The supply of these will be scarce. Acquiring and developing digital talent remains one of the biggest challenges in our industry across most parts of the world. It will be important to understand those skill sets and define what you need and do not need as a company. For instance, you do not want to hire a ‘digital expert’ and then find out that the person only knows how to manage a website and has no clue as to how YouTube advertising works.
If you are a digitally skilled advertising professional, be prepared for offers of 300% increase in salary to come your way. However, if you want to manage your career, then do not be too tempted to accept those offers. You should cash in on your skill set but not on your career next year. Make 2017 the year that defined who you are going to be in 2020, and not what you ended up as in 2017.
If you are a digital agency looking to hire talent, make developing people and skills as important as hiring digital talent. Invest in training, development and long term career paths.
3. The print media will increase its offensive on digital
This is already happening. Jang Group’s partnership with Google’s DoubleClick, and The Express Tribune’s and DAWN’s focus on creating digital and mobile friendly content (subtitled videos, images with superimposed headlines for social media) are only a start. You will see these publishing houses launch more advanced versions of mobile initiatives, i.e. better apps, better mobile sites and greater capability to embed mobile forms of advertising. You might even see some of them launch new online-only publishing platforms – a la BuzzFeed. They will also go into various content verticals like food, beauty and lifestyle in a more organised manner.
4. A raft of new online celebrities and influencers will emerge
We all know that internet has this amazing ability to make a #chaiwala famous in a matter of days. We will see a lot more of this in 2017. There will be individual and independent content creators who will make a money-minting career out of this. The penetration of digital platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat gives these content creators reach. With reach comes influence. Influence is what brands want and are willing to pay for.
There are already a few great examples of this in Pakistan. Blogs/feeds like @Siddysays have amassed great levels of followership and have already surpassed ‘big’ publications like Mag/She/Women’s Own. Such users are not just blogs or feeds anymore but legitimate content platforms that are setting the online publishing norms for the future.
"If you are a digitally skilled advertising professional, be prepared for offers of 300% increase in salary to come your way. However, if you want to manage your career, then do not be too tempted to accept those offers. You should cash in on your skill set but not on your career next year."
5. Everyone will talk about ‘data’; few will use it in 2017
Digital belches out data from every corner and every step of the way. There will be a lot of talk in the industry about how digital data redefines everything we do. However, the uptake of that data in decision-making will be a slow process.
Businesses that have a stake in online sales will generally be the quickest to make use of this data – so, ecommerce, insurance, travel, etc., will be the first adopters of such data. Brands that use online advertising for awareness generation will be slow to use digital data in depth.
A piece of advice for those of you who want an edge in this area: craft a metric that you can use in your campaign planning, and then make sure you use it. For example, is it the click through rate you should measure or the engagement rate? Are you after the number of impressions or the reach? Otherwise, all the discussions on any digital data will confuse everyone around you.
6. Online and mobile viewing of Pakistani dramas will increase dramatically
Audiences will like the fact that they have the freedom to watch TV content when they want and how they want to watch it – on mobiles, on laptops etc. Naturally, online viewing of drama content on platforms like YouTube and Dailymotion will increase. In fact, we will see the rise of some ‘Full Episode Players’ – some owned by big media conglomerates and some independent ones.
Will Pakistan see its ‘House of Cards’ moment next year – a drama that is for online release only, makes all episodes available in one go, and never goes on broadcast? Perhaps not. However, there will be heaps of online only short form content produced by big and small producers. This content will also attract a fair sum of advertising and content integration dollars.
7. You will plan for a dramatically different 2018
Whilst 2017 will see what it will see from the changes perspective, 2018 will not be a linear progress from 2017. In fact, we might see progress on certain fronts in advertising and consumer technology leapfrog in Pakistan. This is the advantage you will have of having a good solid user base, and then investment and resources coming into the industry. Pakistan still has to go through that basic learning curve for it to leapfrog. The good news is that everything seems to be in order for it to happen.
I am sure I will be observing all this and more, sitting not too far from Pakistan; that too with envy, as I will not get to be a first-hand part of it. This is a great time for a marketing or media professional. Such opportunities, to manifest and benefit from change, on this scale, present themselves only once in a lifetime. Very exciting times ahead!
Asad-ur-Rehman is Director Media, North Africa & Middle East for Unilever based out of Dubai.