Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

The excitement of constant change

Syed Amir Haleem gives his digital predictions for 2018.

This month marks the anniversary of my decision to move from traditional marketing to digital (although the actual move took place almost three years later).

I remember it distinctively. I had just finished eating a slice of Sachertorte at the Café Sacher in Vienna. There was a snowstorm outside and the city was blanketed in white. Sipping a cup of hot coffee with a friend, we were discussing the differences between traditional advertising and digital. The most striking thing we observed was the pace with which digital has evolved.

Traditional marketing rarely saw change. Most of it, we felt, was a superficial repackaging of old concepts sold as new tools. This was not the case with digital. By the time a new concept, tool or platform emerged and one learnt to adapt to it, it was replaced by something else entirely. Traditional advertising lived in the past and the present; digital seemed to live almost entirely in the future. This idea fascinated me.

Six years on, and I still feel working in digital means living in the future and evolving rapidly to keep pace with the digital changes. However, in this industry, the present is a synonym for the past, which is exactly where a good chunk of digital agencies are residing, as we wind down 2017.

Barring a handful of exceptions, digital marketers (clients and agencies) have not even sorted the concept of digital currency. For them, digital means Facebook likes. I recently had a discussion with the marketing head of a well-known oil company. He went over my proposal; he said he liked my strategy. However, all he wanted was 10,000 more ‘likes’ on each of his posts – and ideally organically. I asked him what good this would do to his bottom-line. He kept quiet for a while and then asked again whether I could get him 10,000 likes on each post. I said he didn’t need an agency to do this. If he had a credit card, Facebook would give him a good chunk of likes for every dollar he spent.


There was a time when videos were rare on social media and people tended to click on most of them. Today, with so much video, people scroll past them. They click on the one that catches their attention in the first three to five seconds on silent mode. Have you noticed that Facebook runs a small silent loop for your video? This is what I call the bait,


Although it is heartening to see so many clients take to digital this year, both clients and agencies are using the medium superficially; a means to check the boxes on their annual marketing plan rather than trying to figure out how to use the medium to some benefit.

Brands persist on putting their ad campaigns on digital. They treat digital like traditional media; they design a campaign and post it. Digital cannot run on this model. It is not a start-stop place for communication. The entire year is a long progressive conversation between brands and their consumers. The execution is non-stop.

Setting the stage for 2018, here are my predictions.

1 The rise of the community manager

So far, the role of the community manager has been to press the ‘like’ button on consumer engagement and reply to comments with stock answers. The year 2018 will see clients demanding more from their agencies, and community managers with excellent communication skills who are able to create new dialogues with consumers, engaging them in a comment chain, will be in demand. The challenge for clients will be to empower these community managers to make on-the-spot decisions in creating dialogue. Community managers will become the face of the brands.

2 Live content will improve

Live content has to evolve into something that adds value to the consumer experience. Some of the live content is so boring, monotonous and repetitive that I switch it off 30 seconds into the conversation. However, this will improve as live content generators acquire experience and learn to create videos that people want to watch.

3 The silent video bait

There was a time when videos were rare on social media and people tended to click on most of them. Today, with so much video, people scroll past them. They click on the one that catches their attention in the first three to five seconds on silent mode. Have you noticed that Facebook runs a small silent loop for your video? This is what I call the bait, and it is the only opportunity you have to generate immediate interest for your audience to click and watch it in full. The year 2018 will see people figuring out how to capitalise on this.


The days of the shotgun approach are dying. In my opinion, they have been dead for a long time, but our market tends to evolve at its own pace. In 2018, marketers will figure out how to personalise ad experiences. Cookie-cutter campaigns will become obsolete as their ROI is ridiculous.


4 Rise of user-generated content

Recently, I saw a digital video series that was developed by a food brand. It had a huge number of likes, but only three comments. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that all the likes were paid for. It was a grand production with beautiful photography and epic drone shots. Unfortunately, it means nothing. In contrast, there was a team of two young kids who went around reviewing the best bun-kebabs available in town. They had 500-plus organic shares, an absurd amount of comments and overall, great engagement. There is a learning here for the savvy marketer; get people to create content for people. The days when brands created content in brand-talk style are dying fast.

5 SEO becomes more challenging

I am not saying this because Google and other SEO algorithms are making it more difficult to rank. The fact is that SEO practitioners have been getting away with creating below par content in order to create links and improve rankings. With engagement becoming more difficult to acquire, the quality of content will have to improve. SEO experts will have to work hand-in-hand with good content creators to manage their rankings. Soon, the probability of scoring with a search engine will depend solely on the quality of the content.

6 Personalised ad experiences

The days of the shotgun approach are dying. In my opinion, they have been dead for a long time, but our market tends to evolve at its own pace. In 2018, marketers will figure out how to personalise ad experiences. Cookie-cutter campaigns will become obsolete as their ROI is ridiculous.

7 Brands break away from the campaign mindset

As mentioned earlier, brands still think of all communication from a campaign point of view. In 2018, some key brands in the industry will start to view digital as an ongoing dialogue. This means that the content will have to be independent of the advertising campaigns and made specifically to generate continuous engagement.

To summarise, digital is a rapidly evolving space. I went into this field because of the excitement it brings and to get away from the monotony of traditional communication channels. I am happy to report that 2017 was an exciting year and 2018 will be even more so.

I would love to hear your predictions for 2018. Get in touch with me if you have a crystal ball in front of you.

Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, KueBall Digital.
syedamirhaleem@kueball.com