The third annual ArabNet Digital Summit took place over the last two days at Dubai’s Atlantis on The Palm. The conference was focused around three key themes: innovation, investment and smart government, according to founder and CEO of ArabNet, Omar Christidis’ opening remarks. Highlighting the leaps in innovation witnessed in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region over the past five years, Christidis set the stage for the conference.
“We are thrilled to be back in this dynamic and entrepreneurial city to further conversations around the importance of digital technologies and their impact on local and regional economies. Dubai is the perfect destination for such an event as it is rapidly becoming a global innovation hub and a world-class smart city, not only in infrastructure and governmental services, but also in efficiency, economic opportunity and the free flow of people and ideas,” says Christidis.
Industry personalities collaborated in panels, talks, pitches and more, shedding light on the region’s digital landscape. The topics covered at the conference touched across the spectrum of the ad world from native to programmatic advertising and many themes in between. During his talk on “What is Native Advertising and why does it matter?” George Head, sales director at Polar, jumps in, highlighting that “good native advertising is not something that disrupts the user and it must earn their attention”. Head discusses publishers who have leapt into the medium, like Slate, which, he explains, publishes 100 million native ads per month. He concludes with one simple message on native, and that is “it’s mostly about creating synergy between brand and publisher, and therefore a quality experience for the user which will then be amplified for the brand.”
Programmatic, like the majority of regional industry events, is a hot topic at ArabNet, and it seems that few talks or panels can get through without some mention of this buzzing concept. Daniel Young, programmatic director at Choueiri Group’s digital arm, DMS, gives a talk on “Evolving the Programmatic Future,” illustrating that speed is paramount to getting it right.” Young touches on the importance of attribution in the game of creating a successful programmatic strategy and concludes reminding the audience of an Einstein quote: “Creativity is contagious, let’s pass it on.” Day two hosts a panel on “Programmatic Advertising” headed by Boye Balogun, managing director and co-founder at Future Tech media, whose participants include Waseem Afzal, head of digital at OMD UAE, Siddhi Dharvale, director of AMNET and digital buying at Dentsu Aegis Network, and Dana Adhami, head of digital and mobile at Mindshare MENA. Dharvale says that going forward it is up to “agencies to help debunk the myth that programmatic is about cheap clicks”. Balogun eventually raises an important question: Is programmatic stifling creativity? To which the panelists agree that it takes a bit of creativity, albeit a different type than traditional advertising creative, to really break out the concept of programmatic and to implement it properly for specific audiences and brands.
Commenting on the success of the conference and future of digital in MENA, Omar Christidis, wraps up saying, “The Middle East needs to create 75 million jobs by 2020 according to the World Economic Forum. To keep up with the growth of the youth population, governments and private sector are investing in entrepreneurship as a critical driver of job creation. At the same major corporates, both global and local, across industries are heavily investing in digital technologies to improve consumers’ lives. As a result, we believe digital innovation will be a key driver of regional economic growth.”
Digital is a landscape that is shifting rapidly, a sentiment that is specifically true the the MENA region. Brands, here, are scrambling to speak to their audience on the devices that they use, specifically because mobile penetration in the region is higher than any other market in the world. Additionally, regional consumers are ready to adopt an e-commerce and m-commerce lifestyle that they are waiting for brands to deliver. 2015’s ArabNet Digital Summit helps to further the digital conversation and bring to light the main strengths as well as weaknesses of the global industry.