A Jungle In The Desert

A Jungle In The Desert

Can Amazon shake up the digital ad industry in the Middle East like it has done in the US?

Originally featured in the March 10th 2019 issue of Campaign Middle East magazine

What comes to mind when you think of Amazon? Maybe the world’s biggest online retail platform – the ‘everything store’. Or perhaps it’s consumer products like the Alexa-enabled smart speaker and Kindle e-Reader, or an army of delivery drones and warehouse robots that are revolutionizing retail logistics. Or maybe even as one of the world’s biggest cloud hosting platforms. Truth is, Amazon is a lot of different things to a lot of different users. While its online marketplace might be what the company is best known for, Amazon makes money in a lot more ways than just taking a cut off products sold on its site.

One such way is its burgeoning digital ad business, a platform that is beginning to mount a serious challenge to the current duopoly of Google and Facebook. Amazon is gaining traction charging companies to promote their products on both the Amazon website and a growing display network across the web. Brands can pay to feature their products prominently in product searches, on individual product pages, and also as regular display ads for products for sale on Amazon itself and even on third-party sites.

In 2018, Amazon made $10 billion from its ad platform, a massive jump from $2.8 billion in 2017, making it the third-biggest player in the space, behind only Google and Facebook. To put it in perspective, Amazon’s $10 billion in ad revenue still considerably trails Facebook ($56 billion in 2018) and Google (a whopping $137 billion in 2018), although the fact that this vertical has grown so quickly over the last couple of years is a hugely impressive.

While these two Goliaths are far bigger currently, the advantage that Amazon has over them is that users actually shop on Amazon rather than just search the web as on Google, or browse social media as on Facebook. As such, their ads are seen in places where the user is in an active buying mindset. And while other platforms know what users are searching for or looking at, Amazon knows what they ultimately end up buying. Such information can be incredibly valuable to brands willing to pay for the right placement. Another trend that’s working in Amazon’s favour is that consumers are increasingly starting online product searches directly on Amazon instead of Google. This increased search traffic is attracting third-party sellers and the ad placements available give them a unique opportunity to usurp rivals at the point of sale, even when a customer searches directly for a competitor.

While Amazon’s ad platform is still less sophisticated than its rivals, it is constantly improving and recent months have seen a slew of new features that make the platform more robust and easier for advertisers to use. The company has been expanding a self-service option for ad agencies and brands to take advantage of its data on shoppers, which includes hundreds of automated audience segments, as well as targeting based on shopping behavior and customer demographics. To make it less confusing to brands, all advertising features have recently been folded under the Amazon Advertising umbrella, echoing a similar move by Google last year. Through its dominance in e-commerce in the US, Amazon has become integral to the advertising industry there. Brands are threatened by its power, but also know that they have to maintain a presence on the site or risk being marginalized, and one of the best ways to get seen now on Amazon is to buy ads.

Since acquiring for a rumoured $580 million in 2017, Amazon has been relatively hands-off, at least from a consumer perspective. All that looks set to change, however, as the company gets ready to shutter the site and rebrand as in the UAE, later doing the same in Saudi Arabia. The revamped site would look similar to Amazon’s other international websites, like Amazon UK or Amazon Germany, giving it a more unified appearance and brand in the region. The new platform will also be better-integrated with the same logistics and seller back-end system as the US, which will presumably include integration with the growing ad network too. The Middle East e-commerce sector is growing at a rapid pace with online sales expected to double to $48.8 billion by 2021 according to a report by Fitch Solutions Macro Research. With more people shopping online, and starting the product search directly on these large e-commerce channels too, brands will need to maintain their presence there if they want to be seen. Assuming that these capabilities will soon be available in the Middle East, this presents an opportunity for forward-thinking advertisers in the region who are willing to try something new.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Amazon, Campaign Magazine, Dubai, e-Commerce
5 Key Aspects Of A Localized Digital Marketing Strategy In The Middle East

5 Key Aspects Of A Localized Digital Marketing Strategy In The Middle East

A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur Middle East

It can be daunting as a mid-sized company when entering a new international market. Especially so when entering a region as diverse and fragmented as the Middle East. Although no matter where you go around the world, you can’t just copy and paste a strategy that has worked well elsewhere and expect it to succeed in a different market. With digital channels becoming more and more essential in today’s business landscape, here are some key aspects to consider for your digital strategy when entering a new region.


  1. A LOCAL WEBSITE – Understanding the competitive digital landscape

You’d be surprised how many companies come to the Middle East and don’t create a region-specific website. Nothing will frustrate your customers more than if they can’t find simple information about you when they search online like basic product details, your location and contact information, opening hours etc. According to a recent Gartner report, only 15% of businesses in the region have an online presence. This is some very low hanging fruit, so make creating a local mobile-responsive website your first port of call when entering a new market. Don’t forget to include an Arabic language option for the content on your site too.


  1. LOCAL KEYWORD OPTIMIZATION – Understanding local online search behaviour

Speaking of customers searching for you online, it’s important to realize how people’s search behaviour differs around the world, and that it is essential to treat each market separately when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Conducting simple localized keyword searches around topics related to your product is a must, as well as doing so for the Arabic language also as the most highly-searched keywords can differ across languages. Don’t forget to include the local country in the meta tags of each of the web pages in the process, and make sure to create business listing pages on Google for your head office and retail locations. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find out about you online.


  1. SOCIAL MEDIA – Understanding the social media ecosystem

With almost 50% of the people living in the Middle East region being under the age of 30, it’s no surprise that social media is incredibly popular here as a form of expression and communication. In such a diverse region, visual channels such as Instagram and Snapchat have become especially popular in recent years as a way of propagating a common visual language. Similarly with video content. YouTube is the most used social platform for video consumption in the region and Saudi Arabia, with a staggering 90+ million active daily video views, has even surpassed the USA to become the #1 consumer of content on this platform.

The Middle East as a region is built on respect for people and culture. Whilst most markets in the region have been adopting a more relaxed approach to social content, countries like Saudi Arabia have far stricter rules regarding the type of messages and imagery that can be leveraged. Despite, or maybe because of that fact, User-Generated Content (UGC) is an extremely popular form of content that brands here try to encourage. The Middle East also has its own community of super-influencers who use Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube to collaborate with brands and communicate a more relatable, yet personal story. This could be a relevant approach to consider when entering a market in the region.


  1. eCOMMERCE – Understanding how your consumers shop online

While some regions around the world embraced online shopping more than 20 years ago, the Middle East has been somewhat slower to join in. Up until recently, most purchases made online would be paid for in cash on delivery as many customers remained skeptical of shopping online. This has changed over the last 5 years or so, with more and more businesses accepting online payments and customers finally feeling comfortable with handing over their credit card information to companies online.

Amazon’s acquisition of Dubai-based in 2017 was a boon for the region and signals a validation of the concept of eCommerce here in general. According to the Midddle East-based online payment platform PayFort, the e-commerce market here is set to double to more than $69bn by 2020 with the UAE accounting for $27 billion of that and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia $22 billion, making them by far the two largest eCommerce markets in the Middle East. Food for thought when considering whether or not to facilitate online payments on your local website.


  1. TECH ADOPTION – Understanding your market’s technological fluency

In case all of the above didn’t convince you of the importance of a localized digital strategy in the Middle East, maybe these statistics will. Even though many people around the world might consider the Middle East to be somewhat of a traditional region, the population here is surprisingly tech-savvy.

For a starters, Middle Easterners are a very well-connected bunch with more mobile connections here than there are people (128%), higher than in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Africa. Smartphone penetration is exceptionally high here also, with the UAE having the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world at 80.6% according to Newzoo’s 2017 Global Mobile Market Report. Saudi Arabia is not far behind at 65.2%.

When it comes to internet penetration, UAE (99%), Qatar (99%) and Kuwait (98%) are the three highest ranked countries in the world according to the 2018 Hootsuite & We Are Social Global Digital Report. Mobile internet usage in particular is very high here too, with Saudi Arabia (64%) and UAE (61%) in the top 12 countries globally when it comes to using a smartphone as opposed to a computer to access the internet (StatCounter).


Take the next step

While it might seem like a lot to take in, you should consider digital channels as an opportunity rather than a challenge to overcome when entering a new market like the Middle East. Understanding the region and how the people here use digital technology in their day-to-day lives can help you build up a loyal customer base and create a solid foundation for future success. Utilizing a local expert who knows the region can give you a head start so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you want to take the next step!

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Dubai, Social Media, Tech, Web Design

Netflix In The UAE: The Verdict

This article was originally written for Lovin Dubai. Click here to read the full article.

So, as many of you might already know, Netflix finally became available seemingly without warning in the UAE last week. It’s been a long time coming, but at the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last Wednesday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced that the streaming service was rolling out simultaneously in more than 130 countries around the world and the UAE is thankfully one of those countries.

While many expats in the UAE use the service already through a VPN, an official launch gives viewers more options for using the service and finally lets us sign-up using UAE payment methods. After having the weekend to binge watch a host of shows we finally have a good idea about what the UAE version of the service offers content-wise.

Is it censored?

In short; no. One of the concerns that seemed to come up quite a lot on social media channels when the announcement was made was whether or not the content would face the same scrutiny from the censors as we tend to see with films that reach the cinema. We’re quite used to seeing chunks of movies being removed and many social commentators assumed that this would be the case with services like Netflix too.

From our experience over the weekend though, this certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. We’ve come across quite a few scenes that definitely wouldn’t see the light of day at the cinema if you know what we mean!

While it doesn’t appear that content has been specifically censored in the UAE, there is still the issue of regional licensing agreements that have resulted in certain content not appearing on the service in general outside of the USA. For example, as OSN have the rights to show House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black in the UAE, even though Netflix actually commissioned and produced these shows themselves, they can’t stream them on their own service in the UAE. Other shows like The Office, Suits, Dexter, Lost and Modern Family also don’t make the cut for the same reasons.

To read the full article, click here.

Posted by Rob in Dubai, Lovin Dubai, Media

Rooftop solar panels could be mandatory in Dubai by 2030

This article was originally written for Lovin Dubai. Click here to read the full article.

Question: what springs to mind when you think of Dubai? Massive skyscrapers and luxurious hotels? Sprawling malls and fast cars? Either way, chances are it isn’t sustainability and green credentials. All that is about to change though if Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has anything to say about it. In accordance with the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, the Emirate is aiming to become a global centre of green energy innovation, over the next 35 years. It seems that there’s now a concerted effort to do more than just pay lip service to sustainability.

The 2050 plan, which was launched by Sheikh Mohammed last week, also aims to lay the groundwork needed to make the city almost completely sustainable through clean energy, with the goal to become the city with the smallest carbon footprint in the world by 2050. Under the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, the city aims to provide 7% of its energy from clean energy resources by 2020, 25% by 2030 and 75% by 2050.

You might think that this is somewhat of an oxymoron, but despite having such a hot climate and a reliance on fossil fuels to cool our buildings and power our appliances, there is one thing that puts Dubai in a unique position to take advantage of renewable energy – our lovely year-round sunshine.

To read the full article, click here.

Posted by Rob in Dubai, Lovin Dubai

Dubai – the start-up scene in a modern metropolis

Dubai is a city that is not afraid of ambition. Pumping billions into positioning itself as a tourist mecca and business hub, the place is an attention seeking over-achiever of sorts. Sprouting up from the desert almost from scratch over the last 20 years, the entire city has a start-up mentality. Things happen quickly.

Not that long ago, Dubai was a sleepy backwater that was mainly home to fishermen and pearl-divers. Since the 90’s however, when the rulers set out to strategically diversify it’s economy from oil to tourism and business, things have seriously picked up pace. These days, new properties and infrastructure seemingly pop up overnight, and rarely a week goes by without an announcement of some new extravagant project.

In a city that is made up almost entirely of foreign expats, there’s a level of cultural diversity that is hard to match, a factor that results in a distinctly entrepreneurial spirit across every aspect of the city.

A thriving tech ecosystem

As the technology revolution continues apace, an increasing amount of angel investors and venture capital funds have been drawn to Dubai. And many investors here who had historically looked at tangible assets like property to invest in are now backing new technologies and local start-ups. When you consider that the UAE has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world at 78%, and eCommerce spending is continuing to grow at speed, it’s clear that there is certainly plenty of opportunity in this part of the world.

Incubators and accelerators such as In5, Silicon Oasis, i360 & Turn 8 have sprouted up over the last few years, and business friendly ‘free-zones’ and co-working spaces such as Impact Hub, The Cribb, AstroLabs and MAKE Business Hub, to name but a few, give companies the flexibility they need to innovate and grow.

Region-specific opportunities

With some of the traditional global tech monsters having been slow to address the region over the years, this created opportunities for home grown start-ups geared to a more region-specific audience to take advantage. While eCommerce giants like Amazon and eBay don’t technically operate in the country, this paved the way for local companies like online reseller (Souk being the name for a traditional marketplace), and other P2P platforms like Dubizzle to flourish.

With Uber only launching in the country last year, this let competing private car-booking app Careem steal a march and build up a significant customer base in the meantime. Careem, made the trip to Dublin to pitch at the START showcase during last year’s Web Summit and have since gone on to raise a $10 Million round of funding.

While it was originally a challenge to move consumers in the city away from the traditional ‘cash-on-delivery’ model for online purchases, companies like daily deal site Cobone oversaw a shift in consumer sentiment with users finally truly embracing eCommerce since the start of this decade.

A regional hub – connecting the world

Acting as a regional hub, many companies use Dubai as a launch pad to take on other local markets. Dubai International Airport recently took over from London Heathrow as the busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic, and the state carrier Emirates Airline, has also grown into the world’s biggest international airline since it’s humble roots in the 1980’s.

In November 2013, Dubai was chosen as the host city for the 2020 World Expo and the plans for the Expo Village include a purpose-built 438-hectare site that will house the event, which is estimated to attract 25 million visitors over 6 months, and bring $40 Billion of investment into the economy. A serious coup for the start-up sector and for the city in general even further putting it on the global map in a business and innovation sense.

Influenced from the top

If a company can be said to be a reflection of it’s leadership, then the same must be said for countries too. In this sense, Dubai revels in the patronage of it’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is intent on fostering an innovation and Smart City mentally across every aspect of Dubai, from communication and technology, to transport and logistics.

This year alone, the government has facilitated a $1 Million international drone technology competition, a similar initiative for the AI and robotics industry, as well as announcing a entire museum dedicated to technology and innovation called the ‘Museum of the Future’ to inspire the creators of tomorrow.

Whatever way you look at it, Dubai is a contradiction of sorts. But love it or hate it, it’s a city that runs on an entrepreneurial drive and a spirit of innovation.

Posted by Rob in Dubai, Tech