Exploring the Programmatic Pulse of MENA

Are we witnessing the golden age of programmatic advertising in MENA?

Programmatic’s foray into the Middle East and North Africa presents a unique blend of opportunities and challenges. This evolution is propelled by a confluence of factors: groundbreaking tech advancements, a pronounced shift towards mobile-first strategies, and the critical need to address burgeoning privacy regulations alongside the rich tapestry of cultural nuances unique to the region.

How is the space developing in MENA? We take a look at some of the trends, opportunities and challenges.

Programmatic on the Rise in MENA

Industry experts expect programmatic advertising to make up an increasingly important part of digital marketing in the region, with the Middle East and Africa programmatic advertising market expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.89% between 2022 and 2027. 

Compared to its global counterparts, MENA's programmatic advertising landscape is marked by a distinctive blend of growth and opportunity. While regions like North America and Europe have seen programmatic ad spending reach somewhat of a plateau, MENA's market is experiencing rapid expansion, projected to grow 20% this year alone.

In the digital advertising landscape of the region, several DSPs stand out as most utilised, and are pivotal in shaping the digital advertising strategies across MENA. Leading the pack is Google Marketing Platform, known for its comprehensive suite of advertising tools. Amazon Advertising follows, leveraging its e-commerce insights for targeted ad placements. ADxAD is recognised for its strong presence in Asian and MENA markets, while AdLib DSP distinguishes itself with AI-driven optimisation features. Mediasmart proves to be highly used as it focuses on mobile-first advertising strategies, and Adobe Advertising Cloud offers a cross-channel advertising platform that integrates with Adobe's suite of marketing tools. 

A Mobile-First Approach 

In MENA, the rise of a mobile-first landscape is dramatically reshaping the programmatic advertising arena. This includes food delivery, fitness, finance, shopping, communication, and entertainment. Essentially, if there's an app for a service, or game, it becomes the initial touchpoint for users in this region.

This is especially the case for mobile games, where gaming apps claim a 50% share, surpassing the global average of 40%. Programmatic ads across the mobile space, including  rewarded ads, which provide benefits such as in-game currency or access to new levels, continue to enjoy widespread popularity among gaming audiences, with a remarkable 74% of gamers indicating their approval of these advertising formats.

The broader movement towards a mobile-first approach in MENA emphasises the importance of understanding and adapting to the mobile user's journey. A mobile-first strategy in programmatic advertising within MENA is about more than just technological adaptation; it's a reflection of a deeper cultural shift towards immediacy and relevance in consumer interactions. 

Challenges to Consider 

The specter of ad fraud looms large over the MENA region, casting a shadow on the programmatic advertising industry with estimates suggesting the region incurs around $1 billion in losses annually due to fraudulent activities. Ad fraud manifests in a myriad of deceptive practices, including fabricated impressions and clicks, ad stacking, and bot-driven traffic.

In fact, a study conducted by Forensiq highlighted the severity of the issue, revealing that more than half of the ad impressions within MENA’s programmatic space were deemed fraudulent. Given these challenges, it's imperative for publishers in the MENA region to adopt and maintain rigorous ad fraud detection and prevention mechanisms.

Navigating the complex landscape of personally identifiable information (PII) usage also poses significant challenges in the MENA region, due to stringent new regulations that limit how brands, agencies, and publishers handle, store, and share PII. Key laws, such as the UAE Data Protection Law (2021), Bahrain's Personal Data Protection Law (2019), and Saudi Arabia's forthcoming Personal Data Protection Law (2021), underscore the necessity of consent and privacy in data processing, mirroring GDPR principles. 

These regulations complicate traditional programmatic advertising techniques, which rely on third-party tracking cookies for personalised content delivery. As these methods clash with the emerging privacy-first standards, including the impending death of third-party cookies, the advertising sector is looking for alternatives that align with the region's tightening data privacy framework, affecting countries including Qatar and Egypt as well.

This emergence of privacy-centric measures is supported by the advent of next-generation, privacy-centric marketing technologies. The implementation of such technology, including the promising integration of telco-verified IDs, heralds a significant shift towards more secure and efficient programmatic advertising practices within the region. 

Making a Foray into MENA’s Programmatic Landscape

In the evolving digital landscape of the Middle East, publishers, brands, and agencies stand on the cusp of leveraging the region's digital sophistication. MENA presents strong growth fundamentals for programmatic, with a surge in digital spending and technology adoption among consumers.

As the Middle East's programmatic advertising sector continues to grow, with spending projected to reach significant figures in the coming years, those who capitalise on this growth will benefit from the vast opportunities presented by the region’s digital maturation.