An­toine De Tro­goff: the Only Mar­ket­ing Left



Over the past few years, con­tent has grad­u­ally crept up in our me­dia buzz­words list, now reach­ing com­pul­sory sta­tus as the header on each of our pre­sen­ta­tions. It has moved from be­ing the holy Grail to re­al­ity. It is no longer merely a buzz­word as it needs to be clearly de­fined. The chal­lenge is in deal­ing with this all-en­com­pass­ing um­brella term.

This is a wakeup call for brands to stop shuf­fling their feet and start be­ing more proac­tive in re­gard­ing con­tent as a pil­lar in their mar­ket­ing strate­gies.

In the evo­lu­tion­ary cy­cle of adapt or die, we are now at an in­flec­tion point. Glob­ally, ad-block­ing tech­nol­ogy grew by 48% in 2015, be­com­ing a ma­jor dis­rup­tor for dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing and cost­ing pub­lish­ers over USD 22B a year (Fig­ure 1). The is­sue is of such con­cern that Google’s Se­nior VP of Com­merce, Srid­har Ra­maswamy, con­sid­ered it a “mat­ter of sur­vival”.

Our con­sumers are masters of their own on­line des­tiny. They have com­plete con­trol over what, when, and how they con­sume me­dia. This has trig­gered the shift from lin­ear TV to Video on De­mand (VOD), as ev­i­denced by the rise of play­ers such as Net­flix, Hulu, Ama­zon, Ap­ple TV, and Rok chal­leng­ing TV’S supremacy as the main en­ter­tain­ment hub.

MENA is ranked sec­ond glob­ally in terms of Youtube watch time, fu­eled by 90 mil­lion daily views from Saudi Ara­bia. Yet even on Youtube, pre-roll ads are ba­si­cally an itchy finger con­test of who can press the Skip but­ton first. In fact, Youtube is launch­ing its new pre­mium

ser­vice, Youtube Red, on Oc­to­ber 28th in the U.S, and glob­ally next year. For $10 a month, you’ll be able to watch videos with­out ads!

This is an ex­is­ten­tial crisis for our in­dus­try and, at UM Stu­dios, we be­lieve the way to tackle it is through a fun­da­men­tal turn­ing of the ta­bles, by plac­ing con­tent first. Here’s how.


Our in­dus­try needs to take a good, hard look at it­self. Take a time-out in the cor­ner for us­ing pro­gram­matic tech­niques to re-tar­get con­sumers with prod­ucts they’ve al­ready bought, and pop­ups that take over your screen (Fig­ure 2).

Even with more so­phis­ti­cated tools to tar­get the right au­di­ence, ir­rel­e­vant con­tent to the right peo­ple is still an ir­rel­e­vant im­pres­sion.

With greater power comes greater re­spon­si­bil­ity. More in­for­ma­tion about our con­sumers should be given a rai­son d'être, in­stead of be­ing used to tar­get for the sake of it. Brands need to think smartly about us­ing this ca­pac­ity to de­liver ul­tra-personalised con­tent that taps into sig­nals of in­tent. This should lead mar­keters to de­velop holis­tic con­tent plans that map di­rectly to dif­fer­ent parts of the pur­chase fun­nel with a dif­fer­ent set of cre­ative as­sets de­ployed.

There is no such thing as a cap­tive au­di­ence. All me­dia is earned me­dia. Even when mar­keters pay for me­dia, we have to earn peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.

Mo­ments for brands to ex­pose their mes­sage have be­come lim­ited. Earn­ing peo­ple’s at­ten­tion needs to be­gin by serv­ing them con­tent they find rel­e­vant.


If we take a look at the cur­rent num­bers, we should as­sume that brands are shift­ing their bud­get to in­vest more be­hind branded con­tent. Af­ter all, the au­di­ence in this part of the world (par­tic­u­larly mil­len­ni­als) is ul­tra­con­nected, al­ways on, and shows no signs of slow­ing down. Smart­phone pen­e­tra­tion in MENA is over 80% (higher than the US) and set to con­tinue grow­ing next year.

Con­sumers are ac­cess­ing most of their con­tent on the go, and 42% con­sider it is im­por­tant to watch TV and video con­tent wher­ever they are. The smart­phone has be­come the bridge to con­tent con­sump­tion. And yet, 37 of the top 100 sites in the UAE are not mo­bile friendly, ris­ing to 44% in Saudi Ara­bia. The hard truth is that ad­ver­tis­ers of­ten con­sider con­tent an add-on to their cur­rent plan, and not as a cen­tral pil­lar to their strate­gies.

Clearly, brands need to be in the right place, at the right time. But that’s not nearly enough. In­sta­gram is now open­ing its doors to brands. The stakes have never been as high to en­sure that ad­ver­tis­ing be­comes part of an or­ganic ex­pe­ri­ence that feels na­tive to the user (Fig­ure 3).

We’ll prob­a­bly see a lot of brands reusing as­sets from other so­cial cam­paigns and treat­ing In­sta­gram like an

ex­ten­sion of Face­book. I think they will come across as clue­less par­ents en­ter­ing their teenagers’ rooms (Fig­ure 3).

In 2016, start think­ing about con­tent first. How can your brand serve na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing that is sub­tle, au­then­tic and feels like some­thing your con­sumers would want to look at any­way?

The de­bate be­tween short-form and long form is not the fo­cus here. It de­pends on the qual­ity of what you’re pro­duc­ing. Con­sumers will hang around for long con­tent, as they did dur­ing the Red­bull Stratos ex­per­i­ment. But more of­ten than not, they’re look­ing for snack­able con­tent on the go, in the form of 15 sec videos or 140 char­ac­ters. Old Spice for ex­am­ple con­tin­ues to win at con­tent-first strat­egy with their lat­est In­sta­gram cam­paign. By us­ing the tag­ging func­tion on the so­cial plat­form, the brand is giv­ing users the choice of cre­at­ing their own ver­sion of the story from post to post (Fig­ure 4).

A suc­cess­ful na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing strat­egy will de­pend in part on a solid col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween your brand and your pub­lish­ers. Nar­ra­tive brands are the way for­ward. They have the cred­i­bil­ity and knowl­edge to cre­ate con­tent that works. Brands need to rein­vent them­selves as sto­ry­tellers, but mak­ing good sto­ries is not easy. They will have to change the skillset of the peo­ple they hire and the bud­get or time­frame they work with.


Brands can learn a great deal from this gen­er­a­tion’s big­gest en­gage­ment pi­o­neers: mi­cro-influencers. Over the past few years, Youtube stars have be­come house­hold names: Alaa Wardi, Huda Kat­tan, and oth­ers around the re­gion claim a loyal fol­low­ing of thou­sands from the highly cov­eted youth seg­ment.

These influencers are well trusted and much more flex­i­ble than brands in pro­duc­ing con­tent on-the-go. They tune into the lat­est trends and can re­spond within a day or two, adding their own take on things in an au­then­tic man­ner. Vlog­gers have a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over brands in that they are not try­ing to em­u­late the con­nected con­sumer; they are the con­nected con­sumer (Fig­ure 5). These influencers rep­re­sent a golden op­por­tu­nity for brands to col­lab­o­rate by be­com­ing wor­thy al­ter­na­tives to what used to be the pool of po­ten­tial brand am­bas­sadors. In other words, the power to in­flu­ence is re­ally chang­ing.

From a con­sumer per­spec­tive these new rules of en­gage­ment could of­fer the best of both worlds. The driver be­hind a brand and in­flu­encer col­lab­o­ra­tion

has to be an au­then­tic fit for the part­ner­ship to work. Con­sumers can iden­tify more in­ti­mately with the brand then, lead­ing to higher qual­ity en­gage­ment (Fig­ure 6).

Un­less brands be­come more ag­ile, think smaller, and away from main­stream me­dia; long last­ing re­la­tion­ships with the con­sumers will be­come more dif­fi­cult to build.


Huda Kat­tan, at the Dubai Fash­ion For­ward in Oc­to­ber, took to the stage to dis­cuss her rise to fame and her so­cial me­dia strat­egy (Fig­ure 7). The main take­away from this in­flu­encer was: turn the spot­light onto the fol­low­ers. Cus­tomer sto­ries have be­come more im­por­tant than brand ones and ad­ver­tis­ers need to tackle UGC and start plan­ning earned me­dia the same way they planned paid me­dia.

Also, brands have to cre­ate personalised con­tent at scale. A great ex­am­ple of this was from Amer­i­can Ex­press part­ner­ing with Digi­graph to send personalised dig­i­tal au­to­graphs from Phar­rell to fans who live streamed his con­cert.

Con­tent should be­come a more par­tic­i­pa­tory ex­pe­ri­ence, invit­ing the au­di­ence into the con­tent cre­ation process. The Hunger Games suc­cess­fully built buzz for the Mock­ing­jay movie by launch­ing the trailer on Twit­ter once enough fans had 'un­locked' it with a retweet.


For most of these ex­am­ples, it is of­ten a mat­ter of mak­ing the de­ci­sion to in­no­vate, to test, to fall and get back up taller, to just do it. Nar­ra­tive brands are al­ready ahead of com­peti­tors by un­der­stand­ing the value of a con­tent­first ap­proach.

Af­ter in­vest­ing in a more con­tent-led ap­proach, the next step for these nar­ra­tive brands is to mon­e­tise their ini­tial in­vest­ment. Gopro, for in­stance, has un­veiled its pre­mium con­tent li­cens­ing por­tal this sum­mer. The plat­form of­fers high pro­duc­tion con­tent. A Cre­ator Com­mu­nity Hub ag­gre­gates in­spir­ing images or videos taken with Gopros for li­cens­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing, news and en­ter­tain­ment.

Our chang­ing land­scape is cer­tainly trig­ger­ing the emer­gence of nar­ra­tive brands. Brands have to be adapt­able in a mov­ing mar­ket and em­brace Seth Godin’s anal­y­sis that "Con­tent mar­ket­ing is the only mar­ket­ing left".

Fig­ure 1. Ad block­ing

Fig­ure 2. Rea­sons for us­ing Ad Block­ing plug-ins

Fig­ure 3. In­sta­gram ad­ver­tis­ing

Fig­ure 4.

Fig­ure 5.

Fig­ure 6. Brand en­gage­ment

Fig­ure 7.

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