Please don’t hate me. I so much wanted to start 2020 off on the right note. It’s a new decade, with a year that sounds full of promise which we’ve been speaking about for years (let me get that word out of the way right now, ‘Expo’). But I have a nagging feeling 2020 won’t be everything it’s cracked up to be.

Why do I say that? Because the fundamentals haven’t changed over the past three years. Globally, we’re dealing with a swirl of politics and economics which are slowing growth. Regionally, mid-range oil prices, diversification plans and localization efforts are resulting in lower single-digit growth. In other words, consumers aren’t spending as much. And then there’s the continuing chaos in the media space, with publishers shutting down, and money pouring into digital (primarily Google and Facebook).

Before I go down further into the rabbit hole, here’s a couple of specific predictions for the 12 months ahead:

  1. Clients are going to keep cutting budgets: I’m already hearing about brand managers cutting back on r plans for 2020, mainly due to budget constraints. This is especially true of a number of big events happening in the Gulf. Margins will fall, and we will see agencies who can’t manage cash flows close. I hope I’m wrong, but I see few signs that there’ll be more marketing spending in 2020.
  2. There’s going to be less experimenting: Smaller client budgets will lead to two outcomes: the first is a squeeze on agencies, and the second is brands will play it safe with their ideas. Which is a shame, as we need more brand creativity in the region.
  3. Tech Takes Over: 2020 is the year when digital spending will cross over 50% for a number of big brands (I’m including ads, tools, content, and influencer marketing). Digital marketing has taken over the industry globally, and we’ve been slower to adapt here (which surprises me, given how literally everyone here has had a smartphone for what seems like an age). If you have digital skills and a flair for marketing, you’ll be in demand now more than ever.
  4. Influence or Die: Influencer Marketing, two words that’ll make any senior marketing executive turn red. However, the spend on influencers continues to grow. And the public (still) love their influencer content. There’ll be more pressure for both brands and influencers to be transparent about paid content, and influencers who post too much paid content are going to face a follower-backlash. Aside from that, 2020 will be a great year for the region’s influencers.
  5. Get Ready for TikTok: Another year, another platform. A few years back, the rising star was Snapchat. This time around, it’s TikTok. The fifteen-second video sharing site is the place of choice for youngsters, and the region’s brands, the likes of Emaar and Namshi, are turning to the platform to engage with this audience. With a regional office and team now established in Dubai, expect TikTok to surge in 2020.
  6. Do Brands Need a Purpose? One global trend which has yet to have any real effect in the Middle East is the concept of brand purpose. Few regional brands have taken on a cause for the long-term, despite governments pushing national initiatives (we’re onto our fifth “Year of” in the UAE), and consumers increasingly asking what causes brands support. Will 2020 usher in a new era for MENA brands seeking to adopt a societal cause? I’d hope so, but I feel this is a long-shot. 
  7. The Online Battle for Truth: Does anyone know what’s real or fake online? There’s a plethora of tools to create fake content for sharing through the internet, and there’s little in the way of tools to help us determine what’s real and what isn’t. Those who have spent the past few years really engaging with followers and building up a loyal fanbase online will side-step the worst of what’s out there on social media. For others, particularly marketers who work on prominent national brands, they’re going to struggle to fight online rumors and fake news in 2020.

By Alex Malouf 

Former journalist Alex Malouf has carved out a niche as a lively voice in the Middle East’s burgeoning media scene, combining razor-sharp observations with a keen understanding of the forces that underpin the region’s digital transformation. Much of which, no doubt, is informed by Malouf’s day job at P&G, where he manages reputational affairs for the Middle East’s largest FMCG. Malouf’s experience and roots in the region are not the only things that set him apart — he is also a highly visible advocate for modern public relations, serving in senior roles on numerous industry organisations.