Today, we sat down for a Q&A with our very own Ad Operations Director and industry expert, Pilira Mwambala, to reflect on 2017 and gain insights into what happened in the ad-industry over the past year.

He elaborates on all the major 2017 digital trends and happenings including VR, native advertising, brand safety, vertical video and more!

Q: Brand safety was in the spotlight earlier this year with the Procter and Gamble YouTube incident. How did you notice South Africa approach brand safety this past year? Was there any new emerging tech?

Pilira: Brand safety is key in this era of fake news and domain spoofing. Reckless campaign planning & strategising leads to media buying on platforms that aren’t brand safe. Publishers and content creators earn revenue from their valuable content but when that content is not appropriate and insensitive, they’re rewarded fraudulently. It’s important for brands to have the right tools in place to take charge of their brand placements for their intended audiences.

Additionally, some credit needs to be given to “switched on” online marketers who have been paying attention to viewability as well as transparent media buying on premium marketplaces and whitelisted ad exchanges. That said, brand safety wasn’t really enforced and didn’t seem to be a big deal until major brand advertisers caused a stinker about it earlier this year. From a local approach, IAB SA’s publisher council held a first-ever round table this year to address issues around brand safety and fake news concerns. This is refreshing because the IAB will act as a local regulator and educator in this space and we’ve seen players such as Integral Ad Science and Grapeshot advocate brand safety.

Q: Immersive tech like VR, AR, and AI are said be the future of advertising and media. Do you agree with this statement? And how did you see South Africa adopt immersive tech in 2017?

P: Immersive technology offers new perspectives to digital media buys. Businesses within the travel, property, automotive, retail and education sectors – as well as gaming, will see an uptake in VR and 360-degree video in 2018.

Mark1 has executed a first to market programmatic 360 degree / VR campaign and this will only grow in 2018. YouTube and Facebook already offer VR / 360-degree video but what was lacking was the scale of programmatic offering – which hopefully Mark1 will grow in the local ecosystem. However, South Africa will grow this trend only if the price of the hardware and price of data comes down. At the moment, decent VR headsets are still very expensive. Data which is conducive to these rich data environments is also expensive.

Q: The IAB came out earlier this year saying Vertical Video is on the up and up. What do you think was the motivation behind this statement?

P: Mobile is pretty much every person’s first device. People are estimated to check their devices 46 times a day. Research suggests that smartphone users hold their mobile devices vertically +- 90% of the time. Apps such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook realised this and pretty much enforced vertical video. Since people love holding their devices vertically, they have a love for publishers and advertisers who are vertically “content driven”. Users find vertical video ads to be more targeted to them and less intrusive, especially when the video length is quite short.

Q: The past year, native advertising has been a big talking point for marketers – especially due to the increasing adoption rate of ad blockers. What insights do you have regarding the opportunities, as well as challenges faced by marketers in 2017?

P: What makes Native ads work is the nature of the paid media ads blending in with the natural form & function of UX on the sites / apps they appear on. Since they look and feel like the natural content, it is a chance for advertisers to speak naturally to consumers. The challenge for marketers is to really be unique with creative. Since audience targeting is unique, it means spending budgets to produce a lot of content which is unique to several audience groups, as opposed to a standard creative generic for all publishers.

Additionally, prices of native ads make it a hard sell because scaling native ads is an issue. AI might solve this because it will inject a programmatic capability, allowing multiple buyers to compete for a native ad slot.

Another opportunity with AI lies in the ability to collect a user’s reading behaviour, then tailoring personalised ads, if say a user comes to the site/app daily or weekly.

Q: Which chatbot integration has been the biggest game changer this year?

P: The best chatbots I’ve seen are the customer service ones for websites. SME’s have been receptive to these chatbots because business owners can connect them to Facebook messenger, Skype and chat in Realtime to prospective clients beyond the “traditional” business times. WeChat is also a great example: Standard Bank has been using this effectively for +- 2 years now.

Q: Are there any other trends that stood out to you this year?

P: Influencer Marketing. A high demand for social media personalities (like the Kardashians) leads to an increased value in brand placements due to the number of followers these celebs have. Our industry is moving towards views, so advertisers have been cutting TV budgets (immeasurable) and plough these to influencer marketing where engagements are measured by likes, follows, etc – in real time.