Digital marketing in the Middle East: Challenges, strategies & innovations

3rd May  |  
4 minutes

Digital marketing is about to take off in the Middle East. According to research by McKinsey, in 2022 the degree of digital penetration among Middle Eastern consumers increased to be in line with leading European and North American countries. The opportunities available to brands through digital marketing in the Middle East are profound. As McKinsey puts it: “Because the Middle East has among the highest consumer digital engagement in the world, companies in the region have an opportunity to create an advantage by developing cutting-edge features and functionality tailored to Middle East consumers.” 

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

Digital marketing Middle East: regulatory challenges 

However, as elsewhere in the world, digital marketers also must contend with significant challenges when using consumers’ personally identifiable information (PII). A range of new regulations are being enacted across the region that places restrictions on how brands, agencies, and publishers can use, store, and share PII. Here are some of the key regulations to be aware of: 

  • UAE: UAE Data Protection Law (2021) – Regulates the processing of personal data and obliges companies that hold personal data to maintain its confidentiality and privacy. The law expressly prohibits the processing of personal data without the consent of its owner, unless necessary to protect a public interest or to carry out any of the legal procedures and rights. 
  • Bahrain: Personal Data Protection Law (2019) – Mirrored on the EU’s GDPR, the PDPL also enshrines the right to privacy and the obligation to seek consent for proper uses of data. New privacy guidelines issued in 2022 clarify rules around international data transfers outside the kingdom. 
  • Saudi Arabia: Personal Data Protection Law (2021) – Due to come into force in September 2023, the regulation follows the key elements of GDPR and mirrors the various data protection laws in the Middle East.  

In addition to these three examples, data privacy laws are in place in Qatar, Israel, Turkey, and Egypt.  

These regulations pose a challenge because they regulate the data that can be used in programmatic advertising to deliver personalised content at the right time to the right person. Third-party tracking cookies have traditionally been used for delivering personalised programmatic advertising. These cookies track people across the web to profile their interests and target them with relevant content. However, the approach is not compliant with the privacy-first world being ushered in by regulations in the Middle East, and an alternative is required. 

Marketing strategies in the Middle East: Introducing telco-verified IDs  

One tool that promises to future-proof programmatic advertising and even improve its performance, is the telco-verified ID. This is a privacy-first alternative to cookies that does not track users nor share PII across the martech ecosystem.  

Rather, the IDs are used to build audience profiles by verifying pseudonymous IDs that are generated by web users when visiting publisher and brand sites against telcos’ subscriber intelligence. Telcos have visibility across devices and so they can verify whether two anonymous IDs belong to the same user.  

A second dynamic ID can be generated in the publisher ad request and distributed through the automated advertising ecosystem, enabling risk-free first-party audience activation at scale. In all cases, user consent is secured before any data is collected and this consent can be managed easily.  

The transformation of online advertising in the Middle East 

Publishers, brands, and agencies alike are primed to make the most of the digital maturity of the Middle East. Underpinning this emerging golden age for marketers in the region will be a new generation of privacy-first martech solutions that will enable brands to reach the right audiences at the right time and with the right message. Organisations that get started on this journey quickly, will be best placed to thrive. 

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