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AI is transforming the advertising industry in the Middle East. But authenticity is still key

The rise of tech, artificial intelligence, social media and influencer marketing shape the future of advertising

AI is transforming the advertising industry in the Middle East. But authenticity is still key
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Today’s advertising landscape resembles a digital kaleidoscope, spinning with personalized ads, voice-activated assistants, and immersive experiences. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all campaigns. 

AI and data analytics enable hyper-targeting, delivering ads tailored to individual preferences and behaviors. The large language models and Gen AI  serve as an effective mental model for how creative agencies should approach AI adoption.

Meanwhile, the rise of social media platforms has also led to consumers craving genuine connections with brands, demanding authenticity and a responsibility to uphold certain values.

The future of advertising promises even more radical shifts. 


Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into marketing strategies has a lucrative future. Forecasts estimate the global market revenue for AI in marketing to reach a staggering $107 billion by 2028.

Embracing this trend, 90% of marketers across 35 countries have 

already adopted AI tools to streamline and automate customer interactions. Among marketers leveraging AI technology, an impressive 88% report that it has significantly enhanced their ability to personalize the customer journey across various channels.

Jennifer Fischer, Chief Innovation & Growth Officer, Publicis Groupe ME, says tech and social media have massively affected the advertising industry. “For the past decade, we’ve integrated AI into various facets of advertising, yet now, in this new phase of artificial intelligence, the impact is more transformative as it influences every stage of the process, from intelligence and data analytics to creative ideation, personalization, or optimization.”

She explains that while mastering AI is critical, finding a balance is important. “As AI becomes the standard, it will become a leveling factor, creating an equal playing field. In this context, prioritizing a talent-first approach becomes imperative, as human ingenuity and original thought emerge as the differentiating factors necessary for competitiveness in the marketplace.”

Sebastien Boutebel, Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi ME & Nathalie Gevresse, CEO of Publicis Communications UAE, said tech and AI have enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of their advertising. 

“We can now leverage data-driven insights to personalized campaigns, target specific audience segments, and for the optimists, we can predict trends. The creative process also benefits from AI’s ability to generate content, whether it be images and copy, quickly and efficiently, as long as it is guided with acute precision,” says Boutebel.

Mazen Nahawi, Group CEO of CARMA, says that while AI has created a wealth of opportunities, there are still risks and many uncharted waters to discover.

“Advertisers and marketers need to continue to track developments and evolve with the changes that are taking place. The explosion of AI-generated content impacts both organic SEO and paid search ads. The rise of deepfake content can create reputational risks for advertisers who may inadvertently place their brands in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially through programmatic advertising.” 


According to Statista, digital emerged as the paramount platform for advertisers, accounting for 62% of total media ad spending in 2022. Digital promotion garnered over half of all global advertising investments in 2021, whereas television received less than a quarter of the total advertising expenditure for that year.

In the MENA region, digital  ad spending reached approximately $4.4 billion in 2020 and is projected to rise to $7.9 billion by 2024.

Fischer says social media has had both positive and negative effects on advertising. “On the positive side, for consumers and brands, social media has facilitated the delivery of highly personalized, relevant, and engaging communication. This goes beyond individual relevance, extending to real-time alignment with current interests.”

She talks about how social media has facilitated how brands can establish meaningful connections with their audiences. 

“The need for brands to build social proof and cultural fluency is more critical today than ever. This has created more opportunities for brands to connect and create culture, which is exciting for professionals in the industry.”

“On the flip side, for talent, it has expanded the scope of work, creating a larger workload for teams. This has, in turn, heightened pressure on agency talent, shifting their time from ideation to delivery,” she adds. 

Kalpesh Patankar, Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett ME, says that social media has provided brands with purpose.

“Purpose. That’s the biggest thing that has shaped the evolution of brand-consumer relationships in advertising’s recent history. Advertising is no longer about persuasion; it is about purpose. Brands are increasingly finding the need to be driven by a clear purpose that resonates with their audiences, gets them accepted as responsible members of the communities they cater to, and results in long-term business benefits.”


According to Sailthru’s 2023 Consumer Trends Index, 84% of Gen Z express that their preferred brand treats them as unique individuals. A noteworthy 71% of consumers anticipate personalized interactions with companies. Conversely, when such personalized engagements fail to materialize, a considerable 76% express frustration.

Fischer notes that the emergence of digital platforms, especially social media, marks the beginning of a new era in which brands interact with their audience on a personalized basis. By delivering customized content, personalized suggestions, and engaging campaigns, brands can now focus on every consumer’s distinct preferences and requirements.

“Simultaneously and because of this heightened intimacy, it is imperative for brands to infuse purpose and align with consumer values, meaning, and ethics. Brands that make a larger contribution to society, aligning with the aspirations of consumers, including sustainability, and positively impacting the world, are positioned to forge even more profound connections in this era of conscious consumerism.”

Boutebel says social media transformed advertising into a two-way street of connection and activity. “ It isn’t just a bullhorn; it’s a listening device, offering priceless customer feedback and insights.”

“Authenticity and transparency take center stage, cultivating trust and loyalty. The focus has shifted from reaching the masses to engaging with individuals, and brands now actively seek customer feedback to adapt and improve.” 


Nahawi says agencies blend advertising with other forms of media more than ever to maximize effectiveness. “With traditional publications continuing to make staff redundant and producing less content, companies increasingly look to other paid opportunities, like influencer marketing, to supplement or even replace traditional and digital advertising placements.”

Patankar says advertising agencies are now thinking “experimental-first” when it comes to their strategies. “This is to provide audiences with the most visceral brand experiences. Even in traditional media like print, out-of-home, activations – barriers are being broken down, and creative executions trigger more immersive experiences.”

Agencies have shifted their focus towards authentic and purpose-driven campaigns that align with social and environmental causes. “Which has led us to a greater emphasis on storytelling, brand purpose, and social impact,” says Gevresse.


The marketing landscape will enter an intelligence era in the next decade. “Advancements in AI will merge with our human and emotional intelligence,” says Fischer. 

The synthesis of these two facets signals a pivotal shift in how brands connect with their audiences. “While AI continues to refine targeting, personalization, and analytics, the human touch remains indispensable in driving authenticity and compelling storytelling,” she adds.

All agree that AI will continue to thrive by integrating immersive technologies like augmented and virtual reality. More importantly, there’s a need to incorporate sustainability and purpose-driven messaging into the mix.

According to Nahawi, the roles of advertisers, marketers, and communicators are poised to become more intertwined as the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) media mix model emerges as indispensable for businesses navigating a landscape with fewer traditional media outlets, resulting in a decline in conventional advertising placement options.


When asked what advice they would give brands trying to navigate the rapidly evolving advertising landscape, Nahawi says brands must identify and target the right audiences with the most effective messages. “Instead of painting with a broad brush that starts with the type of media first, brands will need to determine where their audiences are spending time and who they are most likely to listen to when it comes to purchases and other decisions.”

Gevresse says authenticity is the golden ticket to building trust. “Personalize your messages because one-size-fits-all is long gone. Stay creative, consistent, and open to the beat of emerging trends.”

Finally, recruitment and collaboration with individuals who demonstrate proficiency in navigating the intelligence era is crucial. “Seek out collaborators who excel in driving collaboration to bring diverse expertise and capabilities together, to enhance marketing strategies and contribute significantly to overall business success,” says Fischer.

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