Brands and agencies need to rapidly adapt to an era when consumers are more empowered than ever before, a panel tells the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Brands and advertising agencies need to significantly change their strategies as consumers are becoming more and more empowered in the digital world.

Buzzfeed’s Jonathan Perelman [pictured], VP of Agency Strategy, told the fourth Abu Dhabi Media Summit this morning: “The user is now at the top of the value chain. The consumer is deciding what they want to see and how they want to see it…As advertisers we have to create experiences that people not only want to engage with but also want to share. This can have trendmendous impact on the upside of a brand.”

Perelman said old models, even those from the early digital age, aren’t working. “You’re more likely to summit Mount Everest than to click on a banner ad,” he quipped, during this ADMS panel on new media and new marketing.

Javier Zapatero, Google’s Regional Director for Southern Europe and MENA, agreed that consumer empowerment is changing how brands need to communicate. “There is a word to define the way everything is evolving, and that word is ‘choice.’ People are choosing what to consume, where and on which device.”

For brands, the challenge becomes “how do we earn the right to be chosen.”

Zapatero added that he would “like to see a world in which ads are part of the content.”

Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s VP of Asia Pacific, Latin America and Emerging Markets, noted that with Twitter, ads (aka promoted tweets) are embedded in the platform. Perelman agrered that “the only way forward for publishers to monetize their content” is to offer ads that are native to the platform.

Zapatero added that even “calling it’ advertising’ is part of the old world…It’s about earning the respect of the consumer and talking to them through content, advertising, whatever we’re going to call it…Advertising will be as good as content, that’s what we should be aiming for.”

Steven Allison, Adobe’s Senior Technical Evangelist, said that the growth of new platforms can be great for advertiser: “There is an explosion of content, the opportuntiies for advertisers are fantastic.”

Rao said the advertising space is changing, but at too slow a pace to keep up with consumers. “There are enormous opportunities on these platforms…consumers want to talk about and engage with these products,” he said. “We haven’t seen brands or agencies changing fast enough.”

Just tracking volumes of views isn’t enough, Perelman noted. “Data is useless unless you have insights on it.” He said that understanding how content travels online is key. “Content is king but distribution is Queen and she wears the pants.”

The panel pointed to the example of Oreo’s corporate account Tweeting “you can dunk in the dark” during the first few minutes of the Superbowl’s power outage. That came about because the company had set a challenge of creating a new piece of content for 365 days in a row – “they knew how to take adavantage of these moments,” Perelman noted.

The Middle East presents a special opportunity, not just because of its large percentage of digital natives, but because there is less of a “legacy” of traditional advertising, Zapatero said. Rao agreed: “In regions like this you have the opportunity to leapfrog a lot of traditional practices.”