Ramzi Raad: A wake up call
How would you describe the general atmosphere of business in Lebanon compared to the previous year?
During the first nine months of 2017, the Lebanese advertising market witnessed a dramatic change of course. At the end of June, Lebanon was the only Arab market that showed growth in comparison to the same period in 2016. Not only that but it was comparatively impressive, as it attained an 8.71 % growth, while all the other markets of our region were continuing their regression. Keeping in mind that the Lebanese market had reached $ 1,245,758,531- during the first three quarters of last year; and now it has dropped by $ 43,242, 535; so this huge negative variance, represents a 27% drop; and is the steepest amongst all other Arab markets, who continued the diminishing trend they had witnessed from the beginning of 2017.
The two largest regional advertising markets -UAE and KSA- dropped only by -17%, during the current quarter in comparison to Lebanon’s -27%. We should all remember that towards the second half of the nineties - with the rise of investment via satellite TVS - Lebanon was bidding for the number one rank ahead of the major GCC markets.
In 2003, Lebanon ad investment reached the level of $233 million thus putting it in the 5th position.
Do you still believe Lebanon’s ad market is robust and has great potential to deliver?
While all of us should never stop wishing the best for our business and for Lebanon, the above comparisons must be seen as a warning for us advertising people to stop kidding ourselves - and the general public - by continuing to claim that the Lebanese advertising market continues to be robust, and has potential to deliver. We’ve certainly lost the race this year, and we urgently need to plan our 2018 counter measures. What’s the one thing you’d like to see regulated within the industry?
While regulation is rarely welcomed, however, in our elitist profession we should manifest a higher level of maturity, to invite the introduction of systems - and even laws - to stop all forms of discounting. Be it in media rates or creative and strategic planning fees. The Lebanese market - since the turn of the century - has developed the reputation of becoming the most irrationally discounted market, and this has massacred its credibility amongst our global agency partners and clients, alike.
In parallel, we need to introduce a code of ethics - not influenced by the many aborted earlier attempts - and this needs to impose a universally respected point of view on contents - not only in relation to advertising material; but also applicable to TV programming. Our stations are becoming extremely vulgar, and this will certainly not increase ad spend. Most multinational advertisers have their own standards of the environments where their brands are allowed to appear.
Everyone seems to agree that the days of the classic ad-agency business are gone. What’s your take? Are you doing anything to broaden your capabilities beyond the core creative or/and media buying services?
We Lebanese tend to consider ourselves - at par, if not more advanced - than the descendants of the mature, multi generation civilizations. This leads us to shortcut the normal time patterns - and get to the final stages in the evolving global trends and new product usages that can be better and safer enjoyed when allowed to mature at a normal pace. While there has been a rush around our market to re-engineer our agencies and broaden our offerings, we forget about clients very often. Rather than continue to develop the classical services that they seem to understand and need, we start shoving down their throats new forms of developing their business that they cannot digest. Let us make sure that we are not forgetting the basics in our race to claim that we are the first in this region, to have established the agency of the future.
There is a new wave of marketers who have a very different take on advertising than traditional marketers and prefer doing things in-house. Other marketers prefer using smaller agencies and vendors on a short-term or/and project-by-project basis. How this is affecting the business?
The Lebanese advertising market is shrinking in size, and many of the classical big brands of the country are dying due to this trend that has changed our pioneering communication market - in MENA - and made it a growing chest of ‘trial and error cottage industries. I am loudly alerting to this fatal epidemic, not because I am a believer that big is better, but because of the increasing number of poorly executed campaigns that are aired on our TV channels every day and the advertisers money that is being thrown down the drain while some none experienced clients are applauding their in-house creativity.
We’ve certainly lost the race this year, and we urgently need to plan our 2018 counter measures.
Ramzi Raad, Group Chairman, TBWA/RAAD is issuing warnings regarding the state of Lebanon’s ad business. Here is why…