Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

So, did I catch you off-guard? Ev­ery year, I share my pre­dic­tions with Cam­paign us­ing the year as a marker for the num­ber of up­com­ing themes. Given the pe­riod of un­prece­dented dis­tur­bance we’ve been fac­ing, I thought it was time to re­visit things. Look­ing back at last year’s list, there was one pre­dic­tion I vastly un­der­es­ti­mated and that was the sever­ity of cuts in ad­ver­tis­ing in­vest­ments in the re­gion. I pro­jected a 10 per cent drop in 2017, and it will end up closer to 20 per cent. So, this year, I’ll only make 12 pre­dic­tions for two rea­sons; first, be­cause that’s all we can af­ford, and sec­ond, you’ll have less con­tent to con­tend with!

Jok­ing aside, there is more to this than dis­rup­tion or cycli­cal trends. It’s been a dou­ble-whammy of both at the same time. The first blow comes from the on­go­ing wars in the re­gion, the low oil prices, new tax­a­tion and the re­duc­tion of sub­si­dies across the GCC. There is also the im­pact of Saud­i­s­a­tion, with the king­dom los­ing some 2 mil­lion peo­ple in the last two years, and the 50 per cent cur­rency de­val­u­a­tion in Egypt. This led to either a stag­na­tion or a drop in sales, and some clients over­re­acted with se­vere and, in some cases, un­jus­ti­fied bud­get cuts. Con­se­quently, the MENA mar­ket has shed some 35 per cent of to­tal me­dia in­vest­ments since 2015. We’ve gone from $5.5 bil­lion to a pro­jected $3.6 bil­lion by the end of 2017.

The sec­ond trend is more trans­for­ma­tive, caused by chang­ing con­sumer habits and ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy. First, the Face­book/Google duo con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the mar­ket and put pub­lish­ers un­der added strain, re­sult­ing in lay­offs and an on­go­ing strug­gle to pivot. Se­condly, con­sul­tan­cies are en­croach­ing on our busi­ness so we must trans­form quickly and pur­pose­fully, adding greater value to our clients with our strate­gic think­ing. Thirdly, as we ac­cess more use­ful data and con­sumers be­come in­creas­ingly at­ten­tion­poor, we need to re­visit tra­di­tional plan­ning ap­proaches. Mov­ing from tar­get­ing masses to tar­get­ing in­di­vid­u­als at scale, it’s less about just me­dia per­for­mance and more about de­liv­er­ing long-term busi­ness value.

For 2018, I want to re­set the dial and move away from the clichéd buzz­words that have dom­i­nated the last few years (AI, AR, VR, IoT) and fo­cus in­stead on what will af­fect us here in MENA.

1.We will bot­tom out

Naysay­ers may ac­tu­ally be proved wrong and in 2018 we should see in­vest­ments sta­bilise, rather than drop fur­ther. While some ad­ver­tis­ers may off­set the in­tro­duc­tion of VAT with a 5 per cent cut in ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets, the ma­jor­ity have re­alised the risks or even dam­age that re­stricted bud­gets can cre­ate in terms of brand per­for­mance. Eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in­di­ca­tors, like the pur­chas­ing man­agers in­dexes (PMIs), are fol­low­ing a pos­i­tive trend. The hugely sig­nif­i­cant Saudi mar­ket shows very promis­ing signs, in­clud­ing an ex­pan­sion­ary bud­get for 2018 and big­ger pub­lic-sec­tor mar­ket­ing in­vest­ments. The lift­ing of the driv­ing ban for women next June will not only see fe­males be­com­ing more mo­bile but, to­gether with plans to fa­cil­i­tate their eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion, will also lead to a boost in con­sump­tion. The Saudi and Egyp­tian pres­ence in the FIFA World Cup in Rus­sia will cer­tainly in­crease ad­ver­tis­ing in­vest­ments as well.

2. The Saudi pow­er­house will restart

There is a re­newed en­ergy in the king­dom, with the im­pe­tus for change and trans­for­ma­tion firmly set in peo­ple’s minds, par­tic­u­larly among the youth. The mo­men­tum from Vi­sion 2030 is af­fect­ing many as­pects of so­ci­ety (for ex­am­ple, im­prov­ing the na­tion’s health through ex­er­cise) and sec­tors of the econ­omy (such as the cre­ation of the NEOM megac­ity). Cou­pled with the prom­ise of in­creased gov­ern­ment spend­ing in 2018, the mood in the king­dom is turn­ing pos­i­tive. As the mar­ket opens up to in­ter­na­tional in­vestors and its in­dus­trial fab­ric is re­mod­elled, the op­por­tu­nity to cap­i­talise on this shift, by hav­ing and nur­tur­ing the best ta­lent in this cru­cial mar­ket, is stronger than ever.

3. Egypt’s gift to the GCC

Egypt has been strug­gling for the past few years and its cur­rency de­val­u­a­tion in late 2016 has com­pounded these prob­lems. The re­cent in­di­rect na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of me­dia out­lets, the clo­sure of re­search com­pa­nies and the ban­ning of hun­dreds of sites don’t bode well for press or busi­ness free­dom. This is clearly a con­cern for the in­cred­i­ble tech and me­dia ta­lent in the coun­try, who are now look­ing at em­i­gra­tion as a se­ri­ous op­tion. The GCC coun­tries stand to gain from this brain-drain, as they pin their fu­ture on tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

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