Doom, Gloom and a Ray of Light
Arabad polled the views of Lebanese ad men and women on the state of the current advertising business. We asked them how they see it evolving, and what are the specific challenges and struggles they have been facing. Last but not least, we invited them to offer their expert advice on how they think the industry can change for the better. What follows is their analysis.
To reach and abide by an industry code of business would not just be an ideal solution capable of growing the market to all stakeholders, but also a cushion and a very useful remedy at times of falling ad spend.
As you know, the ad market is influenced by the state of the economy, i.e. whether it is sluggish, thriving, booming… And obviously, the political environment affects in turn the economy.
On the one hand, since November 2017 the country has been encountering political bumps on the way; on the other hand, major economic experts are telling us that we are in a situation of “Stagflation”. Obviously, all this has had a bearing on the ad market in Lebanon. The exceptional development that seems to have saved the day for 2018 has been the colossal advertising spend realized during the campaigns of the general elections of May 2018, where according to estimates, TV stations, for instance, generated over the span of few weeks more than 2.5 times their annual revenue from regular commercials! Outdoor benefited well next.
To come back to the general picture, I’m an optimist by nature, and I believe in the “fighting spirit”, namely of Lebanon and the Lebanese for that matter, so I should hope for the Lebanese economy, and the ad market by extension, to charter a normal, healthy course in the not too distant future.
As for its evolution, the Lebanese ad market is on par with the international trends, of digital media’s slice increasingly growing in the media mix. Most importantly, the Lebanese ad market reassuringly continues to evolve in its prize-winning creativity.
The challenges that often present themselves come in the form of clients mostly wanting tactical activities nowadays, be that in Marcomms or corporate communications, with strategic, brand building activities relegated to second place. Perhaps the present juncture dictates so, but as decades-long experiences and case studies from here and abroad have shown, there’s no substitute for strategic thinking and implementation for ensuring long-term sustainability and growth in the consumer and corporate spheres.
The industry can change for the better if its key players convene to a certain code of business among themselves. It’s a view that touches on many aspects of the business which were debated, even agreed, at times prior, but alas were trampled upon at the first acid test! When I was World President of the International Advertising association (IAA), I devoted a great deal of one of my 2-year tenure to get the main stakeholders (Agencies and Media) in this part of the world to come to an “entente” in this regard, and several meetings were held at various key locations (Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Paris…) to promote it. Unfortunately, each time an agreement was concluded, it saw the parties linked to it part ways in a matter of few weeks.
Today, as always, to reach and abide by an industry code of business would not just be an ideal solution capable of growing the market to all stakeholders, but also a cushion and a very useful remedy at times of falling ad spend.
It is really surprising that despite the deteriorating economic situation in the country, which has reached a catastrophic level, we all seem to avoid looking in the direction of one of our traditional lighthouses—one that has never stopped shining its light on our collective tomorrows and the business future of the entire Middle East region.
During the first half of 2018, the Lebanese advertising market grew by $52,120,525, which is a 5.86% increase from the same period in 2017. This money was injected into our ailing economy; as real estate transactions dropped by 18%, new car sales by 5%, and the value of cleared checks dropped by 2.5%.
What is more staggering is the fact that the Lebanese advertising market is the only market in the Middle East that showed growth, while all the markets of the oil rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regressed; with Bahrain showing a drop of 17.04%, Qatar 14.28, the Sultanate of Oman 10.28%, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 7.73%, the United Arab Emirates 3.56%, and Kuwait 1.67%, during the first six months of 2018.
Another big surprise is that, in the first six months of 2018, the Lebanese advertising market ranked first in the Middle East in terms of ad spend, with a total expenditure of 940.8 million U.S. Dollars. Lebanon was followed by the UAE with $900 m, then Saudi Arabia with $492.5 m, despite the fact that the Kingdom’s wealth and population count are much greater than those of the previous two markets. Kuwait ranked fourth with $261.3 million, ahead of Qatar with $132 Million, although it was the only Arab country holding transmission rights for the 2018 FIFA games and all the advertising revenue that should have generated. Towards the end of the list was Oman with $65 million, and last was Bahrain with $51.7 million only.
People who know the regional advertising landscape well might challenge Lebanon’s leadership in this ranking, on the basis of the sizable discounts that its media outlets offer its advertisers. This is an undisputable point, but it does not negate the fact that since the early Seventies—and before the epidemic of discounts hit our media scene—lebanon has always been in the lead because of our freedom of speech and the popularity of our media, at times when some GCC states did not have commercial television or print media that allowed showing photographs of living beings. Sadly, here is one of Lebanon’s perpetual problems: media shooting itself in the foot by competing over selling advertising space, for almost nothing.
However, the Lebanese ad industry has done more than contribute money.
The sector has been dynamically working as an image booster for a country that continues to make international headlines for destroying its own environment—as well as that of the entire Mediterranean basin—by tearing away at its forests, bulldozing its own mountains and piling its garbage in heaps around the country that end up polluting its ground water, spoiling its beaches and turning its sea into a gutter.
Against this ghastly image, young Lebanese ad professionals have been tirelessly at work, crafting big ideas at their regional agencies, which have earned them the accolade of being recognized on the world’s most prestigious stage for creative excellence, namely the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, from where they recently returned carrying 17 lions. The winning and shortlisted work cast a more positive light on the international image of
WHY DON’T ALL BUSINESS SECTORS IN LEBANON GET INSPIRED BY THE ADVERTISING SECTOR?
Arabs, which has been suffering globally due to the worrisome rise of fundamentalism in the region, the large numbers of immigrants landing on the shores of Europe and our never-ending wars. TBWA\RAAD’S campaign for the Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum showed that we are people who appreciate culture and are invested in its development at the same level of the people who were born and grew up surrounded by world culture. While the agency’s “Skins of Peace” campaign for Amnesty International earned global acclaim in wider circles than the Cannes Festival for making a bold statement against discrimination.
In its coverage of the Cannes Advertising Festival, one of the UAE’S prominent publications said: “We shine brighter when we push harder.” Lebanon should never be allowed to lose its glitter, and it is time for all the business sectors in Lebanon to push harder with its advertising people to get our country out of the ditch, that the ignorance of many is pushing it into.
Lebanon should never be allowed to lose its glitter, and it is time for all the business sectors in Lebanon to push harder with its advertising people to get our country out of the ditch, that the ignorance of many is pushing it into.
Mustpaha Assad CEO Frontpage Communications
Ramzi Raad Group Chairman TBWA\RAAD Middle East