Doom, Gloom and a Ray of Light

ArabAd - - COVER STORY -

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.

THE SIT­U­A­TION

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

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 SO­LU­TION

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

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