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MENA advertising market: Capitalising on creativity

MENA advertising market: Capitalising on creativity

Innovation and creativity matter more than ever in advertising

Anyone looking for a clear sign of a beleaguered economic climate can look no further than a region’s spending on advertising.

The Middle East and North Africa’s spend is predicted to slump by 11.5 per cent this year in ZenithOptimedia’s March 2016 report, as businesses across the region jostle with economic headwinds. When times get tough, it is nearly always the advertising budgets that are the first to meet the axe.

However, at the 10th anniversary of the Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity, a visitor could easily have mistaken the industry and the economy to be flourishing.

Amid a climate of cheap oil, focus on costs and falling investments, the festival served as a reminder that regional talent is still strong. Underpinning the three-day event was a focus on MENA’s start-up industry and technology-driven future, from which the anxious could take encouragement.

Opening the festival’s ‘Innovation Stage’, Careem’s vice president of marketing and analytics Yousef Tuqan Tuqan said that while the region had suffered from an ‘Arab Winter’ in the fallout from the 2011 uprisings, the last two years’ surge in start-up companies was paving the way for a new revolution – one where no shots would be fired.

He said: “In a region plagued by sectarianism, strict border controls and government bureaucracy a new revolution is underway. Arab start-ups from across the region are using the internet to connect and empower the digital generation through platforms, tools and technologies.

“In the Middle East, in some countries, more than 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 25. In Saudi Arabia, more than 55 per cent is under 25. In Egypt, it’s 59 per cent. These people all need jobs. And companies are going to create all these desperately needed jobs in the future.

“Some 30 years ago, you wanted a nice public sector job. Today, there are more than 460 companies out there ready to help and support entrepreneurs. And in the last five years, there has been an absolute explosion in the region.”

In particular, Tuqan cited e-commerce sites such as Souq.com and Saudi Arabian ‘marriage sites’ as being the region’s biggest success stories.

He said: “Most retailers today in the Middle East are flatlining, even if they won’t admit it. Very few are seeing significant growth. But these people are growing 90 per cent a year. Souq.com employs over 3,000 people across the Middle East. And what’s incredible is that 70 per cent of purchases made in Saudi Arabia are done by mobile phone. It is a success story and a real bellwether for the industry overall.”

Signs of a digitally-driven marketing industry could be seen at all corners of the festival, not least in the form of PHD UAE’s giant robot which was sporadically wheeled into the festival arena. Across all three of the stages, speakers ranged from representatives of global technology giants Google and Twitter to the region’s social media stars and ‘influencers’ themselves.

Attention was drawn particularly to the dramatic rise in smartphone advertising. According to ZenithOptimedia’s March report, mobile spending will double from 9 per cent to 18 per cent between this year and 2018. And with mobile penetration in the Middle East among the highest in the world, it is no surprise that brands will be looking to increase spending on a cheaper platform where the bulk of the market is engaged.

However, as Google’s global chief creative officer Lars Bastholm argued, simply putting more adverts online will not be enough. The shifting audience will instead require an entirely new creative strategy to engage these younger audiences who have grown up with the internet.

He said: “72 per cent of all mobile bandwidth by 2019 will be video. Digital will account for 60 per cent of all video by 2020. Why is it important winning on YouTube? That’s because of the audience YouTube has.”

“Creating stuff that people choose to watch is altogether different proposition than to do ‘video advertising’. You’re going to have to think about your target audience and have that conversation with brands, where they say ‘this checks all the boxes right? But still if you just do that and don’t think about who your audience wants, odds are nobody will actually watch it.”

Such is the difficulty of marketing to audiences in a social media era that Blue Barracuda’s general manager Phil Adrien likened it to “the age of a burrito”.

Elaborating on his theory, he added: “Why a burrito? Because you can put anything into it. And once you consume the burrito, it’s gone forever. And that for me is the insight in terms of cognitive experience we go through when we post content on social media.”

Yet while technology and innovation may have given food for thought this year, at Dubai Lynx’s heart remains the celebration of creativity and the culminating awards ceremony. Despite a difficult climate, this year’s festival saw a record-breaking number of entries with a total of 2,542 – an increase of 3 per cent on 2015’s awards show.

Leading the table was the Dubai agency Impact BBDO, which was crowned ‘agency of the year’. WPP Group-owned J. Walter Thompson Middle East and Africa was named ‘network of the year’ and MBC’s Sheikh Waleed Al-Ibrahi was awarded the title of ‘advertiser of the year’.

JWT MEA chief creative officer Ramsey Naja said his network’s successes were the result of team spirit.

“Great talent, hard work, dedication and passion will always be rewarded,” he said.

“But the magic ingredient, the one thing that can produce a performance of this magnitude, is the spirit that runs through this network, binds it and makes hundreds of people work together happily as one.”

However, for MullenLowe Middle East and Africa chief executive Mounir Harfouche it is important to keep a sense of perspective following the post-ceremony glow.

He said: “I think most agencies realise that it is important to win but it is not the end of the world if they don’t win big or win the most as this is relative to the size of your network, affordability, business situation and client portfolio.

“I also believe that the region has reached a certain level of maturity that should allow us to realise the difference between generating award-winning work through our business and making it our business to generate award-winning work.

“What is important is how we are contributing to raising the bar, be it with 100 entries or just one, be it with 20 awards or just one. What made me happy is to see some new players, agencies that are not expected to win, walking out proudly with their awards.”

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