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Panel Discussion: Middle East advertising held back by lack of transparency, accountability

Facebook MENA, Nielsen, OMD, Flip Media, Arabian Radio Network and Motivate Publishing voice the advertising industry's challenges and strategies...

September 12, 2012 12:51 by

Joe Marritt stood firmly by his medium and while he admitted to a decline in ad spending during the recession, he said that the last two years have bore witness to an incredible recovery. He proudly adds that Motivate Publishing continues to attract most its advertising revenue from its print publications. He portrayed a belief that the print industry doesn’t have to die for the digital to survive or flourish. Once again, integration is important and publishing ‘is providing content in whatever medium works’ but his belief in print media is solid. “I believe print will survive and is here to stay, absolutely yes.”

However, despite the many advantages that content portals – be it print, digital or social – continue to provide, there is still no ignoring the many obstacles that this region unfortunately faces, stunting the full potential of the industry. Does Social media marketing and advertising work? What is working in other parts of the world and not in the Middle East? How do we overcome the barriers of the mobile advertising industry and why can’t we get there first? According to OMD’s general manager, yes we can.


Transparency, measurability and accountability are some of the weaknesses that are truly holding back the region from hitting its optimum potential point, as far as Nielsen’s Sarah Messer is concerned. While she is a ‘Middle Eastern’ fresher, she talks about media agencies in the United Kingdom. Messer says there is a lack of ‘money spent on hardcore measurement tools and activities’ in the Middle East, by comparison. Brands in the UK ‘live and die’ by their reach, they ‘live and die’ by their followers and social marketing results. Also pointed out was the fatal mistake that an understanding of a brand is as essential as the understanding of the customers/followers instead. Why does the customer like my brand? In what way do they like it? Why do they buy or use it?

So there you have it. Measurability, accountability and transparency are the three (building in progress) pillars that must be erected for this region’s advertising industry to truly catch up and not only grab a bigger slice of the pie, but in the words of OMD’s manager, enlarge the pie itself.

“Several years ago, some of the biggest challenges included convincing brands to be digital, to get on the web and now the time has come where that conversation is easy to win because of the lack of argument,” says Flip Media’s chief. “Digital is finally getting its day in the sun.”

All well and good, Kipp reckons. Still, there is no hiding the frustration felt by the lack of progress, particularly in the tapping of the mobile sector. Despite its extremely heavy usage and popularity in the Arab world, it still feels like a virgin market to many. Brands hop on the social media wagon, create a presence and (with eyes closed) wait for nature to take its course. Nature doesn’t and they are left disappointed. When Kipp posed the question of how a social platform “defines and quantifies” a fan or follower as such, we were told of the importance of engagement and interactivity between the brand and its target audience. Simply having a presence without providing content that is entertaining, enlightening, educational or worthy will not achieve the effect that you hope it would.

“Quantifying a ‘fan’ is not the responsibility of the portal or platform. It is entirely the brand’s responsibility. We can sit here and define a fan or follower in anyway we like, but the value of that follower is determined and built by the brand,” said Samara, OMD’s General Manager. A straight shooter. He emphasizes that it is important for brands to ‘get to know’ their consumers and create worthy targets out of them by never losing sight of the fact that engagement and interaction must remain a constant stream.

From the sound of it, the advertising trend in the region is definitely picking up and there is a positive belief that the Middle East can crack the mobile sector as well as bring forth new innovative methods of marketing, while hopefully keeping the intrusive factor on the low side. Challenges such as smaller screen sizes, tools and transparency and proper measurement investments will soon, as media players hope, be problems of the past.

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