WHILE GLOBAL ADVERTISING RECOVERED LAST year and grew by 10.6%, the pan-Arab ad spend soared far more, rising by 43%, partly because of the young population in the Arab world. Now, after earlier anxieties this spring, the Arab world's advertising agencies are growing more confident that the industry will benefit from the fervour for democracy sweeping the region. But that also means changing the way they woo potential consumers.
Altogether, the advertising market in the Middle East and North Africa is estimated to be worth some $3 billion a year. Last year, Egypt had one of the most impressive growth rates in the world: advertising spending rose by almost 41%, according to figures released by the authoritative Nielsen company in the US, even though it lacks the high levels of personal income typical of the Gulf States.
Young consumers, especially nationals in the GCC, are a particularly sought-after market for discretionary spending on consumer goods, i.e. for spending aside from basic costs such as housing, utilities and food. Young Emirati males between the ages of 15 and 29 pay out more than 2,000 dirhams ($545) a month, 40% of which goes to clothing and 35% to mobile phones, according to Nielsen. Emirati females follow closely behind, with spending of 1,600 dirhams ($436) a month. Given that young people account for more than 30% of the population in the GCC, the potential for advertisers, agencies and marketers is enormous, industry analysts say.
Nevertheless, the eruption of protests throughout much of the Arab world has given pause for thought. "Just as we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel following the global financial crisis, we find ourselves now in a completely different challenge, involving political instability and the creation of democratic fever that is out of our control," Reda Raad, CEO for MENA at the TBWA/RAAD agency, told the local media in the UAE in March. "But if we take the flip side, the sheer amount of turbulence and change will create unprecedented amounts of opportunity and more empowerment to the democratic process, which we hope to be good for business and, ultimately, the industry."
"Nobody knows how this is all going to play out," commented Tarek Miknas, chief executive for MENA at the FP7 group. "So although there's some optimism about the long term, there's a lot of anxiety about the short-term economic effects. In some markets like Egypt and Bahrain," he added, "there's...