As international and local media digressed into the infrastructural and economic implications of Dubai’s Expo 2020 bid win in November 2013 – which, according to an infographic released by Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) MENA in early 2014, generated some 161,525 tweets, of which 118,083 were congratulatory and 82 percent were on announcement day – the emirate’s real estate agents saw an opportune moment to, once again, reopen the touchy subject of rent and residential price hikes. And while governmental preemptive measures were keen on bursting yet another property bubble that would inflate in the wake of the bid win, the influx of expats from trouble-laden neighboring and European countries, coupled with Dubai’s vital signs of healthy economic recovery – and successful PR to boot – made for indisputable market dynamics: Dubai’s in demand. Those who want a piece of it need to pay their way and, those who are already there, need to pay a little extra.
Keep ‘Em Coming
In May 2014, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed that the UAE’s residential sales prices jumped by 27 percent year on year over the same period from 2013. Naturally, the rent market saw an equally notable increase in prices. For many agencies, this spike translated into an inevitable readjustment of salary schemes. For others, it didn’t change much. As Communicate learned in its 2014 salary survey report, that is perhaps because, the agency job market’s dysfunctional dynamics continue to offset employees’ natural progression; poaching, recycling and scarcity of talent are still heavily distorting industry salaries, as the region continues the struggle to fill the gap of Arabic-speaking and digital talent – with a long shot of having both at once. One notable change, however, remains Saudi Arabia’s more modest packages vis-à-vis the UAE compared with previous years; possibly as the result of intensified Saudization efforts in the Kingdom that have been leading to less demand and less attractive packages for expats.
Indeed, while taking costs of living and financial realities into account, agencies refocused their talent retention and hiring strategies on investments into honing and developing skill sets and academia-like programs; examples of which are the Aegis Academy, launched in Q3 of 2013 by – then Aegis Media – Dentsu Aegis Network, and the Transformers Leadership Development Program, which MCN (Middle East Communication Network) devised along the lines of an executive MBA program and introduced in late 2014 in partnership with the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.
Junior talent, however, continues to bounce around the job market – driven by shortsighted career goals and objectives, some recruiters and agencies would argue. In fact, when Communicate partnered, in May 2014, with Havas Worldwide Middle East for Portfolio Night – a speed-networking event where young university talents majoring in the creative field pitch their portfolios to advertising professionals – more creative directors than university students showed up.
Of course, that’s not to say that MENA youngsters take employment opportunities gratuitously. Quite contrarily, PR network Asda’a Burson-Marsteller’s sixth Arab Youth Survey, released in the first quarter of 2014, shows that they perceive unemployment and rising costs of living as the biggest impediments to their personal and professional growth, while their confidence in the long-term impact of the Arab Spring continues to drop. On the flipside, they exhibit entrepreneurial spirit that is unprecedented in a region that has long inhibited the culture of failure – sometimes rightfully so, as Communicate’s report on regional tech and media startups highlighted big egos and unfit business models as barriers that concede to the growth of regional entrepreneurs.
What’s more, Asda’a’s survey shows that a growing number of Arab youngsters is embracing modern values, but that “family, friends and religion still have the most influence” on its outlook on life. It comes as no surprise, then, that this past year, JWT MEA dedicated an exhaustive report to Mipsterz – a group of young and hip Muslim hipsters who seem to have effortlessly reconciled their faith, values and beliefs with fashion, arts, culture and social progress – which the agency recognized as “paving the way for a new era of Muslim integration that opens up many brand opportunities for the socially savvy marketer”.
Cut to the chase
But while the “Muslim moolah” was estimated by JWT’s report at $2.3 trillion in market size, it was not necessarily one of focus for global brands and agencies in 2014. Make no mistake; last year was tough, riddled with major redundancies, cold cuts and messy breakups within some of the biggest global conglomerates. Granted, there were several positive developments and forecasts in beginning-to-mid 2014: earlier last year, ZenithOptimedia predicted that global ad spend would grow by 5.8 percent in 2015 and by 6.1 percent in 2016; Juniper research projected in-app advertising to reach $16.9 billion by 2018; Burger King made big news for its talks of buying Tim Hortons; Instagram inked a $100 million ad deal with Omnicom; and Google deployed its troops on the global top 100 companies, securing a big commitment in France from WPP and similar deals with “five of the six major agencies”, as Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of content and operations, told Communicate.
But such developments were often met with unfavorable announcements and stories from both agency and client sides. In January 2014, Unilever was reported to cut 800 marketers as it slashed agency fees and products. In March, followed news of publishing giant, Time Inc, laying off nearly 500 employees as part of its restructuring. Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble sold its pet care business to Mars in a $2.9 billion deal, announced its plans to drop more than half of its brands and decided to redirect money away from advertising and into sampling within the span of a few months. Hewlett Packard confirmed that it was splitting into two publicly traded Fortune 50 companies and, most recently, Time Warner’s CNN stopped broadcasting in Russia.
This was not the most fertile of grounds for the then much anticipated Publicis Omnicom $30 billion ‘merger of equals’. Nine months into regulatory holdups, inconclusive negotiations and industry speculations on cultural and management clashes, Publicis Groupe and Omnicom Group officially called off the deal on May 9, blaming the fallout on “difficulties in completing the transaction within a reasonable time frame” – WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell, who’d predicted the merger would not lead to a favorable end, probably sighed in relief before learning that his global network’s own earnings were slumped by the British sterling in late 2014.
As Publicis Groupe moved on an acquisition binge, which included that of digital marketing and CRM shop Hawkeye and of digital network Sapient Corp – the latter was an all-cash transaction valued at $3.7 billion – several regional breakups also made the news: Iyad Zahlan parted ways with JWT Beirut as creative director – due to difference in opinion with management, as per the agency – and Rayan Karaky and Rami Saad left their chief digital roles at SMG MENA – while Alexandra Reynolds also left SMG MENA for a role as chief strategy officer at Mindshare MENA. Emile Atallah, former group business director at Y&R MENA’s Dubai operation, moved to FP7 Beirut as managing director. Also under MCN, Momentum MENA tapped M&C Saatchi Beirut’s Bruno El Adem as general manager. In other crossover moves, ex-Leo Burnetter Haytham Zoghby assumed the role of director of innovation at OMD MENA – while OMD UAE’s Thomas Khoury left the agency for a role as commercial director at Sky News Arabia. MediaCom MENA’s head of digital, Dan Chapman, moved back to the UK to head the agency’s digital team in the country and was replaced by Daniel Vaczi, while most recently, Mindshare MENA’s regional head of digital, Boye Balogun, left the company to start his own venture, Future Tech Media.
On the flipside, several moves up the ladder marked 2014: Leo Burnett MENA promoted Nada Abi Saleh to managing director at Leo Burnett Beirut and Kamil Kuran – who’d previously held Abi Saleh’s current role – to regional managing director for the Levant, and appointed Yousef Tuqan Tuqan as chief innovation officer; BPG Bates named Nick Clements as new CEO for the Lower Gulf markets; JWT MEA promoted Michiel Hofstee from managing director at JWT Dubai to CEO for the Gulf region – while Francois Kanaan was named managing director at JWT Kuwait; and Dentsu Aegis Network promoted Antonio Chedrawy from chief financial officer to chief operating officer. SMG MENA beefed up its data offering by hiring Ryan Murdoch as head of data and analytics for the region, while Omnicom Media Group’s PHD promoted Mohammed Halawi and Luca Allam to general managers of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai offices, respectively.
These moves and announcements were, naturally, often coupled with or part of bigger structural and strategic changes in regional media and agency networks and groups.
In early 2014, French online publishing conglomerate Webedia took a sizeable stake in the capital of regional digital media company, Diwanee, in a deal that entailed a $5 million investment into the latter’s capital – although no further details were divulged on the acquisition, the deal was rumored to amount to somewhere between $20 million and $50 million. In March, Ogilvy & Mather acquired a majority stake in Memac Ogilvy, a deal that entailed chairman and CEO Eddie Moutran’s sale of a further 20 percent of his shares in the regional network and that, effectively, brought up the global group’s stake in the company to 60 percent.
And while Moutran confirmed to Communicate there would be no management changes at Memac Ogilvy, this was not the case for sister company Y&R, which restructured its Middle East operations in the same month; Joseph Ghossoub – the CEO of Menacom, the regional network that houses Y&R and other agencies – took on the interim role of chairman and CEO at Y&R MENA, following the departure of top exec and CEO Nagib Badreddine, while Nadine Ghossoub, who had been acting CEO in the interim, would still lead the agency’s Dubai operations. In September, UM MENA announced a restructuring of its digital operations, led by the appointment of Justin Mlynarski as regional digital director, MENA. Talking to Communicate, Mlynarski said his focus would be on growing digital for the agency across MENA, rather than just the GCC, and on building a fully integrated team that can plan across both online and offline.
Other agency networks focused on investing into specialized units and offerings. Dentsu Aegis Network launched media agency Vizeum – with one of Communicate’s industry women to watch in 2014, Anouk Bondroit, heading it as general manager – Amnet, its programmatic buying platform and, most recently, ICUC, its social media monitoring agency. Omnicom Media Group’s digital arm, Resolution MENA, launched [email protected], its social marketing solution. Mindshare MENA introduced Mlive, a tool to track brand campaign performance through instant insights. In late September, Memac Ogilvy launched the MENA operation of the global network’s health marketing arm, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide (OCHWW). And a month later, Leo Burnett/Publicis Group MENA launched Holler, a London-headquartered specialized social and mobile agency that had been affiliated with the group in other markets.
Also following in the footsteps of their global headquarters, two of the Horizon Holdings group agencies underwent major revamps that involved some namedropping. In early 2014, Horizon DraftFCB was still rolling out the agency’s global rebranding, which entailed discarding “Draft” from its name, a new colorful logo and a two-fold management hierarchy model: “The top 11 countries report directly to New York and an international team supports all clients and operations for the rest of the world,” Sebastien Desclée, president at FCB, explained to Communicate. In November, the group’s PR agency, GolinHarris, officially announced its rebranding into Golin, dropping the last name of Tom Harris – who was twenty five years into his retirement from the agency as president – under the tagline: “Go All In”.
Small time wins
As big agencies reshuffled their structures and departments, they faced stiff competition on major accounts from small-to-mid-sized multinational and independent agencies, in a trend that seemed to reallocate segments of remits to specialized companies in 2014. For instance, Beiersdorf reassigned its digital work to two agencies: OMD MENA to lead on the company’s digital strategy, and Buzzman to take on the company’s digital campaigns – the French hotshop was also assigned by Procter & Gamble to create and execute digital strategies for Pantene and Head & Shoulders in MENA. Porsche Middle East awarded its regional business to Omnicom agencies DDB for marketing support, PHD Dubai for CRM and RAPP/EVOKE for media.
In more standalone wins, PHD bagged the digital buying and planning account for Unilever in the GCC; Cheil secured the experiential duties remit for telco operator du; Zenith MENA was selected by Reckitt Benckiser to manage all its digital media services – while Zenith Egypt was awarded the Electrolux MENA account; UM MENA landed the L’Oréal and the BMA International accounts in the region; Initiative picked up the accounts of SACO in Saudi Arabia, SOHAR Ports in Oman and Vileda in Lebanon; Grey Doha was assigned as the strategic communications partner for Qatar’s Barwa Bank Group; and BPN was appointed as BurJuman’s media buying agency.
Bigger siblings’ wins included OMD’s Middle East social media assignment for The Walt Disney Company’s MENA operation; FP7’s appointment for Majid Al Futtaim’s leisure and entertainment arm’s through-the-line communications, and Emirates Islamic Bank’s marketing and advertising strategy and work; and MediaVest’s selection for Wrigley MENA’s media planning and buying business. The latter had been previously handled by OMD MENA, which, in late 2014, pulled out of the du media review in the final stages – a move that, although was rationalized by “commercial parameters that hindered the agency’s deliverables to its clients”, surprised many industry peers. However, OMD MENA was reported to have retained the Jumeirah Group account – news that remains unconfirmed by the agency or the client. Indeed, client retention was an equally big deal for agencies during a year that was – many industry peers would agree – a challenging one; which is why it was no small feat for JWT Riyadh to retain STC, SMG MENA, Samsung, Mindshare MENA, Zain, and Zenith MENA, BMW Group Middle East.
… and big ones
And while Hubert Boulos, CEO at DDB Middle East, expressed his discontent with the absence of Arab jurors from regional awards shows at an IAA discussion panel, the year counted some major wins that made for memorable moments for the regional industry – in fact, DDB Middle East’s work on Persil’s “Preserving Pride” campaign bagged several accolades across the year. Leo Burnett MENA was named Network of the Year at the MENA Cristal Festival – followed by JWT MEA, the Cairo office of which was still collecting accolades on the Vodafone Egypt “Fakka” activation.
Initiative MENA shone through several regional and international shows such as the Festival of Global Media – where SMG was named Network of The Year, and its MENA office picked up an award for its work on Adidas.
In fact, Communicate’s Agency of the Year listing, which is based on a scoring system for agencies’ award wins and regional and global shows, ranked SMG MENA as Media Agency of the Year. In the same listing, Memac Ogilvy Dubai led as Creative Agency of the Year, on the back of “The Autocomplete Truth” campaign for UN Women. The Dubai office was also named Agency of the Year, Memac Ogilvy as Network of the Year – a position to which Memac Ogilvy Label Tunisia’s “Mobilizing the 12th Man” campaign greatly contributed – and Eddie Moutran, as Advertising Person of the Year at the Dubai Lynx Awards – where Impact BBDO performed equally well, coming to a close second, led by Fadi Yaish, now the network’s regional executive creative director.
At the Effie MENA Awards, FP7 MENA ranked as the Most Effective Network of the Year and its Dubai office, as Most Effective Office of the Year for the second year in a row, with a total of 25 awards across ten categories – many of which went to SmartLife’s “Sapna – How 17,793 Nails Shaped the Future for Generations to Come”.
A cup above average. But, in what went down as the worst loss of 2014 – as well as in the history of football – Brazil took a beating with Germany in a record 7-1 defeat at the FIFA World Cup 2014 finale. In the region, the world’s largest sports tournament coincided with the Holy Month of Ramadan, and with a series of accusatory news reports against Qatar’s bid win of the World Cup 2022, claiming bribes to FIFA officials and highlighting the negative conditions of laborers in stadium construction works. Still, in an interview with Communicate in October 2014, Eric Hanna, group CEO at Grey MENA, whose roster of clients has been growing considerably in Qatar – including the likes of Qatar Rail and the Supreme Council of Health – said that “regardless of all the politics and controversy around it, the country’s investing heavily both inside and outside”.
Indeed, controversy around Qatar’s bid win was quickly overshadowed by the FIFA World Cup 2014, as agencies, tech giants and advertisers salivated for all the real-time marketing, digital and video opportunities the tournament held. In fact, in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Twitter had been auctioning off ad packages for Promoted Trends a year prior to the tournament, offering bidders a Gold, a Silver and two Bronze packages, according to AdAge – while in a regional conference held in February 2014 by Resolution MENA, Lisa Szatsznajder, Twitter account executive at Connect Ads, talked of the company’s plans to introduce TV targeting in the context of the World Cup. Facebook was also reported to offer its biggest advertisers a segment of users that had expressed interest in the World Cup – during which the social network introduced the Facebook Ref, a comedic referee who has now become a public figure.
Regionally, Emirates airline and its media agency, Havas Media Group, partnered with Microsoft Advertising for the brand’s “#Alltimegreats” multi-screen football ad campaign, leveraging a variety of ad formats and interactive technologies. And on the heels of an exclusive editorial partnership that its global parent signed with Jose Mourinho, manager of the Chelsea Football Club, Yahoo Maktoob launched a multi-language app that updated users in real time on scores and happenings during the World Cup matches, and also partnered with Egyptian comedian Ahmed Helmy for a web series around football.
Indeed, global and regional digital players saw great opportunity in capitalizing on the World Cup 2014 to expand on their products and services. Under the direction of Marissa Mayer as president and CEO, Yahoo made a series of announcements, including that to buy video ad tech giant BrightRoll for $640 million – while video streaming platform Vevo and Mirriad, a company that has previously inserted ads into TV shows, partnered for retroactive product placement in music videos. Facebook launched its in-app mobile network, Twitter changed its pricing model with news tools for “objective-based campaigns”, Snapchat announced the introduction of ads around its “stories” product, Mozilla launched two ad formats into its browser, and Google packaged the top five percent of channels on YouTube into the Google Preferred product – bought on a reservation basis, Google Preferred is offered through upfronts with “agencies that can do large commitments”, Kyncl explained.
In the region, 2014 saw the launch of the first MENA Digital Awards as part of the yearly Digital Media Forum event. And as challenger digital players launched out of Dubai – such as Tint, a Silicon Valley based social media aggregator; Telly Plus, a platform to discover video content via social media recommendations; Brightcove, a video Cloud service provider; and Pokeware, an ad tech company – regional offices of global giants further honed and specialized their offerings.
Facebook MENA appointed Narain Jashanmal as client partner for retail and e-commerce channels and Terry Kane as head of travel and auto for MENA, while Google also set up an auto vertical in January 2014 – the clients of which include Fiat, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, General Motors, Ford, BMW and Mercedes – led by Marie De Ducla.
On the product development front, MSN and Yahoo Maktoob both unveiled homepage revamps – with new ad opportunities to match – while Connect Ads announced a partnership with Shazam in the UAE. LinkedIn, mobile network AdFalcon and Yahoo all introduced native advertising formats for the MENA region.
Long winding road
That’s not to say that the region has come to grips with digital trends – in fact, when Communicate quizzed industry experts on the definition, misconceptions and regional applications of native advertising in the MENA region, the responses were puzzling and ambiguous at best. Prospects remained bleak for the ‘year of mobile’; 2014 was not it, as high click-through and post-click interaction rates – which, in the GCC, were six times higher than the US average, according to mobile network Addictive Mobility – were countered by several obstacles: traumatized by bad experiences in an SMS-driven market, clients are still tiptoeing around mobile advertising; agencies still have no access to a central repository for ad spend numbers and research; efforts to set up a regulatory body in the form of the MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) have fizzled out; aggressive cost-cutting and haphazard business models have greatly devalued prices; and loss leaders have distorted the market.
As such, digital players continued to try to club together offline and online, in the hopes that clients would eventually make the jump with both feet. For instance, Choueiri Group’s digital arm, Digital Media Services (DMS), continues to sell cross-platform advertising packages. YouTube conducted a study in Saudi Arabia that shows its eight percent incremental reach to TV.
Research firm Ipsos introduced a unified set of metrics for media planners “transforming impressions to insertions”. It comes as no surprise, then, that crypto-currency Bitcoin – on the back of which two regional payment gateways, Yellow and Umbrellab, were recently launched here – has proven to be too premature of a conversation for the region.
If nothing else, Bitcoin was part of a larger movement in defying ‘the system’; one that has manifested in several scandals and headline stories both globally and in the region. While the virtual currency challenged financial centralization and the concept of value exchange, Ello, an invite-only social network that emerged in July 2014, publicly vowed to remain “ethical” and ad-free – and was reported by Techcrunch to record 40,000 invite requests an hour and to have secured $5.5 million in venture capital funding in September 2014.
Ello’s emergence raised several concerns on the ethics, privacy and security of user information on social media. And so did other events. When, in June 2014, Google agreed to take down negative search results on a former Merrill Lynch exec, it sparked a major debate on the Right to Be Forgotten, a legislation under the EU Data Protection Law that effectively allowed individuals to erase unfavorable stories about them – while a few months later, Twitter sued the US government for blocking it from publicizing more information about spy agency orders for user data, after Google and other technology giants agreed to follow government disclosure rules.
It also begged many questions around ORM (online reputation management) for corporate and public figures. In this regard, actress Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were not as lucky as the Merrill Lynch exec, having had their nude pictures leaked following an iCloud hack of epic proportions in August 2014.
Toward the end of the year, another cyber-hacking scandal, that of Sony Pictures Entertainment, erupted prior to the company’s release of The Interview, a comedy that contained arguably offensive material against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
On the much smaller regional scene, several controversies also burst online. On New Year’s Eve 2013 and into 2014, Vodafone Egypt was embroiled in its strangest PR crisis ever, when Egyptian talk show presenter, Ahmed Moussa, hosted a social media activist who went by the name of Ahmed Spider. The latter claimed that Vodafone’s tactical TVC to promote the reactivation of users’ SIM cards, created by JWT Cairo and starring a puppet character, Abla Fahita, hinted at messages of espionage and terrorism.
It involved Vodafone’s UK headquarters, Egyptian government officials and a DA investigation – while several months later, the brand’s “Having fun in the sun, getting laid in the shade, summer’s here #SummerTime” tweet also went viral for the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, Ipsos Egypt was the target of a naming-and-shaming campaign led by a consortium of the country’s top TV players, questioning the transparency of its processes and the credibility of its ratings results.
Locally, perhaps the biggest controversy of the year was the ‘Arabtec crash’, when Abu Dhabi government-owned Aabar Investments cut its stake in the construction company from 22 percent to 19 percent, the company’s top exec Hasan Ismaik and others resigned, and hundreds of employees were allegedly let go. Although the crash had a short-term impact on the Dubai Financial Markets (DFM) and the UAE’s property sector, it made for a PR scandal that was shrouded in mystery and involved a great deal of online miscommunication. It is unlikely, however, to have any effect on rent hikes in Dubai for 2015.
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