Kicking off his career in advertising in 1967, Ramzi Raad is one of the architects of the industry in the region. Based in Dubai since 1986, Raad is the chairman and chief executive of TBWA Raad, a subsidiary of New York-based advertising agency TBWA. In Faraya, Lebanon for the MENA Cristal Festival, Raad sat with Executive to talk about the prominence of television in the Middle East, the growth of digital advertising and the challenges of the region’s industry.
How did advertising on television become the prominent media avenue in the region?
At one stage in the [Middle East and North Africa] region, back in the 1990s, television was the main communication medium because of the high percentage of illiteracy in large markets such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Oil money made a lot of consumers have disposable income and become interesting prospects for international clients. At that stage it was government-run TV stations and news was about what the king, the sheikh or the prince did. Then, when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, we discovered satellite TV as CNN covered the war. Arab TV stations were in a state of denial; no one was covering the fact that an Arab state was invading another Arab state. We woke up and discovered there is a different kind of TV that shows you the world as it is evolving at the moment: live TV. Egyptian satellite TV channels were the first [in the region] as they had huge libraries of material. Then commercial satellite stations proved to be popular because they delivered to the viewer what he or she wanted.
How are the Arab revolutions affecting the advertising landscape?
In the bigger markets in the [Arab region], you don’t have a lot of cultural and entertainment opportunities, so people are accustomed to get entertained by TV. To advertise on TV is expensive and in today’s world, you have to invest and not all advertisers can invest. Local agents don’t have the money to do that. Then came digital media and the Internet and access to new ways of communicating with the public. With the Arab Spring came the realization of the penetration of these types of media, how popular and how much they are used among local populations, and then “poof” everyone moved [to digital advertising].
What are your expectations for the performance of the advertising industry this year?
We are hopeful the growth seen in 2012 will continue. Our region from the dawn of the advertising history has been underspent, so one expects that there should be two-digit growth year after year.
What campaign are you proudest of so far?
The campaign we did this year for the Dubai Shopping Festival. This campaign, which has been going on for a number of years, tried to appeal to everybody but in the process, it was about to lose its distinct identity. Was it a place where you can take the family, was it for entertainment, for discounts? To develop the campaign we ran this year, we brought together all the stakeholders in one room for two days and together we looked at shopping festivals, carnivals and annual events from all around the world. Collectively we tried to come up with what Dubai festival is about.
What are the most significant challenges that the industry is facing?
The industry needs to realize that we need to get together and apply a lot of discipline to the way research [on media in the region] is done. We realized in recent years that the whole system sometimes gets abused. Now there is a move across Gulf states to provide job opportunities for nationals and there are lots of young nationals coming on board and running businesses. They are there because they are young nationals with a general education and not necessarily because they went to a communication school or received [specific] training or managed large budgets. If they are not trained well, growth in any particular market will be greatly affected by the quality of the people running the process. I don’t want to be insulting of young nationals. All I’m saying is that we have to accept that professional training is a must.