Advertising hoardings change the face of Dubai

The emirate is becoming a haven for outdoor advertising, but while the Municipality rakes in the cash, some are raising concerns

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By  John Irish Published  January 27, 2004

Trying to get the most out of your advertising buck is never an easy thing to do. It’s a refined art to squeeze out as much as you can from you’re yearly budget. Nowhere is that more true than in the Middle East, where traditional vehicles for advertisers are not always as effective as elsewhere across the world. A recent survey carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for instance, highlighted how little Arabs actually read. Once you take out magazines and newspapers as your main target, what are you left with? The fact that the Middle East is mad about cars coupled with the lack of stringent regulations against excessive outdoor advertising means that the region is slowly undergoing a billboard facelift. If one place epitomises this, it is Dubai. Over the last year, the emirate has seen a steady rise in advertising hoardings across the city. Naturally, this decorative ‘art’ form is beginning to cause a stir. On the one hand, Dubai Municipality sees it as a legitimate way of raising the capital for its ambitious town planning projects. With the cost of these campaigns spiralling into the millions of dollars, it is no surprise that the government is keen to tap into them for as much as possible. Mohammed Al Noori, head of the advertising section at the Municipality, appears adamant that this is the best way forward. “We are currently studying the existing regulations covering the signage and advertising industries and we want to upgrade them to ensure high standards throughout the sector.” Quite what those standards are is unclear. However, he also adds that with Dubai’s road network developing at its present rate, it will create new advertising opportunities.“This [outdoor advertising] will rise by around 30% in the coming year,” he says. This will come as horrific news to John Deykin, managing director at brand management firm, tmh. As one of the most vociferous opponents of outdoor advertising, he recently stepped up his vitriolic diatribe against it. “Dubai has the opportunity to develop a model city for the region, but it irks me the way it is being destroyed by an over preponderance of signage,” he told Arabian Business. “This is another example where people are making a bomb by getting a cut and selling every bridge, building or lamppost, rather than just making a shilling and leaving the bridge as an architectural masterpiece.” Unlike somewhere like Time Square, where advertising hoardings have become part of the culture, adding artistic value, Deykin, believes the Municipality and the International Advertising Association are guilty of neglecting the issue. “Because of toothless advertising associates and the absence of an effective lobbying group, Dubai towers on the brink of organised seediness.” Deykin says this may also harm the emirate’s burgeoning tourism industry as consumers will begin to find the signage overbearing. Nevertheless, not everybody agrees. Trevor Stokes, CEO and President of American Express, Middle East and North Africa, acknowledges that the region, as a whole, needs some form of regulation. However, he dismisses the notion that Dubai is becoming an advertising junkyard. “I think Dubai has done a fantastic job in creating itself as a city of excellence,” says Stokes. “Dubai has more tourists than Egypt and has one of the highest return rates in the world. Yes, there are brilliant buildings with terrible billboards, but [likewise] there are ugly buildings with great billboards.”

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