The great arabian outdoors

Dubai grabs the headlines for outdoor, but the rest of the region is growing fast too says Richard Abbott

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By  Richard Abbott Published  December 4, 2005

|~|outdoorposter200.jpg|~|Eye-catching... an outdoor execution for Oliver Ross by Les Affichages Pikasso in Lebanon|~|There was once a time when Arab newspaper bosses had a monopoly on advertisers’ money. Then along came TV, offering pan-Arab coverage and satellites that could broadcast hundreds of channels into living rooms across the peninsula. And those two mediums have pretty much had it their own way in recent years, eating up the lion’s share of advertising. But times may be changing. As populations become more transient and TV viewing more fragmented, advertisers are struggling to pin down large volumes of consumers at one time. They want mass market reach but their traditional audiences are declining. This is where outdoor comes in. Strategically positioned posters are simply unavoidable. Everyone who walks or drives by is exposed to them. As many an outdoor media owner will tell you: “You can’t turn them off.” Georges Chehwane, president of Group Plus, which has a major outdoor presence in both Lebanon and the UAE, says outdoor is the only surviving mass medium. “TV used to be the mass medium, but when you want to reach the population now you have to go on at least five or six channels,” he says. “With outdoor, you can reach the masses with one single picture. Everyone will see it. You can’t avoid it. You have to look at it. It is in front of you. Even at night it is lit up.” He estimates that outdoor has an advertising market share of about 15% in the UAE and Lebanon, although he admits it is difficult to quantify because many clients deal directly with media owners. And outdoor has more tools at its disposal than ever before to make sites stand out, such as neon lights to make posters unmissable at night; and even moving parts. Across the GCC and Levant, the biggest spenders on outdoor include McDonald’s, Damas jewellery and Mobily. And the medium’s market share is slowly beginning to make an impression. From next to nothing a few years ago, it has accelerated towards double digit growth in some countries, most notably in Lebanon, Jordan and the UAE. And it is making inroads into new territories such as Iraq. In the Levant market, outdoor has established a market share of about 5%, according to figures from the Pan Arab Research Center, although this does not take into account Chehwane’s point about unmonitored sites. PARC reports that US$32 million will be spent on outdoor in 2005. Across the pan-Arab and Arasian markets, the medium’s share is estimated at 3%, with US$86 million invested. So while there are reasons for optimism, outdoor still remains, for now, very much a minority player. Media agencies tend to view outdoor as a bolt-on to a wider campaign, using the medium as a quick hit to get people talking, but rolling out the full campaign in either TV or newspapers. If we drill down to individual country level, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon are the biggest markets (see boxes), followed by the UAE. In the UAE, Dubai is a showcase for some of the biggest and boldest advertising in the Middle East. Kuwait has the fourth biggest outdoor market in the Middle East. Figures from PARC indicate that outdoor had an 8% share of advertising spend last year, which has fallen from 12% in 2002. Top outdoor spenders in Kuwait in 2004 were fast food chains Kentucky Fried Chicken (US$2.4 million) and Hardees (US$1.5 million). Third was Vodafone (US$1.5 million), ahead of another fast food chain, Burger King (US$1.1 million). It is a similar story in Bahrain, where McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Hardees and KFC are the top outdoor advertisers. These clients, and others, have helped the medium to a 63% year-on-year growth, although it still accounts for just 1% of the advertising market. Outdoor advertising has also grown quickly in Jordan, where it now accounts for about 5% of advertising spend. This puts it above radio and magazines but still some way behind the newspaper industry. Among the biggest players in the Jordanian outdoor market is Pikasso, which claims to have the first national poster advertising network. It boasts 800 panels sold per seven days in Amman and 24 other towns, along with 52 unipoles covering the country’s main highways. Its networks include the Jordan Star — across 24 towns — and targeted packages in the urban areas of Amman. Seagulls Media Services offers advertising on building sides, front-lit ads on rooftops and a nationwide network of posters, divided into nationwide, West Amman and City packages. The three biggest spenders on outdoor in 2005 are projected to be Intel (US$384,000), Arab Bank (US$346,000) and Chery (US$231,000). In Qatar, the sole agency for outdoor advertising is Qatar Media, offering lampposts, airport walls, bus stops and scaffolding to advertisers. The medium is still in its infancy in Qatar and no figures are available on its usage. Media owners include the Internal Media Services division of Doha international airport, which gives advertisers the opportunity to target all air travelers in and out of the region. And while Iraq has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, most advertisers agree that sooner or later it will open up to advertisers. Pikasso is one of the first outdoor companies to make moves into the region, and now offers a variety of packages, incorporating unipoles and rooftops, including in and around the major conurbations of Baghdad and Basra. And Dubai-based Hills Advertising, famous for its skyscraper sides, is soon to announce a move into Iraq. If initiatives like this are successful, outdoor may yet rise from its position as a minority player and challenge media’s big boys.||**||

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