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Ad chief urges the region to ‘re-brand’

The International Advertising Association (IAA) Congress, held in Dubai for the first time last week, broke world records.

The International Advertising Association (IAA) Congress, held in Dubai for the first time last week, broke world records. Over 2000 delegates from 63 countries attended the industry’s largest event, including a guest list featuring the world’s most prominent advertising and media figures. The statistics were unprecedented for any IAA event since the organisation's formation in 1938.

Another global first came in the shape of Joseph Ghossoub, Dubai-based advertising guru and elected IAA world president for the organisation, which straddles over 75 countries. The congress, kicked off by Ghossoub, staged debate surrounding some of the world's most pressing advertising issues, despite initial disappointment owing to the absence of acclaimed businessman Sir Martin Sorrell.

The WPP CEO, and arguably the event’s lynchpin speaker, was unable to attend the event due to a death in the family. “It is with deepest regret that I have had to withdraw from my participation at the IAA World Congress in Dubai. But, in the circumstances, I hope that everyone will understand,” said Sorrell.

Ghossoub — who is rapidly becoming the local version of global icon Sorrell — is confident that in his new position he will be able to turn around a regional advertising industry that is said to lag 30 years behind global industry standards, as well as improving international perceptions of Dubai.

“The Arab world needs to engage the outside world. As we all know from recent events, even being one of the best financial centres and most liveable cities in the modern world did not prevent its reputation being distorted,” he said.

“The UAE and other progressive nations in this region need to connect more fully and be attuned to the current realities of the modern world. The Middle East needs to rebrand. It is far too late for brand protection.”

The IAA Congress theme for 2006 was ‘Challenges of Change' and, as such, senior spokespeople, such as ex-former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar and worldwide leaders of the likes of Time Warner, Visa, Forbes, Omnicom and Walt Disney, came together to voice their views on how to take global communications forward in a profitable and ethical way.

As befits an association that claims to champion responsible advertising, the spotlight was soon turned to the young and booming local industry. The UAE has 400 advertising agencies, but some 90% of the business is channeled through the biggest 20. However, this did nothing to quell the 70% rise in print media in the UAE throughout 2005. This took some 65% of advertising spend in the UAE last year, totlaling $US904 million, according to statistics from Pan Arab Research Centre (PARC).

“The diversity of traditions, languages and religions in this region means working across borders,” Ghossoub said. “But the rewards are tremendous, given the accelerating level of investment here and relatively undeveloped ad market compared to Western Europe and North America.”

“In theory, the IAA event should push for harmony between advertisers, the media and consumers — but, in practice, we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Hani Soubra, regional director, BBC World, MENA and Pakistan. “Remember, these people are going to be accountable and they might be embarrassed in the long run if nothing materialises — accountability is a very important factor here. Buildings are going up, financial institutions are being created, and everything that is being done is undoable.”

Senior figures agreed that the advertising industry in the region is reaching a ‘do or die’ situation. “We hope that a lot of things will change,” said Adil Khan, regional director of Team Y&R, one of Ghossoub’s regional advertising branches. “This event now means that the world is going to look at us now, just like they already do on an economic level. That kind of pressure also needs to come down on our industry and force us to be better and better.”

As well as the importance of keeping in line with global standards of transparency and creativity, the IAA event focused on the region’s need to get to grips with technology. The region currently boasts one of the youngest populations worldwide and ways to reach them are becoming increasingly diversified — Bluetooth, SMS, podcasts, Blackberries and blogs, to name but a few. “What is coming up now is completely different to what we’ve seen before,” Ghossoub warned.

The IAA, headquartered in New York, was founded to champion responsible marketing. With 56 chapters in 76 countries is a partnership whose members comprise of advertisers, media, public relations agencies, media companies, and academics.

The organisation claims to fight to advance the freedom of commercial speech, responsible advertising, and consumer choice across the world.

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