Despite what the economists and soothsayers will predict, the coming 12 months will be challenging for advertising agencies, says Kamal Dimachkie, Leo Burnett’s managing director for the UAE, Kuwait and Lower Gulf
“In many respects, 2010 is not over. What we all hoped would be a graceful transition to better times felt no more than just another weekend, at the end of which the rubber hit the road in typical F1 fashion, where cars come out of pit stops with roaring engines and screeching tyres.
Of course, we are now in 2011; who am I kidding? The reality is that much of what 2010 became famous for continues unabated, with a frenetic pace knowing no respite and no end in sight. Independent of what economists and soothsayers will predict for this coming year, the reality is that our industry will continue to be challenged, its resources stretched, its capability to innovate pushed, its resilience tested and its flexibility tried. Anyone hoping for some respite is better off considering a change of industry.
No matter the advances, technological breakthroughs and new theories, the fundamentals will hold true. Ours is an indus-try of ideas first and foremost. Whether clients realise it or not, whether we on the agency side accept it or not, brands need ideas that engage and retain people’s interest and, until that happens, we will collectively suffer and our brands and work will continue imposing themselves on a weary public that does not want them. Sadly in 2011, and until we have learnt, we will upset more consumers than we will win over.
The need to increasingly consolidate expertise will be countered by the need to specialise. It is interesting that the region and the world seem to be headed in the same direction of housing more services, such as digital and retail, under single brand name roofs and that, though groups will continue to invest in specialisation, for agencies to deliver holism and ideas that change people’s behaviour they will need to have sufficient know-ledge and mastery of the communication landscape. For this understanding to deliver brand benefits, it has to be quickly deployable and flexibly produced, meaning more available expertise under one roof.
The wonderful thing is that this will clarify the demarcation lines between idea generators, producers and evaluators. Expect to see more and more agencies coming to the conclusion that they are not production houses but idea generators.
Many over the past few years have predicted that the coming year will be a watershed for digital and social media. Truth be told, the momentum continues to gather. A closer look at media spending figures will jolt us back to the reality that they remain very small, though the activity continues apace and, thankfully, more and more clients are engaging in the conversation, forcing agencies to respond with sensible arguments and the entire industry to push the existing boundaries, attract knowledgeable talent and upgrade the game. 2011 will see continued acceleration. Whether or not we reach the tipping point remains to be seen as the year unfolds.
The region’s youth will continue to impose change in media and will fuel the above evolution. They are the target, the talent and the catalyst. Increasingly brands are taking notice and attempting, awkwardly as the case may sometimes be, to engage them and use their language. As the work attests, Barbican and Pepsi are joined by Chevrolet and Virgin.
Traditional media will continue to play an important role for our markets, which remain emerging and underdeveloped and, in such markets, especially when cash and impatience are comfortable bedfellows, the reliance on delivering mass communication speedily continues to be desired and much relied upon.
Retail marketing will get a major boost from a double whammy of marketers’ recognition that the retail environment is a decisive battlefield and as people exercise their power to choose when and where to be engaged. Retail is here to stay, sharpen your tools. P&G has known this for some time and is the ultimate trailblazer in shopper marketing in the region.
Local content will gather momentum but will continue to lag, and we will continue losing our customers and consumers to Western content generators. This will increasingly become a topic of conversation and the skill set will be in higher demand. While some elements of the solution are outside the ad industry’s control, such as the legal framework for protecting content generators, and the cost of browsing, we do control part of the solution and that is in generating locally-relevant, interesting and purposeful Arabic content that brings the brand conversation to people where they want it, when they want it.
Agencies will be under increasing pressure to reinvent themselves and we will therefore continue to be tested, weighed and measured. Sadly, one thing is certain – the biggest fights during 2011 will be about service and financials and less so about ideas. The wonderful thing about stressful times is they force innovation and solutions. That’s what our energy needs to focus on – out of this labour an idea renaissance needs to emerge.”
Filed Under: 6.Essays