Media measurement, transparency and the UAE’s advertising and media industry have rarely seen eye-to-eye. Over the years, the industry’s relationship with transparency and media measurement has been characterised by procrastination, disagreement and failure. TV people-meter projects have come and gone, print audits have fallen out of favour, and the industry has struggled to build consensus around the effective measurement of digital (aside from performance advertising).
None of which has been helped by the country’s complexity. The UAE is not only demographically fragmented (more than 160 nationalities call it home), but it is also one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world, is characterised by the consumption of cross-cultural TV, has a high penetration of video-on-demand and OTT services, and suffers from a chronic lack of shared industry data.
All of which has left advertisers unable to gauge the true effectiveness of their advertising campaigns (especially large-scale brand-building initiatives across digital channels) and media owners and content producers unable to plan for growth. What’s more, the lack of effective media measurement has contributed to low levels of advertising spend per capita compared with the rest of the world. This has only been accentuated by the Covid-19 crisis.
“With over 160 nationalities and high levels of segmented viewing, there is a need for unified research that can aid the effective deployment of media dollars,” says Ravi Rao, chief executive of GroupM MENA. “From a planning perspective, this lack of measurement has perhaps led to over delivery in certain segments and under delivery in others and we could only guesstimate the actual reach.”
Shadi Kandil, chief executive of MCN Mediabrands, agrees. “The absence of industry-wide media measurement has led to diminished incentives for advertisers to increase their investments in media and has consequently limited the ability of publishers to access much-needed funds to grow their offering and make it better,” he says.
Hence the urgent need for independent and accountable cross-media measurement that can help marketers not only understand the impact of their marketing investments but effectively plan for reach across digital platforms.
“Cross-media measurement will help advertisers target better and optimise across channels much more than where we are today, resulting in better effectiveness and minimising wastage of media dollars,” says Rao.
It is for these reasons that the Advertising Business Group (ABG), which advocates responsible advertising standards across the GCC, has launched an online-first initiative that seeks to provide a robust mechanism of cross-media measurement. With a primary focus on video and upper-funnel metrics, and taking into consideration linear TV, it is hoped that the UAE Audience Measurement Project will help boost advertiser confidence and provide much needed industry-wide transparency.
Although there is wide alignment on the scope of the project, the approach and methodology of the ABG’s cross-media measurement system has yet to be finalised. It is hoped, however, that the initiative will answer important questions such as who is watching what, where and how, and what amount of audience duplication exists across certain platforms.
“What this will drive is advertiser confidence to invest more in advertising,” says Asad Rehman (pictured), Unilever’s director of media and digital transformation across the MENA region. “At least we’ll be able to see what return is coming our way. If you look at the trends of the past few months there is a desire to question the return on upper funnel advertising. Digital runs a risk of becoming a performance only platform and if it is to gain its due share of investments in brand building activities, digital platforms should actively support cross-platform measurement.”
The ABG project shadows the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA’s) drive to find cross-industry consensus on key global principles for cross-media measurement. Those principles, which were drafted in October last year, are already being used by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), which became the first national advertiser association to launch a cross-media measurement programme in December last year.
It is these principles that the ABG hopes to align its UAE Audience Measurement Project with. And if the UAE initiative proceeds in the right direction, following the output of the global WFA work, the country could become the third market in the world after the US and the UK to implement what the WFA is calling a “Mexican wave of new age measurement models”.
Driven by a steering committee that comprises industry stakeholders such as Facebook, Google, Unilever, Ferrrero, the Choueiri Group, OMG, Dentsu Aegis Network, MCN and GroupM, the project is being audited from the outset and has considerable cross-party support. Rao believes this will remove skew or bias and provide transparency for the benefit of the entire industry.
“With all stakeholders involved and engaged at every step of the process, and more importantly having the ability to represent their views on the methodology and the research partners, there will be no base for any party to then challenge the outcomes or claim any bias,” says Kandil. “Advertisers being an integral part of the steering committee and fully represented in all the stages of this process will have the benefit of shaping this project in line with global best practice and much needed learning from the WFA. Again, this should consequently provide them with the confidence needed to endorse the results and use it for future plans.”
Running in parallel with a people meter initiative that’s expected to roll out in Saudi Arabia next year, it is hoped that the UAE Audience Measurement Project will not only provide transparency and complete trust in the published results, but help accelerate the industry’s recovery following the shock of Covid-19.
“It is extremely important to build the confidence of advertisers to bring MENA ad expenditure back to growth,” says Rehman. “Our experience in other markets tells us that nothing builds confidence better than a transparent and robust media measurement system. The UAE is a beacon for the MENA advertising industry and a world-class cross-platform measurement system here will drive momentum across the region.”
Importantly, the ABG’s initiative has a level of cross-party support that is unprecedented for the UAE’s media industry.
“In my 27 years of experience in the industry in this region, it is the first time that I have witnessed a convergence from all stakeholders and a genuine commitment to make it happen,” says Kandil. “So I am very hopeful that we will see this project to fruition for the first time in the history of this industry. And obviously with investment decisions being made based on robust measurement tools, it will certainly be a step change from the approach that we were forced into collectively as an industry over the past many years.”