On a global level, the biggest news of 2018 seemed to come out of holding company WPP. In April, the group’s effective founder and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell resigned, to be replaced in September by former Wunderman CEO Mark Read.
Since Read has taken over, he has merged some major agencies. First came VMLY&R, formed from digital agency VML and creative shop Y&R in September. And then, in November, WPP announced it would merge direct and digital agency Wunderman with the 154-year-old J Walter Thompson, to create Wunderman Thompson.
This consolidation is a continuation of a line started by Sorrell, who last year merged buying agencies Magna and MEC to form Wavemaker, and in February joined PR agencies Burson Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe to form Burson Cohn & Wolfe. In June, in the interim between Sorrell leaving and Read becoming CEO, WPP removed the verticals from its mega-agency Ogilvy & Mather. Silos such as Ogilvy Public Relations and Ogilvy One are now unified as just Ogilvy.
Ogilvy’s chief creative officer Paul Shearer moved at the beginning of the year to Impact BBDO, taking over from Fadi Yaish, seen by many as the driver behind BBDO’s recent run of awards wins.
2018 was TBWA/Raad’s year to shine. The Omnicom shop could do no wrong in both awards and pitches, and cleaned up at the Dubai Lynx, taking eight Grands Prix and agency of the year, before going on to become the region’s most awarded agency at the Cannes Lions in June.
TBWA couldn’t have succeeded without its recent run of strong work, and it was no surprised that campaigns such as Highway Gallery for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and #SheDrives for Nissan were highly awarded both at home and abroad.
TBWA also managed to take Du’s advertising account away from Leo Burnett, where it had been for more than a decade since the UAE telco launched in 2006. It also won Careem, Mai Dubai, Global Village and Accenture, among others.
Elsewhere, other big account wins included Dubai Expo 2020’s advertising, which went to Ogilvy, and Centrepoint, which moved its creative work from Impact BBDO to The Classic Partnership.
In media, 2018 saw Gulf News close down its Xpress tabloid in August after 11 years. Editor in chief Abdul Hamid Ahmad said at the time, “We felt that we could not continue doing real journalism without revenue”, and blamed the closure on market conditions and declining revenues. Gulf News also made cuts at its main paper on the same day it axed Xpress, including 18 from the editorial department.
While print may continue to suffer, there was fresh hope for another ‘traditional’ media channel, radio. Bankrolled by Dubai broadcaster ARN, the first figures of Nielsen’s Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) survey of listeners in the UAE were released in February. They found that 93 per cent of the population aged 10 and above listen to the radio at least once a week, and on average listeners spend nine hours a week tuned in.
In October, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) launched its GCC chapter. The organisation, which represents online advertisers and promotes best practice in internet advertising, is stuck in a quandary where its local licence has been approved but not yet issued, so it is having to outsource the organisation of the Bureau. But it has said that its first major project will be to conduct research into the value of the online advertising market in the region. The lack of an agreed-upon figure for digital ad spend has been the elephant in the room of regional analysis for many years, and although it is unlikely everyone in the market will agree with whatever number the IAB comes up with, they will at least all be able to disagree with the same figure.
While ad tech has been a key growth space for start-ups and entrepreneurs for some time, there were a couple of notable mergers in the last 12 months. France’s Gamned, run in the region by long-time general manager of MEC Yves-Michel Gabay, was bought by TF1 Group, also of France. And Dubai-based digital firm Future Tech Media bought regional programmatic specialist Adzouk. Neither of these are game changers in their own right, but they may point towards a coming-together of programmatic firms as automated buying begins to come of age.
Campaign’s parent company Motivate Media Group forged a partnership with internationally renowned influencer marketing agency Vamp in March. While this enabled Motivate to expand its footprint in the digital space, it also allowed Vamp to capitalise quickly on new National Media Council legislation. A few weeks before the partnership was announced, the NMC had announced an electronic media law that included a clause requiring all influencers to be licensed. When it revealed that the licensing structure would have three tiers – for individuals, collectives and agencies – Vamp was the first organisation to be able to offer all the influencers it represents licensing compliance in return for exclusive representation. The NMC has since further tightened its influencer regulations, issuing guidelines that emphasise the need for all sponsored posts to be labelled as such.
Going into 2019, it would be a surprise if we do not see more consolidation within holding groups on a global level, and further regulation and rationalisation in the digital sphere both at home and abroad.