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The Annual 2022: The year in review

Despite a tumultuous year for geopolitics and technology, the region has been protected from the worst international storms. A maturing market lies behind some impressive performances at home and abroad. By Austyn Allison

Our sister title, Campaign UK, has poetically called 2022 “one of those critical transitional periods from the history books when things began to steadily unravel and fall apart”. It was writing from the background of Great Britain, which has had three prime ministers and two monarchs so far this year. The Middle East, for once, was slightly more stable than some other regions, but we are as susceptible as the next bloc to the whims and foibles of global economic, political and social trends.

It was February when Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistences that he was not going to invade Ukraine rang hollow and troops marched on Kiev. The effects of the war on the prices of grain and oil would contribute to a cost-of-living crisis that has seen consumer prices and inflation rates rise around the world. While the GCC may not be struggling to heat its homes as much as other regions, consumer confidence has still been affected and it is unlikely the Middle East will escape the effects of a global slow-down.

The GCC has stayed fairly buoyant so far, however, with Expo Dubai 2020 keeping its doors open until March 31 (and reopening later in the year as Expo City) and the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 kicking off in November. These two spectacles have ensured a constant flow of tourists, while Russians and Ukrainians escaping war and its economic and social side-effects have ensured that house prices and residents’ spending also remain high.

Work it

At the start of 2022, the UAE shifted from a Friday-Saturday weekend to Saturday-Sunday. The move brought the country in line with European and other western economies, and government workers also get Friday afternoon off for prayers. (In Sharjah they can take all of Friday off.) The way the private sector tackled Fridays varied from allowing Muslims time to pray to giving staff all of Friday off, and everything in between including half days, work-from-home and ‘no pressure Fridays’ to catch up on tasks without having to officially clock in.

Changes to the working week came as the region’s ad industry – among other sectors – was rethinking its approach to office work. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how much can be achieved by working remotely, as well as shining a light on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. Agencies, clients, suppliers and media alike have been offering their staff more flexible ways to work, realising that a traditional, rigorous, nine-to-six office environment is not always the most productive. In few places is that more true than in the creative industries.

However, flexible working and more ‘me time’ hasn’t led to the romantic lattes-and-yoga homeworking utopia that WFH romantics imagined. ‘Goblin mode’ became the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year, which the OED defines as “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”. It was the first year the word of the year had been decided by the public, and with almost 320,000 votes, 93 per cent of the total cast, ‘goblin mode’ left second-place ‘metaverse’ (with 14,484 votes) standing.

Social collapse

The tech sector has been going through a period of turmoil – or correction, depending on one’s stance. 

While blockchain crypto bros are breathing into paper bags at the collapse of digital exchange FTX, the big story in media tech is divisive billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. After a period of will-he-won’t-he, he did. Then he walked into the platform’s offices holding a sink and fired half his new staff. If rumours are to be believed, he next tried to cajole many of them back since no one else knew how to do their jobs. So far Musk’s reign has been chaotic, with scandals over fake blue ticks, arbitrary account suspensions and Twitter users leaving in droves. Many of the remaining Twitterati are hanging around like wedding guests saying they must get going but not quite finding the door.

At Facebook parent company Meta, Mark Zuckerberg was much more contrite about layoffs. After making more than 11,000 staff redundant (representing 13 per cent of the Meta workforce), the CEO said he was taking responsibility for the situation after wrongly predicting that increases in e-commerce at the start of Covid, which led to a rise in revenue growth for Meta, would continue after the pandemic ended. In its Q2 results call, Meta reported a 52 per cent fall in net income to $4.4bn and a 4 per cent drop in advertising revenues to $27.2bn

In October 2021, Facebook had rebranded itself as Meta, plonking its eggs firmly into the metaverse basket. This year there has been a lot of talk about the metaverse, and brands are beginning to set up shop there, while agencies are building their in-house expertise. But so far consumer buy-in has been limited. It’s likely that in coming years adoption, understanding and innovation will grow together.

Already, 2022 has seen a number of brands and agencies establish at least a presence in the metaverse. Among this year’s cyberimmigrants are Neom, Havas, Vice, BPG and Lightblue.

Meanwhile, Snap has been doubling down on augmented reality (AR). The company behind the camera-based social app Snapchat is betting on a future where people prefer to use technology to interact with the real world rather than escape from it. It has been partnering with regional clients including Pepsi, Centrepoint and STC to provide lens-based experiences that build both brand loyalty and direct sales. The company rolled out a suite of upgrades that allow businesses to develop their own AR more easily and at lower cost. However, in August, Snap too was reported to be laying off some 20 per cent of its 6,400 employees and restructuring after its lowest rate of quarterly growth since it went public in 2017.

As with the metaverse, advertisers are still finding their way around blockchain-based non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Horizon FCB picked up an agency record of three Silver Lions in Cannes with its Breakchains with Blockchain for the Children of Female Prisoners Association. The MMA Smarties this year launched what it claims is the first tokenised award, presented as an NFT, and Nestle, Accenture and e& have all made forays into the NFT market.

Tech that and party

In the adtech space, cookies are taking longer to die than an operatic heroine, with Google scrapping its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) project and announcing that it will postpone its phase-out of cookies until 2024.

One local adtech company that’s had a good year is ArabyAds, which raised $30m in funding from AfricInvest in August and bought out influencer marketing platform Indahash in October.

In the region, Saudi Arabia has continued to be where the action is. To take just one of many megaprojects driving the Kingdom’s economy, the groundwork is being laid for The Line, a 170km megabuilding that will eventually be home to 9 million people in the midst of the new Neom city on the Red Sea.

SRMG, MBC and Amazon all announced new offices in the Kingdom, and companies from Dubai and further afield are continuing to expand into the market. The Qode, MBC Studios, Kingsmen, Assembly, Spiro, Imagination and Jack Morton all announced they were putting people on the ground or enlarging their operations.

Pride of Lions

The last time Cannes Lions took place physically, in 2019, Impact BBDO came home from France with the region’s first Grand Prix for its Blank Edition for Lebanese newspaper AnNahar in the Print category. This year, agencies were able to quaff rosé on the Croisette again, and the region outshone itself. Impact won another Grand Prix for the same client in the same category with The Election Edition, and Havas Middle East won an Outdoor Grand Prix with Adidas’s Liquid Billboard. UAE agencies also dominated at the Loeries in South Africa, and regional work has been awarded and honoured at other high-profile shows around the world, from the D&AD to the London International Awards, the Clios and the Crestas.

It wasn’t just on the awards stage that the region shone at Cannes. SRMG’s cabana hosted talks, presentations and debates that showed just how serious the Saudi broadcaster and publisher is about being seen as a true international player. And UAE Government Media Office’s Khaled AlShehhi’s talk on government communications saw a queue of creatives and communicators waiting to talk to the man who is spearheading one of the best programmes of state messaging in the world.

Cannes was targeted by Greenpeace protestors who brought the messaging, “There is no creativity on a dead planet”. A former Cannes Lions winner, Gustav Martner, disrupted the festival’s opening ceremony when he took to the stage to protest ads promoting fossil fuels. Previously, Martner has won awards at the festival for his work with cars and airlines, but this year he stole the limelight to unfurl a banner that read: “No awards on a dead planet. Ban fossil ads!”

No such protests happened at the regional iteration of Lions, the Dubai Lynx. Although the festival didn’t return in full (it will be back as a one-day event in 2023), the awards dinner took place for the first time since Covid, at the Dubai Opera.

The Network Of The Year was BBDO Worldwide, followed by Havas Creative and then TBWA Worldwide, with those networks’ Dubai agencies taking the top agency spots in the same order.

During the show, the Advertiser of the Year award was presented to Ikea, which currently has its creative brief out for pitch. Abu Dhabi airline and UAE national carrier Etihad is also being tendered, although reliable industry sources say Impact BBDO will soon be announced as the winner. This will go some way to making up for that agency’s loss of e&, which moved its creative account to Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, probably the largest single account shift of 2022.

Etisalat was the most high profile rebrand in the region in 2022, when the UAE telco changed its name to the hard-to-google ‘e&’. But it was far from alone in rethinking its corporate identity. Nakheel, Abu Dhabi Airports, Al Hilal and Oman insurance also rebranded. As did Mashreq. The bank even got itself a new sonic identity.

For goodness’ sake

A lot of messaging from brands has been around ESG, where the triple pillars of environment, social responsibility and governance have been on the rise. And many rebrands have been shifting focus to companies’ human, empathetic and authentic credentials.

The ESG focus can be seen as a corollary to re-thought workplace practices, where brands have been emphasising their responsibility to their staff as well as their customers.

Egypt hosted Cop27 this year, which brought climate concerns closer than ever to the region. Next year the environmental conference will be hosted in the UAE, and while brands have been flexing their sustainability muscles, agencies have been finding ways to help them – and earn some consultancy revenue in doing so. Cicero & Bernay released its second CSR report in June, and Asda’a announced an ESG survey. It also opened its OnePoint5 practice, an ESG advisory dedicated to the region. Other agencies launching specialist units included Apco Worldwide, Havas Red and Houbara Communications.

Notable account shifts this year included Centrepoint, which went to Dubai-based independent creative shop And Us, and Betty Crocker, whose creative brief moved to FP7. FP7 also won the social media account for Heinz. Havas, already doing award-winning work with Adidas in other disciplines, won the sports brand’s social remit. Merkle won the digital brief for Pizza Hut, and We Are Social (represented in the region by Socialize) won Starbucks’ strategic and creative brief in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In PR, Cicero & Bernay took over comms for Property Finder, and Tales and Heads, which launched last year, won the communications brief for automotive giant Stellantis.

In media, Abu Dhabi Media announced it would be represented by Starzplay, and after a successful first year together, MBC Media Solutions (MMS) renewed its agreement to sell Saudi Sports Company’s (SSC’s) inventory.

In July, Group M, the media group of holding company WPP, announced that its popular and respected MENA CEO Ravi Rao would be leaving the company. Group M EMEA CEO Demet Ikilier said: “Ravi expressed his desire to step down and look for new opportunities after having been with the GroupM business for over 14 years, the last seven of those located in MENA. As GroupM MENA CEO, Ravi played an active part in building strong relationships with media and clients alike via his approachable personal style, honesty and direct approach, which helped grow our business.” 

The industry mourned the passing this year of Tanvir Kanji, chairman of the Inca Group of Companies and founder of that group’s flagship Inca Tanvir Advertising. He had been named Advertising Person of the Year by Dubai Lynx in 2009. Firdaus Sharif, head of marketing at Schneider Electric, and Tarek El Kady, senior marketing director at McDonald’s Middle East, also passed away.

At the start of the year, Horizon Holdings, part of Interpublic Group (IPG) and FCB Global, announced the elevation of two leaders: Rafic Saadeh and Mazen Jawad. Horizon Holdings’ co-founder and partner, Saadeh, was elevated from chairman and CEO to executive chairman, and Jawad will serve as CEO. He was previously the company’s president. 

In other promotions, Impact BBDO regional ECD Ali Rez was promoted to chief creative officer (CCO) for the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan. He takes over from Paul Shearer, who was made global creative client lead at Wunderman Thompson last year. “Ali is one of my favourite people,” said David Lubars, CCO of BBDO Worldwide. “He’s a shining light who embodies the BBDO trifecta: a brilliant creative; a brilliant leader; a good soul.”

Saleh Ghazal, previously managing director of Omnicom Media Group’s OMD Dubai, was promoted to CEO of OMD MENA, a market where he will oversee a network of 12 offices. Sister OMG agency Hearts & Science named Rasha Rteil UAE managing director, following her predecessor Dana Sarkis’s decision to relocate to Europe.

At Middle East Communications network, Oliver Robinson moved from being ECD at FP7 McCann to the same role at sister company MullenLowe MENA. FP7 McCann Dubai confirmed Aunindo (Auni) Sen as its new ECD, to work alongside chief creative officer Federico Fanti. Sen has returned to FP7 McCann after a brief stint with Publicis Groupe where he served as senior creative director at Leo Burnett.

Leo Burnett, in turn, hired Kalpesh Patankar as chief creative officer. He had previously been CCO at VMLY&R for 13 years, during which time he became one of the region’s – and the world’s – most awarded creative leaders. VMLY&R merged with VMLY&R Commerce in 2022, with Nick Walsh at the helm.

In December, TBWA/Raad announced a new ECD, Paulo Areas, a Brazilian creative who had previously been serving as CCO at UK agency ForeverBeta.

At Memac Ogilvy, Claus Adams has returned to the region as the agency’s first dedicated UAE CEO. In 2008, he was tasked with establishing creative commerce brand OgilvyAction (which became Geometry and then VMLY&R Commerce) in the Middle East and North Africa, serving as MENA regional director until 2013. Since leaving the region, Adams had held the titles of EMEA CEO for Geometry and VMLY&R Commerce CEO
in Germany.

By any measure

In terms of measurement, 2022 was a year of making steps towards new metrics. The Saudi people-meter project, run by Nielsen, is still building steam. Meanwhile the UAE’s Advertising Business Group (ABG) appointed Ipsos to run its UAE Cross-Media Measurement Project from June. In August, Hypermedia (part of W Group, and the media representative for Dubai Metro as well as other digital and static out-of-home properties), announced a partnership with Streach, part of Seventh Decimal, to help clients measure OOH metrics including reach, frequency, impressions, sociodemographic, socioeconomic and geo-distribution.

2022 was a year of increasing competition for TV streaming services. Global market leader Netflix saw its shares slump when it announced that not only had it lost subscribers for the first time in a decade, but it was also to introduce an advertising-funded model. Previously, users had been able to watch content ad-free. Internationally, Netflix saw a new competitor, Disney+, appear on the market, offering a back catalogue of Disney classics as well as Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies and National Geographic content. The service launched in the Middle East in June.

Local content company OSN launched an integrated TV box, which will allow subscribers to control both their live TV viewing and streaming on OSN+ through one interface. And in March a new subscription over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform was rolled out in time for the World Cup, TOD, from Qatari sports broadcaster Bein. In October, MBC’s streaming service Shahid launched 21 subscription-free
digital channels.

After a quiet couple of years, the region’s magazine market started to show a little more life. Campaign sister brand Menatech launched a quarterly tech and business magazine in Arabic, with the launch issue in March focusing on financial technology (fintech). 

US business title Fast Company also launched a regional version. It is published by Dubai-based Vibe Projects and the US publishing holding company Mansueto Ventures. The launch of the website was in March 2022, followed by the print magazine in May.

And in early December, New York publishing giant Condé Nast announced that Architectural Digest (AD) and Condé Nast Traveller would become its first owned and operated titles in the Middle East. They had previously been published by ITP Media Group, whose contract expires at the end of 2022. The move represents the first new owned-and-operated market for Condé Nast since it launched Vogue in India in 2007.

The great outdoors

Other happenings in the OOH space include the expansion of Talon Outdoor to Dubai, headed up by Chadi Farhat, previously chief investment officer at Omnicom Media Group. Campaign Middle East parent company Motivate Media Group partnered with Motion Icon to introduce escalator advertising to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Another Motivate company, cinema advertising specialist Motivate Val Morgan, launched an audience-based cinema-buying platform, CinePlan, and a measurement
tool CineMeasure. Chief operating officer Avinash Udeshi said: “The system has the capability to buy audience by numbers, demography, and income groups, right down to a granular level of an individual screen at a particular location.”

The podcast market has been maturing for some years now, and this year saw both launches and consolidations. Campaign’s own On the Record podcast has been going from strength to strength, and the year’s content included an interview with Snap on-ground at the Expo, and conversations with VMLY&R global CEO Jon Cook and writer Malcolm Gladwell.

YouTube in January launched a short video and podcast series called Play it Forward with YouTube (Hekayat YouTube in Arabic) to focus on MENA content creators. Spotify launched video podcasting in the UAE. And TikTok launched its own podcast series on the future of retail in the GCC. 

Content studio Project Brazen and 2022 Pulitzer Prize-winning public media organisation PRX announced People Like Us, a six-part podcast hosted from Beirut by journalist and NYT best-selling author Kim Ghattas. Project Brazen co-founder Bradley Hope was a former journalist at Abu Dhabi newspaper The National.

Ziad Issa, chief client officer of research group Ipsos, wrote in June: “The evolvement of podcast penetration seems to be only heading upwards, as seven out of 10 people who listen to podcasts in Saudi Arabia have stated that they listen to more podcasts now than when they first started.”

He added: “The major factor behind the rapid growth of on-demand audio is due to the explosion in high-quality content, as publishers started producing more engaging series and episodes, and offer a variety of genres for the listeners to choose from.”

In April Kerning Cultures Network signed a deal with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), an entertainment and sports agency based in Los Angeles. Kerning Cultures Network will work with CAA to find opportunities to adapt existing podcast intellectual property (IP) for television, motion pictures and books, as well as breaking into global markets.

Financed by the Media Development Investment Fund, which is headquartered in New York, Amman-based independent podcast network Sowt Media acquired Finyal Media, a Dubai-based podcast production company.

The home front

This year we published the 300th edition of Campaign Middle East magazine. We also hosted our first event in Saudi Arabia. Its popularity blew us away, and we plan to host more events in the Kingdom in the coming years, reflecting the growth of one of the most exciting markets in the world, let alone the region.

We also hosted our annual Marcomms360 Predictions 2023 event in December, another success, where we handed out mementos to this year’s Marketing Game Changers between sessions. That was followed the same evening by our inaugural Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East awards, and you can see who won starting on page 16. Publicis took home the most awards, reflecting a momentous rise for the Groupe. And Impact BBDO was named Creative Agency of the Year, adding that trophy to their Best Network MEA gong from the Global Agency of the Year Awards in May. This year’s globals are now open for entries. Like the regional awards, they are based on business performance, judged exclusively by client-side marketing leads and audited by PwC. If you think you can compete with the best in the world – and I truly believe regional agencies can – then get your entries in and show them what we are made of.