Top 20 News Stories – 2021

1 In September the GCC chapter of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released for the first time a study that revealed the investment of digital adspend in the region. The study revealed that the total digital adspend in MENA in 2020 was $3.64bn. Other findings included that the growth of social and video in MENA has led the region to be ahead of other more ‘mature’ markets even though the MENA region is still considered an emerging digital ad market. The IAB GCC study is one of the first to try to size programmatic spending.

2 In February Edmond Moutran, the founder of Memac Ogilvy, passed away. Moutran, who was born in 1944, joined Bahrain-based Intermarkets in 1973. In 1984 he left to establish his own agency, Middle East Marketing And Communications (Memac). In 1986 Memac entered into an affiliation with Ogilvy & Mather, and in 1998 renamed itself Memac Ogilvy when the WPP-owned network took a minority stake. In 2014 Ogilvy took a majority stake, but Moutran stayed involved, only stepping aside from his CEO role in 2017 to become executive chairman.

3 In July Saudi Research & Media Group (SRMG) – which owns more than 30 major media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Asharq News and Arab News, and has a combined monthly reach of 165 million – announced a transformation strategy focusing on platform expansion, international partnerships and strategic investments across five key business verticals. In August it announced the acquisition of a 51 per cent controlling stake in Arabic podcast platform Thmanyah, and in October it launched a publishing arm, Raff Publishing.

4 In October WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook resumed services after being down for more than six hours in a major outage. Reuters reported that Facebook blamed a faulty configuration change for this outage that prevented the company’s 3.5 billion users from accessing its social media and messaging services.

5 In November Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Meta, which brings together all the company’s apps and technologies under one new company brand. Meta’s focus will be “to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses,” said the newly rebranded company in a statement.

6 In February news broke that, after 2024, Saudi Arabia will no longer allow its public sector to contract with foreign firms that do not have their regional headquarters sited in the kingdom.

7 In January Publicis Groupe held talks about a possible sale or transaction with a private equity investor. In March Publicis Groupe’s share price rose on fresh M&A speculation, this time involving Havas owner Vivendi. Publicis Groupe’s shares rose 3 per cent to about 52 euros, following a report that said the ad agency group had discussions with Vivendi. In October Publicis Groupe overtook Omnicom and WPP to become the world’s most valuable agency group, after performing better than its two largest rivals since the start of the pandemic. Publicis Groupe’s stock market value had risen to more than $16.3bn. That compared with Omnicom, previously the biggest agency group, on $15.1bn and WPP on $15.4bn.

8 In January Cannes Lions announced plans for the year’s International Festival of Creativity to take place at an in-person event in June. However, in April, amid ongoing concerns around the safety of international travel and large-scale events during the coronavirus pandemic, Lions announced that Cannes Lions 2021 would be fully digital, running as Cannes Lions Live.

9 In June Cannes Lions announced all the winners of the 2021 awards. The MENA region collected Gold, Silver and Bronze across different categories. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt collected awards. MEMAC Ogilvy, Dubai won Gold with Buy With Your Time for Ikea in Direct. Leo Burnett Beirut won Gold for Baklava Got Legs for #Safetyforsafekeeper in Entertainment and Impact BBDO Dubai won Gold with The New National Anthem Edition for An Nahar newspaper in Brand Experience and Activation.

10 In November at the annual Loeries Awards, held in Cape Town, South Africa, and celebrating the best work from Africa and the Middle East, the MENA region did well. Havas Middle East’s Liquid Billboard for Adidas picked up the Out-Of-Home Grand Prix, and the UAE Media Office’s work with MullenLowe and TBWA\RAAD also picked up a number of prizes. Among the other Gold-winning agencies from the Middle East and North Africa region were FP7 McCann and Serviceplan Middle East.

11 In June the advertising and marketing industry’s first global diversity and inclusion census got under way. The World Federation of Advertisers organised the census, which was supported by VoxComm and EACA, representing agencies, Campaign, Kantar, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The Effies. Initial results identified key challenges around family status,
age and gender as well as ethnicity and disability. It found clear gaps in lived experience when these groups were compared with the industry average, both in individual markets and globally.

12 In February UAE-based communications heavyweights Margaret Flanagan and Lisa King announced the launch of their new agency, Tales & Heads. With a combined 40 years of industry experience with global agencies in both London and Dubai, the duo formed Tales & Heads to focus on strategic, insight-driven campaigns that are rooted in great ideas and work across platforms.

13 In May, following the launch of Taa Marbouta – a unique women-to-women mentorship programme – PRCA MENA and Global Women in PR MENA called upon men in the PR and communications industry to adopt the Taa Marbouta mandate. The four-point mandate outlines a commitment from men to play their part in realising the aims of the programme by tackling the career progression challenges faced by women in PR.

14 In November a consultancy dedicated solely to workplace culture was launched in the UAE, founded by locally based entrepreneur sisters Lucy and Camilla d’Abo, along with employee engagement expert John Hague. The new venture, Together, “aims to inspire brands to make culture their superpower and transform organisations by bringing together leaders and employees to achieve an aligned, effective and engaged workforce whilst addressing the growing demands of the future of work”.

15 In September we published the Campaign MENA Power List, a supplement where we offered heads – and only heads – of network agencies and holding groups, and of major media owners and reps, the chance to write an essay next to their profile. Everyone on the List was a man. It is a list of 17 talented men who wield power and influence in the brand communications business, and no one has suggested any of these men individually should be replaced by a woman, but seeing a list of only men at the top of the industry drew attention to the lack of balance.

16 In August Abu Dhabi-based independent music company PopArabia announced the launch of ESMAA, a UAE-based music rights management entity, to facilitate music licensing in the Gulf region. ESMAA works broadly with both global rights holders and regional businesses to provide Gulf markets with the ability to license music domestically for the first time.

17 In March Motivate Media Group, Campaign Middle East’s publisher, launched a new arm, Motivate Create. Through partnerships and in-house, Motivate Create will offer video services, photography, animation, streaming and studio and equipment rentals across the region. Motivate Create offers clients content and tools across social, print, video and digital to cover wide industry sectors.

18 In October Multiply Group, a diversified company and a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi-listed International Holdings Company (IHC), took full ownership of UAE marketing and communications firm Viola Communications, as it continues to expand rapidly and broaden its service offering in the marketing sector.

19 In November Campaign’s flagship Marcomms 360 conference took place in person, back after a Covid-induced online event last year. An exciting line-up of speakers shared their forecasts at Five Palm Jumeirah, Dubai.

20 In October, Expo Dubai 2020 finally opened to the public after a one-year delay due to Covid. Actor Chris Hemsworth invited visitors in an ad for Emirates, and brands including Canon, Pepsi and Mastercard all leveraged their partnerships with the Greatest Show on Earth.