Construction workers in Dubai throw caution to the wind as they climb to the top of an advertising billboard without using any harnesses or safety lines. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: With sharp increases in ad spend for each of the last three months of 2013, led by campaigns for Expo 2020 and upbeat retail and real estate sectors, the UAE easily retained the status of being the region’s top advertising market. The ad industry is estimated to have spent a substantial $1.65 billion (Dh6.06 billion) compared with $1.57 billion in 2012, according to the latest estimates — based on official media rate cards — by Pan Arab Research Centre (Parc). (The numbers relate only to traditional media and do not account for spending on digital platforms.)

From mid-October and right through November, government and private sector entities made a splash talking up Dubai’s credentials as host city for the World Expo 2020. Once the announcement of the win was made, it set off another round of high-profile celebratory campaigns that were there well into the second week of December. In November alone, an estimated $157 million was spent in the UAE across all media and up from October’s tally of $149 million.

According to Parc, the upbeat tone and the start of the holiday season were enough to help the December ad numbers to the tune of $151 million. In comparison, the rest of the year saw average monthly spending in the range of $130 million. But July was an exception, with $169 million, and related to the traditional highs recorded during Ramadan/Eid.

“Government-led campaigns was the top spending category last year though its share is on the decline,” Shaharyar Umar, marketing director at Parc, said. “The category now represents a fifth of total measured spending in the market as compared to 255 per cent share held just two years ago.

“Real estate recorded the biggest gain in spending among all sectors, surging by 38 per cent.”

Giant billboards

All of which is apparent by way of the giant billboards and realty projects splashed across facades (or elevations) of high-rises, harking back to pre-2008 days.

Some of the upbeat tone in the UAE should rub off on other regional markets. “We are now witnessing baseline stability starting to emerge in some countries which experienced major disruptions during 2013,” Karim Khalifa, CEO of Digital Republic and member of the EMEA board of Mobile Marketing Association, said.

In fact, Egypt saw a substantial 34 per cent dip in spend during 2013 (to total $745 million), while second-placed Saudi Arabia was down 6 per cent to $1.34 billion. There were 30 per cent plus year-on-year gains for Qatar and Oman, but off smaller bases.

“While 2014 looks to be a promising year, Q1 seems a bit slower and not as per our expectations,” Mahesh Sundaresan, CEO of Ikon Advertising, said. “We believe the momentum will pick up from Q2 and we are certain the year will end on a positive note.

“Our focus this year will be on performance marketing on digital and thus delivering better RoI [return on investment] for client budgets.”