A woman shops online using a tablet. Retail brands showed a 4 per cent deline in the amount spent on digital marketing in 2016, as did banking and financial services. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Property developers and estate agents in the UAE are making it very personal — more of them are spending significant sums on delivering marketing messages directly to your smartphone or computer. In fact, real estate ads showed a clear spike — by 29 per cent all through 2016 compared with a year ago — in using digital platforms, according to updated full-year ad spend data in the UAE from BPG Maxus.

Real estate marketing has relied on traditional media in Dubai, with a historic reliance on print and outdoor. While the latter is still holding sway in showcasing the best and the brightest developments in the local market, the sector’s reliance on a print-based outreach to consumers is declining. And in its stead comes digital, where the cost of sending out that message still comes in much lower.

But the biggest spending increase on digital options came from local restaurant operators — by a massive 50 per cent on online ads. A related category, food and snacks, also saw a 53 per cent jump in getting as close to the consumer in trying to dictate how he or she spends on this category.

But there were some consumer categories that ended 2016 showing less spending on digital — retail-related brands showed a 4 per cent decline, as did banking and financial services, by a quite significant 23 per cent.

But, surprisingly, local telcos ended up spending 47 per cent less than what they did in 2015, according to BPG number crunching. Surprising, because it would seem obvious that the digital space would be the ideal option for them to offer up new services or their latest offers.

Another category where one would have thought digital-led personalisation would work well also showed a dip in ad spend — perfume brands did so by 24 per cent lower than in 2015. It could be that the decline in the overall retail sector and an uncertain consumer spending sentiment held back key categories from doing too much with their marketing dollars.

Based on industry estimates, the overall advertising spend in the UAE would have been down by 10-15 per cent compared with end-2015 actuals.

The shadow over the retail sector also told on what brands were willing to spend in offline media, essentially all of the traditional platforms until digital and social media came along.

Local automotive dealers and global manufacturers slashed offline spending by a substantial 16 per cent during 2016, instead using their funds to offer direct showroom-based incentives such as extended warranties or free insurance.

That local F&B operators were switching to digital and relying less on traditional is made out from the 3 per cent decline the latter saw in such spending. A lack of tourists for the better part of the year and local shoppers staying away over high gold prices led jewellery brands to pare down ads in offline media by a steep 25 per cent. Instead, they tried to highlight their promotions using banner ads on digital or through videos/stills on Instagram, in many ways the fastest growing ad medium in the region.

Jewellery brands continue to rely heavily on billboards — just about every corner of the city has a Bollywood icon bedazzled in their finery. And even one A-lister Hollywood actress (Penelope Cruz) is also there, but on select locations.

Through last year, real estate had less on traditional media, down by 17 per cent, But, interestingly, there was a sharp comeback in December, when the city’s developers’ splurge saw a 70 per cent increase in offline media spending exposure.

For newspapers, there was a 33 per cent decline in ad spend last year, according to BPG, while in quantitative terms there was a 28 per cent decline in ad numbers.

The signals from advertisers for radio stations in the UAE was much more mixed — English and Hindi language ones saw a 9 and 8 per cent spending dip, respectively, while the Arabic ones were down 12 per cent. In overall terms, ad spend across radio stations was down 16 per cent last year.