Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Of advertising statistics in 2020 in Lebanon (reading Naji Boulos numbers)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Prominent ad person Naji Boulos projects 25 USD per person in 2020 in terms of ad spending in Lebanon. In 2019, for the first time in 22 years (still according to Naji) that number dipped below 100 million (if the number was adjusted to inflation I know not). Actually this is how he got to the 25 USD number - a best case scenario of 100 million divided by the Lebanese population. The projection does make sense. My point of squabble (and I stand corrected if I misunderstood the numbers) is that he says this is 40% drop - which presumably means when compared to 2018. Let me remind you - without the political elections of last year, the media spend numbers would have been as bad as 2019 (again, not sure I understood the numbers correctly but if I did, then the 40% does not hold as the political spending skewed the average incredibly badly).
Yes, yes, in times of down-market, advertising is an investment - meaning when the market improves and customers get disposable income to spend again, the top of mind brand would be yours. But what's with ad agencies in Lebanon using the lowest prices to compete, with customers cutting corners and marketing departments always using the lowest common denominator, and with this whole conundrum working against any logic, then investing in brand building in Lebanon in down-time remains a theory.
The 25 USD number that Naji proposed could also be an exaggeration, though theoretically it does hold. Last year, December which is usually the busiest OOH (Out Of Home) month was a total disaster. Poor revolutionaries, they had to fight the false claim that it was all because of them when it was a perfect storm which had been brewing for - literally - years. Ad agencies are struggling just to remain afloat in Lebanon when they were already barely doing so earlier as the whole ad landscape was morphing. Which means that already there are bleak hopes.
Lately a major marketeer said I was simply preaching "doom and gloom" and that ad agencies are now doing what they did in 90s - meaning servicing the GCC from the Beirut offices. Which will procure a lifeline - specially to the agencies with international alliances who secure contracts across their whole networks, still, what's with rents and payments and blockages and banking haircuts, this whole theory does not have much merit. Beirut is certainly an extremely pricey city to operate a business in as per international statistics.
And so now what?
Well, now we wait. And now we morph. And now we adapt. Or now we die.
That the Lebanese built the GCC ad industry is no secret, but they also did not build a good structure back home. Is now the time to do it? I know not - as I doubt that suddenly, ad people in Lebanon start thinking "institutionally" as opposed to "I'll give a lower price than my competitor".
If I am preaching doom and gloom as I have been accused, I apologize. But someone, somewhere, must look at things beyond the artifice and that "bland optimism" of "no matter how you throw the Lebanese he lands on his feet" - because really, I think the cat in the Lebanese is approaching its 9th life, and quickly.