Friday, January 5, 2024

Are we in the January advertising slump yet?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Dry January.
No, no, not that dry January (the alcohol-free month), the one where there are no ads in town. You might be forgiven to think that many months a year were "dry January" considering how bad the situation is on the advertising front. My pot pourri of ads around town published pre-Christmas (here) apparently struck a major chord and I heard many echoes that 1) the ads were miserable creativity wise 2) these were scrapping of the barrel in terms of already-dwindling budgets 3) since everything and everyone migrated to the digital realm, these were one-offs just for people to keep seeing brands while stuck in end-of-year traffic jams.
As I said, usually January is the empty month: budgets of the prior year have been spent, Valentine is still far-off in February, and strategies (please, it is rude to laugh) are being debated between agencies and client teams (which usually end in some "hurry-up-and-wait" - meaning the client goes incommunicado for a long time then shows up wanting an ad "yesterday"). But again, I cannot stress it often enough, these are incredibly hard times for the advertising business - sure, in other nations as well it seems, but in Lebanon particularly. 
When the crisis exploded in 2019, many predicted that by 2023 the economy would be on the "recovery" - I have spoken to many people who own businesses, and the agreement was that whereas the first half of the year was very promising, starting June (this is way before the next-door crisis started in Gaza, and then escalated to the South of Lebanon) things went downhill, or to be more specific "nosedived" (to quote one person). And since the economy is inter-related (as the Lebanese proverb goes "the blacksmith is at the carpenter's...") it was a full domino effect.
The expats who back for the holidays and end-of-year celebrations apparently gave the restaurants/cafes (not the whole HORECA - HOtels, REstaurants, CAfes) a major morphine shot with 80% of tables being occupied mainly in Beirut and other "safe" hubs (meaning areas close to the conflict in South Lebanon did not get to benefit from the timely uptick) - hotels did not get any of it with expats living either living at relatives' places or their own homes. A much needed interlude for sure, but of course, now that all these people went back to their respective foreign lands (where they reside either permanently or intermittently) in the post-holiday, I wonder what will remain of that boom.
Even the solar energy sector which witnessed a major explosion is now apparently in doldrums - from what I read those who could afford to have such systems installed have done so, and those cannot still rely on the expensive monthly communal generators. Mind you when a major tobacco company shuttered its door, and we know cigarettes sell like candy when stress levels are off the charts, this alone tells you how bad things are (interestingly, the company closed from one day to the next at the end of last year - 2023 - and indemnities were not paid to the workers and managers there). As I said, the economy is not in top shape and whereas the Dollar exchange in the black market is mostly stable, and the whole economy is Dollarized at this point and basically major transactions are in cash, still people are now at the end of their rope with poverty being at 80% of the population (and this is not just some "statistic" - one can feel everyone pinching and trying to save from spending where they can).
Sometimes I wish I can relate better figures and numbers, and yes, a lot of people like to "kill the messenger" rather than look at the real issues which got us here in the first place and which are affecting us all - at this point, a very wealthy man I know moved back with his family to his parents' house (OK, villa) because he could no longer afford to rent because the landlord now wants "fresh" Dollars. 
So again, if this month does not bring any new ads on the street, it is totally understandable. All companies are seeking to cut corners in spending and online one does not need to book or print or whatnot. Meanwhile the situation in Lebanon keeps getting more and more surreal on all levels.