Though Egypt's advertising market has come a long way, the sector leaves much to be desired, writes Niveen Wahish
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Companies spend up to 50 per cent of their annual advertising budgets during the holy month of Ramadan
While Ramadan is known for its prime time television programmes and soap operas, it also sees the launch of new advertising campaigns. Tarek Nour, chairman of Tarek Nour Holding, and pioneer of advertising in Egypt, dubs advertising in Ramadan as "bigger than the Super Bowl." He explains that 120 million people in the United States watch the Super Bowl each year, while around 50 to 60 million tune in daily for 30 days during Ramadan. With audiences this big, companies can spend up to 50 per cent of their annual advertising budget during the h oly month. to capitalise on this demand Nour launched last year a TV channel, Al-Qahera Wal Nas, which airs only in Ramadan.
A programme on Al-Qahera Wal Nas reenacted old advertisements and invited viewers to guess what product was being advertised. The programme was a reminder of ads that may appear outlandish today but were the highlight of post- Iftar evenings 25 years ago. Advertisements since then have come a long way, not only in terms of quality but also content.
While back then cooking ghee and oil were the most heavily advertised products, featuring new tunes and beautiful models, today mobile companies top the charts and are the biggest advertising spenders. This year Etisalat, Egypt's third mobile phone operator, kept the market surprised with its multi-celebrity advert. Rumour has it that the advertisement cost LE19 million to make, and LE29 million to run on various media outlets.
Etisalat staff themselves refused to reveal the price tag. Etisalat Marketing and Communications Director Ahmed Lasheen told Al-Ahram Weekly : "Obviously, the ad cost us a lot of money to produce something of such high value. However, when you've reached your objective and you see how effective it has been, it is worth its cost."
As for the use of celebrities in advertising campaigns, "it accelerates awareness," according to Dean of the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University Sami Abdel-Aziz, though it is not guaranteed to change behaviour or boost a subscriber base. Nonetheless, Nour believes this type of advert helps viewers to "love the brand", and this in itself is a worthwhile achievement.
According to Lasheen, Ramadan is a great time for advertising because of its high viewership compared to that of any other time during the year. That is why their Ramadan campaign is approximately 30-40 per cent of the budget, he said.
According to Lasheen, viewership as high as in Ramadan "only happens on very special occasions, such as the World Cup for example. During such times, capitalising on viewership allows us to keep the cost per viewer to its minimum, ensuring maximum efficiency and high returns on investment. Returns are high thanks to mass viewership from all socio-economic strata, thus ensuring global impact at the lowest cost."
Other heavy advertising spenders this year in Ramadan include real estate companies, banks and soft drinks manufacturers. The entry of big spenders and international companies, according to Abdel-Aziz, has changed the Egyptian advertising sector. These companies work with world-renowned advertising agencies which have customised their work to the local market and have boosted quality. "In the past a LE100,000 ad was considered overly pricy, while today that sum is insignificant when millions are invested," Abdel-Aziz said.
According to Nour, only big companies can afford to advertise, as the Egyptian economy still suffers the impact of the global crisis while advertising costs are on the rise.
Still, while viewers may be annoyed by the many advertising interruptions to programmes, some have even gone so far as to say they would frequently forget what they were watching in the first place, experts agree that the Ramadan advertising market was not its usual self this year. Head of the Outdoor Advertising Division of Al-Ahram Advertising Agency Assem Khalifa attributes this to the fact that three events coincided in timing, namely summer, the World Cup and Ramadan, thus stretching advertising budgets. He added that pricing was higher this year -- or rather, that they were going back to normal, as last year's prices were very low because of heavy competition between multiple satellite channels. A 30 second spot, which normally cost LE8,000, was sold for as little as LE1,000 last year, Khalifa said.
In order to correct prices, Nour explained that this season channels formed alliances whereby they agreed not to target the same advertisers so prices would not drop. In the end, the allies would split profits.
Abdel-Aziz believes this new approach to the market needs to be evaluated. He lamented that it led to a distortion in prices. Some agencies offered clients packages at prices that drove away small advertisers who could not afford the cost.
Generally speaking, Abdel-Aziz sees the whole advertising market as distorted. He says that there is a lack of proper local research companies. In his view international companies operate according to foreign methodologies and tools. He added that for example during one week of Ramadan, viewer ratings of three separate companies were completely contradictory.
In addition, Abdel-Aziz believes that the fact that advertising agencies have become media owners and vice versa is unacceptable because it is misleading to advertisers. He wondered how an agency could make the right choice of media for its clients, when it has a media outlet of its own to market, especially in the absence of objective research results. "A regulator is needed to place parameters and policies for this sector," Abdel-Aziz added.