It was a great experience to attend the inaugural meeting of the Production Forum under the UAE chapter of the International Advertising Agency last month. The meeting, held at Radisson Blu in Dubai on the evening of July 12, gathered many familiar faces from the region’s production industry.
The evening was very much a social occasion but with some serious business thrown in too. For the main part of the meeting, the organisers screened commercial work and branded content produced in the region and largely by the talented filmmakers gathered at the event. After viewing the work, there was a discussion with Yousef Tuqan, group VP, brand marketing & loyalty at Jumeirah Group / Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, and Ali Azarmi, founder and MD of Streetwise Productions, who also offered their insights on the work screened. Azarmi, a seasoned filmmaker, made the valid point that many of the films featured desert landscapes and familiar UAE landmarks. While this is not in itself a problem, the UAE and wider region has far more diversity to offer producers, Azarmi said.
Another interesting point was raised by a guest who asked where marketing budgets had disappeared to if marketeers were spending so much less on mainstream TV advertising. Surely those budgets should have been channeled elsewhere? Perhaps not. Tuqan said that when marketing budgets shifted to digital “dollars became dimes”. I’m sure this resonated with many of the people in the room. It is a sad fact that when content is consumed digitally it is still perceived as somehow cheap, yet exactly the same level of skills are required to produce it. The issue cuts right through the industry and is multifaceted, involving the shift from linear to on-demand viewing, a general lack of region-wide audience measurement for linear TV, and dare I say it, a sense of entitlement to free content from certain segments of the population.
Amid this climate of dwindling funds, another interesting point emerged, inadvertently, from the evening. What if the advertising industry is, collectively, making some big mistakes, such as all too often ignoring roughly 50% of the UAE’s population? One of my friends, after watching all of the commercials, lamented that he had seen not one South Asian person adorn the screen throughout the entire evening. The comment struck me because just days before I had interviewed Sachin Gokhale, media and entertainment business head, MEA and Asia Pacific at Viacom18. When asked about the biggest challenges he faces, Gokhale didn’t flinch. As a broadcaster targeting predominantly South Asian expats, he said: “Advertisers do not give adequate importance to the power of the South Asian consumer and that’s also partly because of the way the ratings systems are. They don’t adequately show the size and the consumption of content among South Asian consumers.” (see cover feature on p22 for more details). Clearly the advertising industry, and by default the video production industry in the UAE and the rest of the GCC, is missing a trick. A sizeable percentage of the region’s South Asian population is prosperous with sufficient income for all types of consumer and luxury goods, including cars and real estate. By failing to target South Asians, many advertisers, their partners and their clients, are failing to reach a huge number of potential customers.
But perhaps worse, the failure to represent key demographics in advertising also does a disservice to countries that claim to be proud of their diversity.