When comparative statistics were first published in 1986, Saudi Arabia occupied the second position after Kuwait with USD 672 million annual advertising spend in measured media. In 1987, the Kingdom jumped to the top position, which it occupied till 2005. Its ad market size grew to USD 911 million in that year. However, in 2006 the UAE, with USD 1,063 billion ad spend, snatched the lead. The Kingdom’s ad size then was at USD 978 million.
Since that year, Saudi Arabia maintained the second position till 2009, when Egypt pushed it to the third place even though Egypt’s glory was short lived as it faced the consequences of Arab Spring in 2010.
Giving insight into the situation, a leading Saudi businessman had blamed the dull advertising scene in the Kingdom on the regional ad agencies. He argued that agencies started with lofty plans in the Kingdom but then began deploying top talent from their Beirut or Dubai head-offices to come to the rescue of their Saudi counterparts. In essence, reflecting lower benchmarks in Saudi branches.
What we have to factor in here is that there are hurdles facing ad agency development in the Kingdom. A host of issues such as visa, work permit or travel formalities are not helpful in attracting and retaining good talent. Then, there are controls that can curb local creativity itself.
Another key challenge is the lack of consistency in ad investment patterns when comparing the Kingdom to the other important markets of the region. As a general pattern, the Saudi advertising market seems to always be in a state of ‘start’ and ‘stop’. National advertisers rarely commit to annual plans, and to top it all, the pattern of slow payment by Saudi advertisers.
The number of agency reviews seems to be always on the rise without businesses actually changing hands. All this takes away from the advantages of creating, and reaping the benefits of, a long term vision.
These attributes of the market must change to create a more viable advertising market. The first signs of this change are visible. With a new breed of young Saudi nationals taking charge of senior marketing responsibilities for multinational and national brands media and ad agencies, the scene promises to change for the better. And it should, because Saudi Arabia deserves to remain on top and to lead.