Market research spending in the Middle East is up by 35 to 40 per cent, however, only a negligible amount is devoted to media analysis.
In the absence of reliable data, advertisers and agencies are forced to “guessing and gut-feeling” in their buying decisions.
Urging media to take the lead in developing accurate research, a leading UAE marketing executive told delegates to the Middle East Publishing Conference in Dubai that the problem is threatening the credibility of the industry.
In a presentation to a workshop on ‘Media Research Standards – still an issue in the Middle East’, Joseph Chartouni, head of marketing at banking group HSBC and a member of the regional Circulation Audit Steering Committee (Castor), described the regional media research scene as “blue and bleak”, with a big question-mark hanging over media integrity.
Information choices were limited and even then not always available across all markets in the Middle East/Africa region.
He urged his audience to take matters into their own hands and set up in-house research tools to prove greater control.
Chartouni appealed to publishers to join the various bodies searching for market intelligence, especially in the light of the growing to trend to media fragmentation and when the growth of international advertising is demanding a change
“It’s no longer television station against television station, or print publication versus print – it’s now the war of the different media,” he said. “Marketing managers are being challenged more than ever to justify their return on investment and will continue to hunt for tools to provide more accurate measurement.
It is clear that advertisers and media buyers are unhappy with the situation. In May 2005, the large media buying agencies, the UAE chapter of the International Advertising Association and the Gulf region Advertising Association formed Castor, an organization to promote the development of circulation auditing in the industry.
Castor is asking that all print media apply for an audit by the end of 2007 and is encouraging the advertising industry to pull all print ads from publications that fail to do so.
But in a workshop on circulation auditing at the Middle East Publishing Conference in Dubai, there was skepticism that the organization would succeed in carrying out the threat.
Some members of the audience said it would be difficult to get advertisers and agencies to go along.
But Marwan Rizq, who heads Castor, said the initiative had come from the advertisers themselves.
"It is the clients who are saying that if you and the agencies don't shape up, we will find other places to spend our money," said Mr Rizq. "They have said it more harshly than we have. There will come a day when a lot of people will feel that they are losing advertising revenue."
The workshop focused on the benefits of circulation audits, what they measure and how they are carried out, and dealt with newspaper and magazine concerns about the problems that are likely to be encountered when a publication switches to independent audits.
For example, there was concern about how to explain to advertisers why the circulation figures suddenly are less than what the newspaper was claiming for itself -- or, as one audience member put it, "how do we explain that we've been lying to them all these years."
Mr Marwan said it would help to explain that counting methods have changed, and to emphasize the positive steps the publication is demonstrating by adopting outside audits. He also said Castor is encouraging advertisers to offer "amnesty" to any publication that undergoes an audit, both in recognition of these concerns and to encourage compliance.
Publishers were also concerned that media buyers from outside the region would not understand what the circulation figures meant in the local context. That can be overcome by explaining the economic and demographic factors behind the numbers.
"I don't think it is just about the numbers, it is about telling people what they mean," said Richard Foan, Managing Director of UK-based ABC Electronic.