On a warm, moonlit evening last week, delegates from the
International Advertising Association’s World Congress dined al fresco
in the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The venue was unwittingly
appropriate. Because if the pyramids are monuments to human courage,
endurance and tenacity, surviving the IAA’s biennial beano in Cairo
called for similiar qualities.
Courage to take the 30-minute run from the downtown congress hotels to
the Cairo International Conference Centre in a battered Lada cab with a
horn-happy driver oblivious to either lane markings or red traffic
Tenacity to queue for up to two hours to get an identity pass because of
the insistence by zealous security men that every one of the 1,400
delegates - paying up to dollars 1,300 a head - should be photographed
on the spot.
Endurance to wait in line for the one cameraman employed to carry out
In the congress hall, video players were slow to work, speakers’
explanatory slides were illegible to the audience and when an attempt to
link archeologists in London, New York and Paris by satellite to explain
why the ancient Egyptians were the first adfolk ended in disaster and
toe-curling embarrassment, the patience of some was pushed too far.
Snapping shut his briefcase, one senior Middle East agency executive
joined the stream for the exit vowing to do some work, play some golf,
take in the sights and not return. The verdict of the marketing manager
of a Dubai-based publishing company was blunt and brutal. ’The
Whether or not the IAA’s Egyptian chapter is deserving of such
vituperation, the congress did seem to have a pharaoh-like curse on it.
Even though the Egyptians withstood pressure for the event to be
switched to Dubai after last November’s massacre in Luxor, the killings
destroyed most of the interest from Europe and the US.
Many, however, believe the Egyptians fell victim to their own hubris and
the cliquish nature of their relatively inexperienced advertising and
marketing industry, which is almost the exclusive preserve of a handful
of local agencies. The result was a misjudged attempt to use the
congress to help stimulate a badly damaged tourist industry and ’sell’
the country to potential investors via the marketing community.
’This was supposed to be a worldwide congress but I feel I came to the
wrong party,’ the chairman of a major Asian agency complained. ’It
wasn’t an advertising convention at all.’
Equally debatable is whether the hosts were given too much of a free
hand by IAA chiefs in New York, allowing it to become a narrowly focused
Arab event dominated by sponsoring companies, with a mediocre speakers’
list on which only Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chairman, could boast true
international stature. ’We’ve paid to hear propaganda,’ a Taiwanese
What angered others was the Egyptians’ stubborn national pride which
prevented them drawing on the IAA’s worldwide resources. ’Where were the
Keith Reinhards and the Allen Rosenshines?’ the boss of an international
group’s Emirates office asked. ’We could have helped them get these
Should the IAA have been a better quality controller? ’We were concerned
about the calibre of the speakers,’ a member of the IAA world council
admits. ’But the chapter putting up the money for a congress is free to
do as it wishes.’
All of which begs the question of whether the Egyptians should have been
passed over, given their marketing immaturity, or awarded the event as a
signal of encouragement across the Middle East.
The laggardly state of the Middle East market - it accounts for only 0.4
per cent of world adspend - and the Egyptian one in particular is the
legacy of government-controlled planned economies and a serious lack of
any method to track advertising.
’Multinational companies keep pressing us for data,’ K. Subramaniam,
senior vice-president for client services at TD&A DDB in Dubai,
’But tracking methods here are so crude that having no data can be less
dangerous than having some data.’
This lack of accountability is also due to what Ramzi Raad, chief
operating officer of the Cairo-based Intermarkets group, calls the
’bazaar mentality’ which allows corruption to flourish and puts the need
to make a fast buck ahead of long-term brand building.
’Malpractices resulting from lack of transparency have taken over the
industry,’ Mustapha Assad, the chairman of Lebanon’s Publi-Graphics
’Discount and free spots have become the norm just to attract a better
budget to a particular media house.’
Meanwhile, the overbearing and petty bureaucracy can cause advertisers
to boil over with frustration. At a congress lunch, Peter Smit, Procter
& Gamble’s Middle East vice-president, took the unprecedented step of
publicly berating the Egyptian government for disallowing the sale of
the company’s sanpro products.
This is partly a reflection of prevailing public concern about marketing
morality. Professor Awad El-Haddad, head of the business administration
department at Suez Canal University in Ismaelia, says: ’The ethics of
advertising are a real problem for Egyptians.’
According to Dr Salah Hassan, the Egypt-born associate professor of
global marketing at George Washington University in the US, his home
country’s ad industry is held back by its fragmentation.
’You find local agencies, multinationals, subsidiaries of multinationals
and joint ventures plus somebody who will just do you an ad,’ he
’Suddenly advertising is everybody’s business.’ A pity the same couldn’t
be said of the IAA congress.
Leader, page 27.