Middle East: Special Report

As much as anything else, the Middle East is a land of surprises.

A trip to Dubai is enough to convince anyone that here is a region that can out-West the West if it chooses. Rising out of the desert, largely on the back of business investment (with little help from oil money), opulent hotels, swanky night clubs, immaculate golf courses and purpose-built islands populated by celebrities have made Dubai a magnet for ex-pats in search of a tax-free playground in the sun.

As for the region's advertising economy, few in the West would plump for the Middle East as one of the world's fastest-growing markets. Which is understandable - commercial radio and cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia, the region's largest market. And cultural and religious sensitivities, as well as state censorship, especially in Saudi, do not make life easy for creative agencies.

But, with a 25 per cent hike in adspend expected across the region, only Russia and Ukraine will outgrow the Middle East in 2006, Initiative predicts.

Even more surprising is that the countries tipped for the biggest future growth are, according to MindShare, Iraq and Iran. Tim Burrowes, the editor of Campaign Middle East (licensed by this magazine's publisher, Haymarket, to ITP), sheds light on why (opposite).

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that Middle Eastern agencies are starting to trouble awards juries. Until recently, advertising was regarded with suspicion in many parts of the Middle East, and in some countries still is. And it showed. Most campaigns were bland, unimaginative affairs.

But as the region develops, so more companies are recognising its potential for building brands. As Pippa Considine discovers (page 27), censorship and cultural taboos have, as is so often the case, served only to heighten creativity, not restrict it.