The World: Insider's View - UAE

The emergence of local brands and the arrival of international advertisers has seen Dubai become one of the world's fastest-growing ad markets, Ramzi Raad writes.

Many people assume Dubai is a country in its own right, but it's not, it's one of the seven emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates and has been my home since I moved from Lebanon more than 30 years ago. Today, the region represents one of the fastest-growing advertising markets in the world and is set to continue this growth, despite fears of recession elsewhere.

Two main reasons that hampered expansion have been removed. The first was that, for many years, observers felt that the Middle East was grossly under-spent because the media across the region did not provide enough opportunities to create a dynamic ad market.

In the 70s and 80s, Arab media, to a large extent, were government-owned and -managed and not really seeking ad revenues. Often, they rejected campaigns on the pretext of lack of ad space or airtime.

The other reason was the absence of advertised national brands and an overall reliance on imported products. With no local brands and active Arab advertisers, agencies were, at best, providing localised campaigns for international brands, or, at worst, "Arabising" content.

Now, the media has opened up considerably, with privately owned print, radio and TV channels embracing freedom of speech and commercial operations. There are more than 350 satellite television stations transmitting to the region, supported by the growth of the region's communications hub, in Dubai Media City. They aren't Westernised broadcasters but Arab ones that bring greater information across the region.

The growth of local brands from the region, such as Jumeirah, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Emirates, has also fuelled massive growth in the tourism industry, with more than 18 million visitors coming to Dubai in the first half of this year alone. Brands such as Mars and Nissan, with their own operations in the region, are much closer to the action and doing business with a young, well-educated and affluent local population.

This has led to the biggest reason for the advertising industry's boom here: clients are no longer remote but closer to the action and can more rapidly make things happen. When I started out, signing off on a campaign from start to finish with a Japanese car manufacturer involved six trips to Tokyo back in the early 80s. Now, the whole process can be completed in one or two weeks.

Dubai has become the regional ad hub for more than 197 million consumers spread across 14 markets. These consumers share the same language and the same culture, which makes one umbrella pan-Arab campaign a sure and easy way to reach them all efficiently and dynamically.

- Ramzi Raad is the Dubai-based chairman and chief executive of TBWA\RAAD.