ABU DHABI // FNC election candidates took out a total of almost 30 pages of adverts in Arabic newspapers in the first week of campaigning, an analysis by The National reveals.
Across four popular Arabic newspapers – Al Ittihad, Al Bayan, Emarat Al Youm and Al Khaleej – there were 159 adverts for 71 candidates in the week to Saturday.
None appears close to reaching the Dh2 million spending cap with newspaper adverts alone. Nevertheless, the papers are brimming with campaign material, and front-page spots in Al Bayan and Al Ittihad are fully booked until the end of the campaign on September 21. Candidates are also advertising on billboards, and on radio and television.
Although two other candidates topped the list for space by buying two full-page ads, or more than 3,300sq cm each, the lawyer Otaiba bin Khalaf Al Otaiba appears to have spent most. He bought nearly 3,200sq cm of space – equivalent to about two broadsheet pages – over six front-page advertisements in Al Ittihad (published by Abu Dhabi Media, owner of The National).
At full price, Al Ittihad charges Dh52,360 for a front-page advert such as Mr Otaiba’s, suggesting he has spent more than Dh300,000 in the first week alone – although he is likely to have received a discount on that figure, both as a candidate and as a repeat advertiser.
Half the top ten advertisers, and all the top four, were from Abu Dhabi, suggesting a particularly hard-fought race there.
Adverts by male candidates vastly outnumbered those of the handful of women running. Only two female candidates – Moza Al Otaibi in Abu Dhabi and Mariam Al Falasi in Dubai – were in the top ten, and none took front-page spots.
The most popular outlet was Al Khaleej, which ran about 11 pages in total over the week. It is also the most expensive, with rates of up to Dh114,048 for a full colour page, although again candidates can expect discounts of up to 30 per cent.
The second most popular was Al Ittihad, which had 9.5 pages, and a ratecard price of Dh43,194 for a full page. Al Bayan (Dh97,520/page) had almost six pages of ads and Emarat Al Youm (Dh65,800/page) five.
In all cases, the actual prices vary according to size, placement, number of adverts taken – and, of course, the candidate’s negotiating skills.
The number of ads gradually climbed, from 22 on the first day of campaigning on Sunday to peak at 38 in Thursday’s papers, tailing off over the weekend – 16 on Friday and 14 on Saturday.
Of the 71 candidates who advertised, 37 did so only once in the first week, and 17 took an eighth of a page or less.
“You do not need an advert in the paper every day,” said Rashid Al Jabri, who took a single advert. “You need to pace them out to let people know you are there, but not to the point of getting them bored of you.”
Most candidates – and almost all the top 10 advertisers – have chosen to focus their campaigns, using the same advert each time and choosing just one paper to advertise in.
Dr Matt Duffy, an assistant professor of communication and media sciences at Zayed University, said this meant they were missing many potential voters.
“The wisest choice would be to spread advertising money over outlets - as long as they have reasonably wide circulation,” he said.
“A famous advertising slogan is that half your money spent on advertising is wasted, but it’s hard to know which half. You don’t know what is effective and what isn’t.”
Ms al Falasi took space in Emarat Al Youm and Al Bayan. “One paper is a tabloid and caters to a younger generation, and the other is the official newspaper of Dubai,” she said. “This exposes us to different target audiences. Because the ad is simple the audiences can perceive it in their own way.”
She used the same adverts in both papers because she “would rather not change the look or the feel of the campaign. “The message is pretty simple and direct, and I think it is important to keep consistency so people can focus on that message.”
Dr Duffy said candidates could learn from big businesses such as Coca-Cola, which often use a range of different adverts across different times and different media outlets, but with a consistent element in all of them.
“Certainly some consistency is good, because then people will recognise it,” he said. “The Etisalat colour, for example – we all know it. So some consistency is great.”
But if the message were too repetitive, it could risk alienating audiences, “or worse yet, turn them off completely”.
* Additional reporting by Zaineb Al Hassani