x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Unethical advertising practices in region come under spotlight

Unethical practices in the Arab world's $4 billion advertising industry are the target of a new campaign by a local trade group.

Lance de Masi, the president of the UAE chapter of the IAA, says ad agencies, media planning groups and their clients often pay scant regard to best practice. Nicole Hill / The National
Lance de Masi, the president of the UAE chapter of the IAA, says ad agencies, media planning groups and their clients often pay scant regard to best practice. Nicole Hill / The National

Unethical practices in the US$4 billion (Dh14.6bn) Arab advertising industry are the target of a new campaign by a local trade group.

The International Advertising Association (IAA) hopes to stamp out malpractice in the industry by issuing a series of guidelines.

Advertising agencies, media planning groups and their clients often pay scant regard to best practice, said Lance de Masi, the president of the UAE chapter of the IAA. "What's ethical is what you can get away with," he said. "Do I believe this is a mentality that is far too prevalent? The answer is yes."

There were problems with ethics among both agencies and their clients, he said. "When clients call pitches, and invite 24 agencies to participate, and then no one gets the business, that's an example of something that is wrong.

"When agencies put a tremendous amount of resource on a business to get an account, and then once the account is secured, think only about their profit margin on the account, something is wrong."

Mr de Masi said the IAA would draw up guidelines on the various topics, but would not be attempting an "overly proscriptive", all-encompassing code.

"We will issue a kind of common understanding document," he said. "It will have been the first time in the region's history that that would have been done."

The first topic will be pitching, with possible areas of future discussion including fee structures and human resources.

Kamal Dimachkie, the executive regional managing director of Leo Burnett, said there were serious problems with the pitching process in the region's multimillion-dollar advertising industry.

"The pitching process is broken, and requires fixing," said Mr Dimachkie, an IAA board member. "The process as it is currently conducted is in many respects wasteful … it lacks transparency."

Problems cited by Mr Dimachkie include clients calling pitches too frequently, which diverts resources from the agencies.

"It is sucking attention, time, money and people away from building brands. It's a constant cycle of defending or trying to qualify for business that they could very well be handling," he said.

Mr Dimachkie acknowledged that there were also problems with best practice among ad agencies, as well as their clients.

The Arab world's advertising industry was worth $4 billion last year, according to industry estimates. The UAE chapter of the IAA is focused on the Emirates, and much of the Arab world's ad spending is controlled from the UAE.

Mr de Masi said he believed the local advertising industry would be receptive to the series of best-practice guidelines that the IAA planned to issue.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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