Hubert Boulos: ‘Advertising in Dubai has increasingly become transactional and short term’
Posted on 2023 Jul,24  | By Ghada Azzi

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For Hubert Boulos, CEO of DDB Middle East, Dubai ad business faces multiple challenges. His refreshingly forthright outlook on the state of the ad industry in Dubai greatly differs from most of his peers and would surely surprise many.

How has the advertising industry in Dubai evolved over the past decade, and how would you describe the current general ad business mood? 

The change over the past 10 years has been phenomenal. We have seen a massive shift towards digital, and a massive drop in budgets with a race to the bottom when it comes to agency fees. The work was not great 10 years ago, and now it is even worse. Except for a few notable exceptions, we have one big digital diarrhea online, and wallpaper offline. In case you do not agree drive down Sheikh Zayed road and tell me what ad is worth your attention. None of them would actually require an agency and AI-generated work would actually be too creative. Luckily we have the wonderful awards stage to showcase the work nobody has seen anywhere.

As for the business mood, it has increasingly become transactional and short term at the expense of brand building and ideas that truly generate sales at the real price.


What are some of the biggest challenges facing advertisers in Dubai today, and how do you think these challenges can be overcome?

There are  multiple challenges:

  1. The first one is the high cost of living, which is skyrocketing. If you combine that with clients cutting on agency fees, you will find it very hard to sustain any advertising business out of Dubai at some point. We will simply not be able to pay qualified talents to live decently over here, if the situation continues.
  2. The second challenge is the short-termism of brands. Everything is increasingly tactical and digital. Many times I even find out that a lot of work has been put behind an execution without any significant media support (off line or on line). It keeps a lot of people busy but without any proper visibility this is useless. Thank god for awards, where we get to see some ideas that are never seen in real life!
  3. The third challenge is the shift of business to Saudi Arabia. When I arrived in Dubai in 2006 everything was shifting to Dubai from KSA , mainly Jeddah. Today everything is shifting back to Saudi which is the #1 market. It is still hard to find the right talent in KSA, but at some point with the shift of business back to Saudi and the high cost of living in Dubai, this trend may dramatically accelerate over the coming years.


“Drive down Sheikh Zayed road and tell me what ad is worth your attention.”


How do you ensure that your agency remains at the forefront of innovation in Dubai's competitive advertising landscape?

Innovation is key. But the change is so fast that no agency can keep track of everything on its own. This is why cooperation is key within holding companies especially between media and creative agencies. While it is good to cooperate, I believe that the one stop shop is an illusion. It may look attractive but it only works on an Excel sheet. And clients are understanding that very well in the more developed markets. In the end you need ideas. And the creative agency remains the best one to create the ideas that will build business. Innovation should be at the service of the idea not be the idea itself. Unfortunately, focusing on ideas requires more work and thinking than relying on algorithms, automated systems, and the latest fancy trends!


If there is one thing you can change in the way advertising business is led in Dubai, what would it be?

I would urge clients to spend more money on research to really understand consumers via focus groups or one-on-one interviews. A small amount spent on such research can yield massive returns. Agencies should lead such research to develop more insightful work. Of course that research has to be paid by clients not agencies! This is how you truly understand a culture and a category. There is no substitute for that.