Digital Advertising in the MENA region is one of the most competitive industries with potential growth in Ad Spend according to predictions. The region includes several markets including the GCC countries, Egypt, and several other key markets. Basically, the common factor about the MENA market is the Arabic language. However, for global businesses, Turkey and Iran usually considered as part of the region.
The biggest challenge with understanding the stats of digital advertising in the MENA region, is the lack of data and statistics. The figures are usually not up to date and numbers are inconsistent. Furthermore, there is some data is hard to reach due to shadow economy, personal businesses and lack of research institutes. In my research, I have tried my best to gather and compare data from different resources in order to provide reliable statistics.
Overview: Advertising in the MENA Region
Internet users in the Arabic Language countries are estimated at 183 million in 2020, which is considered as 70.2% of the population (Internet World Stats). According to statistics, Facebook is one of the highest influential platforms with over 133 million users, 51% penetration rate in Feb 2020. Egypt is considered as the top market for Facebook with 40 million monthly users, while Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for Twitter with 38% of the population followed by Turkey with over 13% of the population.
The Market Size
Stats from NT, estimated the advertising reach of cookies at 61.72 million and impression at 916 million. Another indication of the market size and growth is E-commerce. Based on PayFort report, the Middle East e-commerce market would grow to reach US$69 billion by 2020. The top share of E-commerce is in the GCC and Egypt. Both account for 80% of the regional e-commerce market.
Media Channels in the MENA
The Advertising market continues to witness a major shift toward digital advertising. According to figures from Statista, the Internet is taking over in 2020 with 44.2% of the total Ad expenditure, while TV is decreasing to 30%. Notably, traditional channels are dramatically decreasing with Newspapers going down to 1.9%. Experts predicting more changes in the coming years due to the increase in online streaming and Youtube. TV will continue to decline while budgets will move to digital video channels.
The Stats of Digital Advertising [Infographic]
Digital advertising in the MENA region had a massive increase between 2010 to 2015. According to statistics from Statista, Digital advertising increased by almost 600%. The digital Ad Spend reached over 1 billion in 2017 and afterward, the growth started to stabilize. The predictions show a decrease in 2020 due to Covid-19 which impacted several industries such as tourism, exhibitions, retail, and automotive.
The 1 Billion Market
The figures release an average of 1 Billion U.S. dollars market of digital expenditure in the MENA. However, if we dig deep in the figures, I certainly believe the MENA region has a limitation in figuring out the accurate amount of digital Ad Spend. The region is home to a massive amount of shadow business and unofficial online business. In addition, Google and Facebook do not release their regional revenue data.
Another estimate by Ipsos, values the digital advertising market in the Middle East at 1.2 billion in 2019.
Apparently, experts are predicting an increase in the coming years. However, there are several factors that can highly impact the digital budget including the price of oil, political events, economic recovery after the pandemic, and many more.
Social Media and Video Advertising are leading the growth
According to Ipsos estimation, 70% to 75% of the digital advertising in the MENA goes to Facebook and Google. The rest of the digital advertising dollar is divided among Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tiktok, and other Ad networks.
However, the trend in the Middle East is going into two main directions:
- Facebook Advertising Network (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp)
- Google (YouTube Video Advertising)
The Search Ads and Display is declining due to the higher penetration rate of Social Media. Moreover, A report of PwC shows that 78% of shoppers in the Middle East use social media to find inspirations for purchases. This is much higher than the global average of 37%. As a result, Social Media Advertising is leading digital advertising for advertisers.
The most remarkable fact about the region is Social Media Advertising which is the largest segment in comparison with search ads and display. According to Statista reports, Paid Social is the largest share of digital advertising expenditure in the MENA region.
However, YouTube is gaining a major demand lately as it was able to attract big share of traditional TV Ads. The Google’s platform is one of the top platforms in the region and source for news and entertainment. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are leading the region in terms of the YouTube number of users and hours spent.
Performance Marketing In The MENA
Ad expenditure in the GCC region is moving towards ‘performance-based’ with a strategic shift into learning budgets. This shift is putting more pressure on the market to change its advertising culture. According to a survey in 2020 by Interactive Agency Bureau(IAB), 59% of advertising agencies are significantly shifting into performance-based campaigns.
The Facebook policy doesn’t allow to break the revenue by regions. As a result, there are no figures about how big is Facebook Advertising in the MENA. However, the statistics show 133 million Facebook users in the region, and over 63 million Instagram users.
Facebook launched Shop feature to business owners by late 2020 in order to boost the Ad revenue. With regional headquarter and a vast network of Facebook partners, the tech giant is focusing to increase its advertiser base and competing directly with Google.
Google Ads and Paid Search
Google Revenue is facing several difficulties this year. According to recent reports in Q1 2020, the median CTR for ads on Google Search decreased from 2.5% to 1.55%. CTR remains lower than we observed in 2019, down 44% year over year.
According to WordStream Data, while the US average CPC average is between $1 and $2 on the Search network, The United Arab Emirates is the only country in the region higher with 8% than average. The rest of the countries fall bellow average with 60% Saudi Arabia, 65% Egypt, 64% Kuwait, 61% Oman, 81% Qatar, and 74% Tunisia. In conclusion, the region is providing an area for growth and less competitive rates to the global average.
Google in 2019 launched Google Shopping Ads in the region. Now it is available for the GCC countries after it was limited to the United Arab Emirates. This move was able to attract E-commerce Advertising from top providers such as Souq, Noon, Jumia, and several other online stores. However, the main challenge in the region is the lack of qualified talents and agencies who can provide cost-effective results of paid search and display. While there is a vast amount of Google Ads Agencies in Dubai and the Middle East, the quality is not always efficient and the region is still under development when it comes to advanced Google Ads audit and performance.
Digital advertising agencies in the Middle East
Digital Marketing in the MENA region is a growing market with increasing potential due to economic growth in the GCC, Egypt, and Morocco. According to mideastmedia.org, the region has more than 500 advertising agencies that have a large number of employees. However, Clutch.co listed approximately 270 digital agencies listed in the United Arab Emirates. The numbers of agencies can exceed these figures since the Middle East is an emerging market for digital marketing startups.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia is fueling the region with small and medium-size agencies while the UAE is home to the big advertising firms. Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan represent the majority of digital marketing talents and creative resources. However, the highly qualified talents in digital advertising and performance are always moving outside the region to join companies in the European market. There is a gap in talents in several areas such as programmatic, paid search, audit, and digital marketing consultancy.
Programmatic Advertising in the Middle East
Programmatic advertising is not anymore an option due to the changes in Ad Tech. The slow transition from traditional to digital media is one of the key reasons that programmatic is struggling to dominate the region. Collectively, the MENA trail other regions in innovation and adoption of Ad Tech and marketing technologies (e.g., limited digital measurement, programmatic buying, and non-advertising forms of marketing).
The top Ad Networks in the MENA region include Facebook, Google Ads, IronSource, Applovin, Adcolony, AdFalcon, InTarget, AdZouk, and Ampush.
The United Arab Emirates is leading the growth in programmatic advertising due to the technology partners and the pressures from clients and brands to automate the process and use AI. However, the region is still outsourcing campaign management to agencies based in London. According to “Status of Programmatic Trading” survey, digital skills shortage at 39% and deeper understanding at 33%. These figures outline the main obstacles that are facing the adoption of programmatic advertising in the Middle East.
The Use of Arabic Language in Advertising
While the majority of the regional consumer are native Arabic speakers, the Gulf region and Dubai are home to expats from all over the world. English is commonly used as a business language in several industries such as Fintech, Technology, Business Services, Education, and Management. Moreover, English is widely used for luxury products and real estate development.
The Arabic language is dominating the region when it comes to retail, entertainment, and B2C. The statistics show that the use of Arabic varies based on the country. 96% of the consumer in Saudi Arabia prefer Arabic and 82% in Egypt, while in the UAE, 60% of consumers prefer to post in English. Marketers are using in usually a bilingual approach for their marketing message and Ads to increase the reach.
Digital Advertising by Sector
According to Ipsos research, the top ten sectors in region is dominated by beauty care, Foods, Telecommunication and Entertainment. While the top categories are Telecommunications companies followed by Real Estate and Banking.
The MENA digital markets
To get deeper insights into the region, it is important to look into the top countries.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE is considered as the top market in the region due to its leading role in digital media. According to TBWA, the United Arab Emirates is accounted for 46% of the total advertising spend. Dubai is a business hub and home to advertising firms as well as the headquarters of Multinational companies. The financial benefits of the banking systems in Dubai allow international firms to manage their advertising budgets from the city. Moreover, there is a percentage of the budget spent on other regions.
Despite the firewalls, political conflicts, economic difficulties, digital advertising is growing in Turkey. According to IAB, in 2019 Turkey was one of the top five largest growth markets in the CCE region.
- Ad spending in the Digital Advertising market is projected to reach US$709m in 2020.
- The market’s largest segment is Search Advertising with a projected market volume of US$285m in 2020.
Digital Advertising in Iran
Despite the limits and lack of Google Ads and Facebook in the country, Iranians are fast adopters of new technologies. Eventually, Digital advertising in Iran is dominated mainly by local Ad Networks. According to Adro estimation, in 2020 Digital Advertising will account for over 20% of the overall advertising share with 426 million U.S. dollars. However, the corona virus and currency inflation will decrease the figures dramatically.
Markets with difficulties: Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq are markets that are deeply impacted by political conflicts and war. There is no enough data about these markets and advertising via Facebook and Google is not allowed in some markets such as Syria.
In conclusion, the most promising trend in regional advertising is Video advertising. YouTube is replacing traditional TV advertising gradually. The Video Ad Spend will continue to grow in 2020 with a huge opportunity for a massive increase in the upcoming years. Performance marketing s another important trend to watch. Brands are demanding payment by results (ROI & Return on ad spend ROAS) as well as enhanced consumer insights and analytics. Agencies are required to implement advanced technology and improve their performance marketing skills.