Taking a trip down memory lane, Noura Souki, Account Director at Cheil, reflects on the remarkable transformation of the advertising industry since her arrival in Dubai in 2006.
How has the advertising industry transformed from when you initially relocated to Dubai to the present day?
In 2006, I moved to Dubai, stepping into a whole other world of advertising. It's amazing how the landscape transformed right before my eyes. We transitioned from the days of crop marks, print bleed, and traditional media to the vibrant era of digital media and artificial intelligence. I count myself lucky to have straddled both these worlds, experiencing the traditional advertising stage and embracing the modern digital age.
When I embarked on my first advertising job, traditional media reigned supreme. Print, TV, radio, and billboards were the holy grail of any advertising campaign. I vividly remember the days when we received DVDs and cables for TV commercials, diligently preparing them for broadcast. Let's not forget the stacks of print samples from magazines that cluttered our desks as we evaluated print executions.
Television was the undisputed king back then. It was the go-to medium for advertisers, and we eagerly awaited those commercial breaks during prime-time TV, watching our creations come to life.
OOH Advertising took center stage, having the highest media spending budgets in advertising history. Brands inked expensive annual deals to secure prime spots across town, ensuring maximum exposure. I still recall those nights when we visited OOH Advertising installations, snapping pictures of billboards coming to life as if we were witnessing a masterpiece being unveiled.
Radio also played a vital role in the marketing mix. I remember we'd spend hours in soundproof studios at production houses recording. Gradually, social media emerged.
Social media was in its infancy. Facebook had just launched in 2004, with Twitter following suit two years later. It wasn't yet a staple in advertising. In fact, Facebook was considered such a distraction that it was banned at the company I worked for. It was seen as an entertainment platform and was strictly off-limits during working hours. Fast forward to today, and social media marketing is a core part of advertising, with dedicated teams and even university courses dedicated to it.
The advertising landscape I stepped into in 2006 was a world away from the dynamic, data-driven, and digital sphere we have today. Witnessing this evolution firsthand has been an incredible journey, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for this ever-evolving industry.
Could you have envisioned today's state of these industries? How has A.I. been a game-changer?
I never could have envisioned just how dramatically these industries would evolve to become what they are today. When I look back to 2006, it's like comparing a flip phone to a modern smartphone.
Back then, the excitement was palpable when Wi-Fi became more accessible, but we were still tethered to our desks for internet access. Having email on a mobile phone felt like an extravagant luxury. The messaging landscape was just beginning to shift with the introduction of BBM, and WhatsApp was still a few years away. SMS and multimedia messages were the primary modes of mobile communication with clients, and I remember the frustration when a message exceeded the character limit, forcing it to split into two parts. Today, mobile-friendly content is king, leading to the prevalence of responsive design and in-app ads.
In the digital marketing realm, online advertising existed, but it was far less advanced than what we have today. Search engines were on the rise, with Microsoft making shifts from MSN to live search to compete with Google and Yahoo. Traditional TV viewership still trumped web streaming until around 2010 or 2011.
What digital marketing lacked back then was the customized targeting, programmatic advertising, and a deep understanding of consumer behavior that now underpin our marketing strategies. The journey from 2006 to 2023 witnessed constant changes in digital practices, driven by technological advancements, shifts in consumer behavior, and broader societal changes. As advertisers, we had to adapt and innovate continually to stay relevant in the digital landscape.
Now, in 2023, AI has truly transformed everything, especially in advertising. It has made our campaigns more efficient, personalized, and responsive than we could have ever imagined. AI enables us to understand our audiences on a whole new level, create content that resonates deeply, and achieve better returns on investment. With AI tools, we can automatically adjust ad content, design, or messaging in real-time to ensure it connects with our target audience seamlessly.
The COVID-19 pandemic only hastened the digital transformation powered by AI. Virtual e-commerce, virtual events, and personalized AI-driven shopping experiences have become the bedrock of the digital retail space.
AI is at the core of our digital transformation, automating processes, providing data-driven insights, and fundamentally changing how we approach marketing and advertising. It's an exciting time to be in this industry, as we continue to ride the wave of AI-driven innovation into the future.
Photo above: Noura Souki, Account Director at Cheil
What were the challenges you encountered as these industries were growing? What challenges persist today, and are there any differences?
Back when these industries were in their early stages, I faced several challenges that have evolved over time. Transitioning from traditional media to the digital space was personally challenging. Understanding the shift from TV, radio, and print to online advertising was a learning curve, especially with the emergence of social media ads.
The advertising industry also grappled with a shortage of digital professionals. Educational systems were catching up slowly, and the expanding array of media options complicated determining the most effective media mix. As social platforms multiplied, we had to understand and adapt to each platform's dynamics, rethinking our strategies and creative approaches. What worked in traditional media didn't necessarily translate well online. Keeping up with emerging trends and platforms sometimes requires enrolling in digital courses.
The rapid expansion of mobile marketing brought the challenge of creating effective campaigns for smaller screens while maintaining user-friendliness. Another challenge was accurately measuring ROI for campaigns. Tools and methodologies were less advanced, and emerging privacy concerns added complexity.
In 2023, these challenges persist to some extent, but the industry has become more adept at navigating the digital landscape. Privacy concerns have intensified, and measuring ROI remains intricate. Despite ongoing challenges, the journey has been rewarding as we adapt to the ever-evolving world of advertising and marketing.
What characterized campaigns in the past, and how have they evolved? Do you have a favorite campaign from your past experiences that stand out in your memory or that you particularly enjoyed working on?
Campaigns in the past were more integrated and diverse, spanning physical and digital spaces. One standout campaign was in 2016 when we transformed the iconic Burj Khalifa into a commercial space to launch Jaguar's first SUV. It was a regional and global first, and we went all out to match the grandeur of the Burj Khalifa. The campaign was meticulously planned, from graphics and animations to branding and messaging. We used various media channels to create a buzz across Dubai.
We worked tirelessly for four months, often testing the ad on the Burj at 4:00 AM. Our media room was a hub of activity, with the media agency, PR, and creative agency working together. We began live streaming on YouTube, which involved its own challenges that we overcame.
The launch night was a spectacular success, attended by influencers, celebrities, and global and regional media. The campaign was a bold and unforgettable achievement, showcasing creative advertising on the grand canvas of Burj Khalifa for the first time in Dubai.
If there's one thing you could bring from the past to 2023, what would it be?
As much as I appreciate the convenience of having everything at the click of a button, there are times when I yearn for the simplicity of a bygone era when mobile phones were primarily meant for talking. Nowadays, WhatsApp has transcended its role as a personal chatting network and has become a tool for clients to share briefs, provide feedback, and stay updated on campaign progress. While virtual meetings have surged in popularity, I must admit that I still enjoy face-to-face interactions. I'd love to bring back that sense of simplicity and the deep interpersonal connections that seemed more pronounced in the past.