This was supposed to be a year of change for ad land

When the maelstrom of a global financial meltdown began to brush up against the Middle East’s advertising industry late last year, many observers predicted that a very necessary consolidation would occur, with the weaker, under-performing agencies squeezed out of the market while their stronger counterparts became increasingly dominant.

The theory was that, at last, the region’s over-populated and excessive ad sector – particularly in the UAE – would slim down to something more realistic after years of unchecked growth. Cuts in spending would mean greater accountability – and those that couldn’t prove their effectiveness beyond promises and lies would fall by the wayside.

This clearing-out process, many felt, would be good for the regional industry as a whole. Reality bites and everyone wakes up and smells the coffee.

Alain Khouri, chairman and CEO of Impact BBDO Group, told Campaign in December: “A slowdown could benefit the industry in terms of strengthening our talent pool as, in similar conditions, the natural survival process will favour the fittest and improve our industry’s overall standards.”

But seven months into a year that was supposed to be cataclysmic, has there been any significant change? Yes, jobs have been cut in certain quarters and some agencies have restructured. But the vast majority of players are still on the field. There’s no obvious improvement in the quality of the work and client-side sources are still reporting astonishing complacency within certain agencies.

This is despite ad spend in the UAE falling by more than a quarter in the first six months of 2009, compared with the same period last year, according to the latest data from the Pan Arab Research Centre.

So what does this say about the process of consolidation that had been predicted? Are the under-performers still ‘getting away with it’? Is the talent pool improving? Or are we simply expecting changes too early? Perhaps the consolidation is yet to come. What do you think?

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