Billboards empty as Iran’s ad sector mulls sanctions

US sanctions are having an adverse affect on the Iranian advertising sector. (Reuters)
Updated 04 September 2018
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Billboards empty as Iran’s ad sector mulls sanctions

  • Staff numbers at agencies are being cut due to lack of work
  • International brands have begun to withdraw from the country

LONDON: Iran’s advertising agencies are struggling to find new business as international brands start backing out of the country following US President Donald Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on the country.
Staff numbers at agencies are being cut due to lack of work and billboards are often left empty on the sides of Iran’s roads, said Sam Cordier, managing director at PGt Advertising in Iran, as major brands reconsider whether or not to maintain a presence in the Iranian market.
While Trump reimposed some sanctions in August, tougher measures, including those involving oil exports, will be implemented in November. “You can already see that it has affected a number of the agencies here,” he said.
“The pulling out of international companies means the investment into this country falls. That investment literally pays the salaries of the young talented Iranians that work here. And over the course of last month or so a number of agencies have had to cut staff.”
“It is really tough,” he said, adding that PGt has not had to lose any employees yet.
The lack of business contrasts sharply with the surge in enthusiasm for the Iranian market following the lifting of international sanctions in January 2016.
With Iran finally able to sell its oil freely on international markets, and coupled with the large and youthful population of more than 80 million people, the country was touted as the “next big thing” in advertising for both the local and international agencies. Potential clients such as oil companies, car producers and plane makers began to pile into the country.
Iran was even included in the top 30 up-and-coming advertising markets that could threaten the dominance of traditional players, according to a report by advertising firm Zenith Media in January.
While Iran’s advertising market was “underdeveloped” the report said, due in part to large state involvement in the economy, the country has “long-term potential”.
“We estimate that ad market was worth about $1.4 billion in 2017, which was 0.3 percent of GDP. We expect this proportion to rise as Iran reintegrates into the global economy, ” it said.
Iran’s advertising expenditure would reach $2.1 billion by 2020, the report forecast.
Buoyed by thawing international relations between 2015 and 2016, there was a flurry of international ad agencies signing deals with local companies as they looked to carve out a share of the nascent market.
“You have a country where perhaps traditional marketing practices are still in their infancy, but at the other end there is a growing tech industry,” said Barry Dudley, a London-based partner at Green Square, a media and marketing advisory firm.
London-based Japanese-owned Dentsu Aegis signed a partnership with Iran’s International Communications Agency in May 2015.
The following year, UK-based Grayling secured an affiliation agreement with Iran’s PGt Advertising.
By November 2016, the UK’s WPP had also signed an affiliation deal with digital marketing company PPG in November 2016.
Trump’s move has quashed hopes that such deals would bring in a profitable new stream of business for international ad agencies, with many of them pushing pause on their Iran strategy.


Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.