Retail will drive outdoor advertising in the run-up to Expo 2020, as companies operating in the sector forecast sustainable growth figures, an industry executive said.

“Retail will continue driving Dubai, because Dubai is a retail hub for shopping… Consumerism is very heavy and I think those are the kind of companies or business owners who will keep on spending,” Rehan Merchant, CEO of Emirates Neon Group told TRENDS, explaining that this includes products or brands targeting the masses, as well as luxury products targeting a niche audience.

Despite various changes which impacted the various forms of advertising over recent years, outdoor advertising continues to maintain its value for local advertisers, which – in the case of Dubai – are major international companies looking at the emirate to establish their footprint in the region.

“Outdoor advertising is the backbone of advertising campaigns for local advertisers,” Merchant said.

Headquartered in Dubai, Emirates Neon Group has numerous locations around the city, noticeably on the city’s main central highway, Sheikh Zayed Road. But Merchant admitted that he is widening his horizon and targeting advertising locations on parallel highways running on the edges of the city, such as Al Khail Road.

“There is more outdoor coming on the market everywhere… when an owner looks at non-traditional ways of making money,” Merchant said.

Providing examples, Merchant said that the RTA can put up new infrastructure in empty spaces and lease them, or a building owner could put a sign on his or her building, taking advantage of a non-traditional utilization of assets.

The expansion of business naturally impacts growth, and for Merchant, growth has been stable for the past two years, following the “zigzags” seen during earlier boom times.

“In 2014 we had between 12.5 to 15 percent growth across the countries in which we operate,” he says, noting that the business has expanded into previously untapped areas.

Technological innovation disrupting all forms of advertising has also tapped into outdoor advertising, despite it being considered one of the most traditional forms of advertising.

“You see a static sign becoming an LED, you see a static sign have social media and other media integration, so there are different ways of how outdoor is working now,” Merchant says, stressing that outdoor is, more than ever, integrating other forms of advertising, such as digital and calls-to-action, as it progresses further.

Currently, ENG is looking at taking it a step further in innovation, by starting to incorporate augmented reality, the next phase of the sector’s natural progression.

“You will find people doing lots of different technological experiments; [such] campaigns will be experiments till they start picking momentum from other advertisers.”

Looking forward, Merchant forecast sustainable growth to continue in the years leading up to 2020, when Dubai is set to host the World Expo. He noted that businesses were not affected by the hype felt right after the announcement of the winning bid in late 2013.

“We just had a spike of inquiries, which meant – in hindsight – more people are now looking at setting up businesses, to gear to 2020,” Merchant said, noting that currently no money is being poured into the sector to serve Expo 2020 yet.

“There are new SMEs coming in the market, but they will take time to form their budgets, set up their products and services and then eventually reach a stage where they’ll want to advertise,” Merchant said. He expects heavy Expo 2020 advertising to kick-start by 2018 or 2019, with the property sector starting advertising for projects as early as 2016 or 2017. 

March 10 2015, 11:35 in Business by Hind Mustafa, Dubai