Assaad Kassis: ‘Current tactical spending reflects the market situation in Lebanon’
Posted on 2023 Feb,27

Assaad Kassis, General Manager, UM shares his analysis and sentiments about Lebanon’s ad business in 2022 and how the ad industry has not only managed to hold its ground, but has also found ways to thrive and flourish.


There has been a rumble in the market that 2022, was somewhat better than 2020 and 2021. However, the bar is exceptionally low in light of the havoc witnessed during those years, so how “good” in fact was the year and what would you consider your main achievement as an agency in 2022?

If one were to look at the Lebanese media market through the lens of comparative media spending, the share of growth, and an excel sheet, the answer is yes, 2022 was relatively good versus 2020 and 2021. An obvious answer, yet quite misleading. If we dive into the new reality, the current tactical spending reflects the market situation; solar panels, money-counting machines, local brand offers, and promotions show that we still have a long way to go. However, we can start using the word “Good” when witnessing the comeback of critical categories like telecom, banking, and multinational brands.

At UM, we focus on e-com and data management across all our clients. We have achieved an astonishing performance with one of our leading clients having more than 15% of his business coming from e-com, leading the MENA market in shares. In addition, we are proud to partner with Somfy and look forward to working with them in the new chapter of building growth through their unique brand across the MENA region.


Clients have become very smart with whom they work and where they place their advertising. Where does “new business” typically come from today?

Clients in Lebanon are riding the wave of e-com, focusing their effort on the lower funnel to drive direct ROI; they parked their brand-building effort till the situation is more stable. New business is coming from the local and Turkish brands that invaded the market, benefiting from the absence of multinational brand activities. Our focus on data e-com and innovation has helped UM survive this challenging period.


“New business is coming from the local and Turkish brands that invaded the market, benefiting from the absence of multinational brand activities.”


Many network agencies and even smaller local ones currently service the Arab region from their Beirut offices. Do you think that companies in the Gulf are taking advantage of the low-priced local creative services?

Digital immigration is the new currency for the new generation. Lebanese people can work on any market globally from their bedrooms. Although Covid has accelerated this new reality, most network agencies are benefiting from this situation and moving their operations to Lebanon due to the low overhead cost and lower salaries. This move is helping the new generation to get exposure to a multinational way of working with a relatively competitive salary versus other business lines. Agencies should join forces to build on this new reality and try to serve brands beyond the MENA market; Europe and the Americas should be on the map of the hub expansions, especially in digital media activities. With the aging population in Europe and the high cost of labor in the US, Lebanese people can benefit and expand their offerings. Universities should support this expansion by offering students digital, data, and e-com courses to prepare them for the new job market. The "government" role should be to secure a good infrastructure and embrace this change.


If like most people claim you believe that creativity isn’t linked to big budgets, then how do you explain this creative rut we have been witnessing in Lebanon for the past few years, with barely a couple of advertising campaigns that have stood apart? 

Creativity and production don’t need big budgets; production agencies can produce content using mobile phones in the digital age.

The creative rut is due to the client prioritizing low-cost production and working with nonprofessional people to save on their agency fees. Unfortunately, this direction is short-cited as clients will wake up one day to see that they have harmed the brand image and will be out of the market. Instead, the client should focus on fewer, bigger, and better, prioritizing the spending on the lower funnel to drive direct ROI to survive the period.