Saatchi X aims for 'moment of truth'

Shopper marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi X expects to double its business in the Mena region this year.

Dina Howell, the chief executive of Saatchi X, is upbeat about the Mena region.
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An estimated 70 per cent of purchase decisions are made in-store. And shopper marketing companies are increasingly focused on the "first moment of truth" - the few seconds when a consumer initially notices an item in-store and decides whether or not to buy it.

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Saatchi & Saatchi X, launched two years ago, expects to double its business in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region this year on the back of this trend.

The agency, which is owned by the Euronext-listed communications firm Publicis Groupe, said retail promotions in Dubai were among the most sophisticated in the world.

Saatchi X specialises in shopper marketing, which has traditionally focused on the packaging and advertising of products in the retail environment.

But the company also focuses online as more consumers research products on the internet before they buy, even for everyday items such as washing powder and snacks.

Richard Nicoll, the Saatchi X managing director for the Middle East, said he forecast strong growth this year.

"We're looking to pretty much double our business this year in the Mena region," said Mr Nicoll. "There is a growing realisation from marketeers that this is worth considering.

"Shopping is massively important in Dubai and the Middle East generally. The challenge is that you can have a fantastic day out in a mall without necessarily going into any shops."

Dina Howell, the newly appointed worldwide chief executive of Saatchi X, said growth of the company in the Mena region was likely to outpace the global shopper marketing business.

"Saatchi X is projected to grow more than 20 per cent this year," said Ms Howell.

"Shopper marketing is among the fastest-growing, if not the fastest-growing discipline [in marketing]."

She acknowledged Saatchi X was "still in a start-up mode" in the region.

"It's good and natural that we would have that kind of growth, but we hope to sustain that for some period of time," she said.

Richard Adams, a retail analyst at Verdict Research, which is part of the Datamonitor Group, said shopper marketing was becoming more popular globally.

"It's very much in vogue right now. For every dollar you spend on this kind of marketing, you're likely to get a return," said Mr Adams. "It is likely to continue to grow quite rapidly. Increasingly, brands are struggling to get their voice across."

He said Saatchi X's growth forecasts sounded realistic, although opportunities would probably be concentrated in cities such as Abu Dhabi, and countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, rather than the more developed Dubai market.

"I'm not surprised [Saatchi X] are quite bullish on their forecasts," said Mr Adams.

"They're more likely to see growth in a place like Abu Dhabi. Because there is a reasonable base in Dubai, growth is unlikely to be explosive."

Ms Howell agreed the Dubai retail market had "very advanced" in-store promotions.

"Some of the first-moment-of-truth work is among the finest in the world … Dubai is, if not the top, then in the top three," said Ms Howell. "The way that products are displayed in Dubai is amazing. There's more space, there's often a demonstrator who will explain the products to you and try to convince you to buy today.

"And there's a lot of engagement that happens in-store … And that does not happen in other markets the way it happens in Dubai."

Ms Howell said shopper marketing involved influencing consumers both in-store and at home.

"[Consumer] decisions can be altered before they get to the store," he said.

"And then what we find is that when they actually get into the store, their decisions are altered, often very frequently.

"That's because they are either unaware of what the price is, or they see new alternatives that maybe have not been advertised outside the store, or they are able to touch and feel the product."