Media relaxed about recent political furore
21 September 2007
Having been brought to its knees byan economic crash in 2001, Turkey’s economy has since made a healthy recovery, with inflation falling dramatically and the country steadily pushing for EU membership.
However, there was some agitation during the run-up to the presidential elections earlier this year, when secularists staged mass protests about the ruling AKP party’s choice of the pro-Islamic Abdullah Gul as presidential candidate, and later against the AKP’s re-election. Secularists feared that, once installed, a pro-Islamic president would blur the strict separation in Turkey between religion and politics and challenge the secularist ideals established in the 1920s by Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic. A military coup was believed to be a distinct possibility.
However, the AKP denies it has Islamist designs and has won praiseabroad for its liberal economic policies and its efforts to steer Turkey towards EU entry. In July’s general election, voters re-elected the AKP. The coalition secularist opposition, the CHP, was criticised for not having strong policies or convincing alternatives. Nor do coalition governments havea strong track record in Turkey. The media industry and the financial markets at large feared that if the AKP had lost, instability would have caused foreign investments to dry up, dealing the economy a serious blow.
As M&M went to press, fears remained as Gul, whose selection triggered the clashes earlier in the year, was the favourite in the presidential elections. But what has all this meant for advertising investments? M&M gets three different viewpoints from inside Turkey’s borders.
Six years ago, in 2001, a small pamphlet thrown across a table had resulted in one of the biggest economic crises in Turkey when the Turkish lira plummeted, inflation soared and the political system shattered. It was president Ahmet Necdet Sezer who had thrown the small pamphlet of the Turkish Constitution towards the Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit when the two started quarrelling during the National Security Council Meeting.
This triggered a chain-reaction that led to very strong austerity measures under the watchful eyes of the IMF. While the Turkish economy was ridding itself of long-surviving malaises, such as budget deficits and populist economic polities aimed at buying votes, an overhaul of the political scene saw the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) sweep to power.
AKP, adhering strictly to the bitter recipe of the IMF and following the requirements of the Copenhagen criteria which are necessary for Turkey’s acceptance as a candidate country for EU accession, created a long period of stability and steady growth, leading Turkey to become a very appealing destination for global investors.
Media had a mixed fortune all through this period. During the crises of 2000-2001, the interest in what the media was saying or writing increased, as did readership and viewership, but advertising revenues were halved. A large number of TV stations and newspapers either went out of business or changed hands.
The steady economic growth has since brought back the lost revenues and media has flourished. A number of global players, such as News Corporation, CanWest and Axel Springer, started buying into Turkish media.
Yet politics has again rocked the boat. True, elections mean a field day for print media and outdoor, where all the advertising money is spent by the parties. But the elections in July 2007 yielded a landslide victory for the AKP, which increased its vote to 47%.
This normally would mean a continuation of the policies of the past five years, that is to say steady economic growth, a flourishing advertising market and more interest from global capital. But the controversy looming on the horizon– Abdullah Gul is still the ADK’s candidate for the presidency– is making the business community take this euphoria with a pinch of salt.
The AKP has a sufficient majority to install Gul without a hitch. The question is how the Turkish establishment – the Turkish army in particular – will react to this new development. For now, for advertisers and media owners, it’s business as usual, but this question is hanging above the future of Turkey like the sword of Damocles.
After the economic crash in 2001, which saw media spend fall from $1.05bn to $551m almost overnight, the media industry took more than three years to recover.
In 2001, when I was managing director of Starcom, the only client we had that advertised was McDonald’s. In 2004, though, spending reached $1.3bn – and since then the industry has continued to grow. Total media spend is predicted to be $2bn by the end of 2007 and to exceed $3bnby 2009.
If the AKP had not won the election, however, we predict that we would have gone back to the 2004 or 2003 level of media spend. All investment is growing due to the efforts the AKP is putting in. Under the AKP, Turkey’s economy has been stable and GNP has been growing. Ifsomething in the system was broken, and which did not fit with the agenda of the big players, it would decrease adspend dramatically.
Turkey does not have good experiences with coalition regimes, which tend to be too busy fighting among themselves rather than focusing on governing. If the election has turned out differently, it would put foreign investment on hold for a time and money would not have come in.
Advertising on television and radio was banned for political parties during the election , but all the parties used print and outdoor. One very interesting thing that happened during the elections was that the political parties were marketed as brands for the first time. The AKP in particular had a very successful integrated communications strategy.
In print, for example, it put different messages on different magazines. For business magazine Capital, the brand message read: “Turkey is running, exports are increasing"; for Cosmopolitan it read: “Now our girls can go to school" and for economics magazine Platin it read: “A record fall for inflation" – all followed by the strap line 'Everything for Turkey’. The party married the message with the right medium. It was great to see targeting and consistency like this in Turkey.
To get around the ban on TV and radio advertising, the AKP took advantage of digital media, putting its video spots on YouTube and advertising on Last FM. This was a phenomenon for Turkey and it captivated a younger audience. The party also used mobile SMS to reach voters.
It is also important to note that the political campaigns did not fuel inflation for other brands – we always thought that would be an issue for us. The parties paid a premium, but because the activity took place in the quieter summer months, there was enough media supply to meet demand without raising the prices for other advertisers.
BUSINESS AS USUAL FOR MEDIA
Those in media in Turkey are quick to jump to the defence of the political situation over
the past few months. In researching this piece more often than not it was a case of: "Protests? What protests?". It is hard in western Europe to see how mass protests could not be unsettling for advertisers, or force than to instigate changes in their strategy – whether they delayed activity, or were able to take advantage of more eyeballs on the news in print or TV, or had to leave outdoor executions in place for an extra week or so. After all, even without protests, it is not uncommon to see a downturn in advertising in the run-up to any election – note the situation in France before June.
Perhaps, more than anything this is because those in Turkey are eager to keep the "business as usual" signs on display for foreign investors. They were clearly worried about what a change in government would have meant, and they have had recent history of troubled economic times to baulk against. Another suggestion given to M&M implies that the Turkish believe political tensions are somewhat par for the course, a way of life, after three successful military coups.
If nothing else, this election has increased the international focus on Turkey, and that is no bad thing. Understanding the nation that seems to bridge European and Asian cultures is crucial for politicians and advertisers alike.