A relatively low-speed Internet connection, a lack of expertise within the majority of advertising agencies and weak offerings by local websites are the major reasons behind the low interest in online advertising in Lebanon, industry experts say. Out of $174 million in estimated real advertising expenditures in Lebanon in 2011, only $3.5 million was poured into online media, according to figures released by the monthly communication and business magazine ArabAd. Advertising expenditures in TV topped the list at $65.5 million. Spending on outdoor advertising came in second at $45 million, while newspapers and magazines earned $31.9 and $14.5 million respectively. Naji Boulos, managing director of Memac Ogilvy-Lebanon told The Daily Star that despite an improving Internet connection and a penetration rate of 40 percent, Lebanon still lags behind many countries. Another reason behind the lack of interest in online advertising is weak offerings by the most popular local websites, particularly political news websites, added Boulos, who currently heads the International Advertising Association-Lebanon Chapter. “Local websites aren’t offering much from a technical point of view. Their offering is mostly limited to small banner ads that lack creativity,” Boulos said. “Sites aren’t investing technically as advertisers turn to Facebook and Google ads, which make up a large share of Internet advertising in Lebanon,” he added. Boulos’ viewpoint was shared by Elie Achkouty, regional sales manager at Digital Media Services, a subordinate of Choueiri Group. Achkouty said Lebanon’s Internet connection was still relatively slow when it comes to live streaming or rich media, which is required to run creative advertising campaigns and media animations. However, despite difficulties, the online advertising trend is growing exponentially, according to Boulos, who added that expenditure in online media is almost doubling every year. While many Lebanese agencies still lack the expertise to include digital media advertising in their campaigns, the majority is catching up with the trend, both Achkouty and Boulos said. “For example, we used to outsource digital media advertising, which was costly but currently we have in-house specialists. Each media campaign should include a digital layer. It is a must,” Boulos said. Georges Slim, COO of Lowe Pimo advertising agency, said the majority of agencies lack the expertise needed to convince clients to run online advertising. However, Slim added that this is changing. The availability of management and monitoring tools for online campaigns as well as the ability to target the right audience and communicate with it through social media networks, is shifting the trend, Slim said. But it is clients rather than agencies that are pushing for online advertising in their campaigns, Achkouty said. “Clients representing multinational corporations are putting pressure on agencies, which still lack the expertise to tap the new medium since it provides better audience targeting ... and more transparent monitoring,” he said. An industry source said agencies have so far been avoiding the promotion of online advertising and its inclusion in 360 media campaigns mainly for two reasons: their lack of expertise in the field and lower commissions earned from online campaigns compared to TV spots or insertions in print media. However, Slim dismissed such claims, arguing that agencies achieve profits from returning clients following successful ad campaigns. “At the end of the day, we win the trust of clients by running a successful campaign, whether it is online or through other mediums,” Slim said. Agencies still lacking a dedicated staff to promote digital media campaigns are catching up fast with the growing industry as the majority will be ready by 2013, Achkouty said.