Global ad group WPP bets on Myanmar as sanctions lifted

Mon May 21, 2012 9:12am EDT
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By Georgina Prodhan

LONDON (Reuters) - WPP (WPP.L: Quote) has become the first foreign advertising group to invest in Myanmar since Western sanctions were lifted, betting on a flood of demand from multinational companies wanting to market their goods and services.

New York-based Ogilvy & Mather, part of the global WPP group, said on Monday it had agreed to buy a stake in Myanmar's leading ad agency Today Advertising, staking out an early position in one of Asia's last frontier markets.

The United States suspended sanctions on Friday in response to political reforms in Myanmar, a poor southeastern Asian state sandwiched between China and India that had been ruled by its armed forces for 50 years.

Europe had suspended sanctions a month earlier. After years of detention and house arrest, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in parliament on May 2, ushering in a new political era.

Ogilvy & Mather was also the first international ad agency to set up in Vietnam when U.S. sanctions were lifted there in 1994. Vietnam is now one of WPP's fastest-growing markets.

"It's not often that a market of this size opens up, with this history and infrastructure and capability, so it's very, very exciting," WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell told Reuters.

Myanmar has a population of about 60 million, who live on an average income of about $4 a day - far less than that in rural communities. It has an average age of 27 and is rich in resources but has little provision for business or banking.

Myanmar's advertising market was worth just $33 million in 2011, according to leading media buyer ZenithOptimedia (PUBP.PA: Quote), compared with $600 million for Vietnam.   Continued...