The Arab as consumer

NFO Merac’s new study ‘The Arab as Consumer 2001’ provides an insight into the attitudes of distinct Gulf Arab consumer types.

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By  David Ingham Published  October 1, 2001

NFO Merac has completed a qualitative study, “The Arab As Consumer 2001”, designed to provide a comprehensive insight into the consumer behaviour and attitudes of today’s Gulf Arab. The report’s authors noted the growing accessibility of the subjects’ “private world”, and as a result were able to identify different clusters or typologies of consumers.

“Ten years ago, Arab consumers across the GCC tended to dress the same way, buy the same kinds of brands and drive the same kind of cars,” says Ken McDermott, director of special projects at NFO Merac. “However, the advent of satellite television and the Internet has changed all that.

“It has given them a window on the world and exposed them to foreign cultures. They are fascinated by some of the lifestyle freedoms available in the West and this has sometimes caused a radical reappraisal of their own attitudes and values,” adds McDermott.

NFO Merac has developed what it calls ‘Us/Me Quadrants’ to help it classify the different consumer groupings that emerged from its research. By examining their public and private worlds and the extent to which they are ‘outer-directed’ (Us) or ‘inner-directed’ (Me), NFO Merac came up with four clusters: Us/Us, Us/Me, Me/Us and Me/Me.

Us/Us consumers are described as ‘especially religious and anti-Western.’ “They perceive Western values to be morally bankrupt and spiritually deficient,” explains McDermott.

“They are critical of youth who try to imitate Western dress codes and behavior and recently have called for boycotting of American brands in response to what they see as the pro-Israeli stance of the US government in the Palestinian conflict. The ongoing sizing estimation of the clusters will help American companies to better understand the scale of the boycott problem.”

Us/Me consumers like to balance what they consider the best from the Arab and Western worlds, and see themselves as more ‘open-minded’ than the Us/Us group. They tend to be unmarried, living with their parents and focused on securing a sound base for their future. Girls are noted to be marrying later than before.

The Me/Us cluster tends to be married and prefers to move away from the extended home to a nuclear arrangement. Young Me/Us wives resent the interference of the extended family in their private affairs and in more and more cases are contributing a second income. As a result they seek greater equality with their husbands. The Me/Us male is also found to be more openly caring and egalitarian.

In the fourth category, the Me/Me, are those searching for more personal freedoms and who are developing their identity in ways that sometimes challenges the established order and sense of tradition. They are experimenting with modern forms of dress and take an interest in American culture.

According to McDermott, the value of the research lies in the way NFO Merac has been able to profile the identities and motivations of each group. This, he believes, will help marketers and their agencies refine their communications for each group.

“A general theme is that all types of consumers are seeking more emotional messages from brands, but different types are seeking different kinds of messages,” says McDermott. “In addition, some have developed a greater degree of brand literacy than others and need to be addressed in different ways.”

Several agencies have endorsed the report, including Promoseven, Saatchi and Saatchi, and Memac Ogilvy. “This research should inspire marketers to regard consumers as individuals with different tastes, hopes and dreams rather than as an amorphous mass,” says Catalina Ifrim, planning director at Fortune Promoseven.

Adds Sahar Shaker, head of planning at Saatchi and Saatchi in Dubai: “The Arab as Consumer 2001 provides rich insights into the contemporary lives of the GCC consumer whilst also giving a taste of the future.”

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