The next arab generation

As young Arabs become wealthier and more Westernised, advertisers are queuing up to put their products in front of them. Richard Abbott looks at how the media is targeting the Arab youth market

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By  Richard Abbott Published  October 16, 2005

The next arab generation |~|barbican200.jpg|~|The Barbican TV ad|~|You are an Arab teenager. You love meeting your friends, music and going to the cinema. Your country’s oil-rich recent history means that your generation is wealthier than ever before. Yet you struggle for an identity, torn between the Arabic traditions of your family and the cultural influence of the West. On the one hand, you feel completely alienated by the way that the world associates the Middle East with terrorism. On the other, you feel freer to express yourself than ever before. This is the multi-dimensional Arab youth. And he or she is big business if you are in the advertising or marketing game. More than half of the estimated 250 million people in the Arab world are under the age of 25. The figure goes as high as two-thirds in Saudi Arabia — the result of a baby boom in the 70s and 80s, which followed a significant drop in the infant mortality rate. But these young people are far from a homogenous mass and there is no catch-all solution that marketers can use to capture their imagination. A teenage male in Lebanon is very different to a Saudi Arabian woman. Steve Hamilton-Clark, managing director of market research firm TNS Middle East, says the current generation of young people in the region is the first to have been brought up in a world of advertising and communication. He cites technologies like mobile phones and satellite TV as tools that have connected them with each other and wider influences. “Unlike their mothers and fathers, young people growing up in the Arab world today have become marketing and brand literate,” he says. “And because of this they expect more from their brands.” Importantly, Hamilton-Clark says young Arabs have moved away from what he calls a “collective Arab personality” to form their own identities. “You have to connect with them at an emotional level. We are moving from selling brands as a reference, to selling brands as a personality,” he says. “They are looking for something that says something about them. Food, cars, personal hygiene products — anything that connects with their personality.” TNS’ ‘Arab as Consumer’ programme divides the Arab world into segments based on their consumer habits. The data helps clients, including Procter & Gamble and Unilever, to identify and reach their target consumers. Tara Farouqi, a 23-year-old account executive at Dubai-based PR firm Total Communications, grew up in Jordan. She says there were only two TV channels when she was young and adverts were based around jingles. Nowadays, kids are using mobile phones and satellite TV companies have expanded the horizon of Arab and Western content available to young people. TNS’ research includes testimonies from young Arabs that perfectly sum up the way they feel pulled between their Arab traditions and desirable Western influences. A Saudi male, aged 18-24, said: “We want the kind of freedoms that Americans enjoy: ie freedom of speech, democracy and progress, but rooted in Islamic values.” A female of the same age group added: “It is about striking the right balance between Islam and a modern way of life.” Tarek Ayntrazi, general manager at Future TV in Lebanon, used to target young Arabs as a media agency boss when he ran Starcom in Dubai. Now he is viewing the market from a media owner perspective. “Youth in general tend to be more rebellious, seeking change in many aspects of their life. As consumers youth express their desire to change through their choice of products or brands,” he says. “The tendency is to avoid using their fathers’ brands. There are brands perceived to be old and others to be young. Curiosity pushes them to look for the new experiences that brands offer. “TV seems to be the most broadly used medium to reach Arab youth.” He says the choice of station and programmes depends on the profile of the brand, but he highlights the rise of the Arabic Rotana channels and other music TV portals. ||**||The next arab generation |~||~||~|The biggest brands, particularly in the soft drinks and fast food sectors, occasionally look towards sponsorship as an avenue to reach Arab youth en masse. An example is Pepsi’s Mirinda partnering with the recent blockbuster Batman Begins. Non-alcoholic beer Barbican sponsored the Dubai Bowling Tournament, which was held in August and September this year. The event attracted a massive turnout of bowling enthusiasts, all keen to scoop the top prize of a quad bike. Nawaf Salih Al Jumaili, brand activation manager for the UAE, says: “The fun spirit that Barbican embodies is apparent in all our activities, including our tag line ‘This Is Me’. This event is all about engaging the youth in a fun and energetic sport such as bowling.” Barbican has also been involved in sponsoring the ‘The Contender’ on One TV and organising The Dubai 2005 Bikeweek and Jeddah Dejam Billiards Tournament, as well as events in Bahrain and Jordan. Chucri Helayel, divisional account director for Nestlé at advertising agency Fortune Promoseven, wants to portray Nestlé as a brand that is part of today’s generation, not yesterday’s. “We know that this age group are most prone to change and most ready to try new things. We try to appeal to the trend setters so that hopefully the others will follow,” he says. He says that Ramadan is the ideal time to push Nescafé as a young person’s brand. “We know that Ramadan is very rooted in tradition. We use this platform to appeal to them emotionally, but we have done it in a modern way, showing young, energetic people in the film. “We want them to feel it is a new drink for their generation.” Nescafé is also focusing on the university population to achieve cut-through to 18 to 24-year-olds by creating the first Middle East University online community, which is currently in a test phase. “The internet is very big when it comes to media,” he says. Earlier this year, BBC Arabic service reporter Mounira Chaireb wrote a series of articles on being young in the Arab world. Her subjects included Esmahan, a 20-year-old divorcee from Bahrain who was badly treated by her husband. Esmahan revealed how she fulfils her thirst for freedom by surfing the internet and buying all of her possessions online. “I have a different world. It is more exciting to me than going out,” she said. “There is lots of variety on the internet. It is a bigger world than outside.” Kieran O’ Sullivan, interactive director at advertising agency Impact Proximity in Dubai, says youth in the Middle East, like their counterparts in the West, are embracing the internet as their media of choice. “No matter where you are in the world, youth are youth. They want to define themselves, their music, fashion, phones,” he says. “The internet allows them to break through the cultural wall that limits their expression of self. It allows them the freedom to talk, chat and blog to who they want, when they want at low cost.” From a marketer’s perspective, the data is very impressive. O’Sullivan says that Arab youths aged between 15 and 25 represent the region’s highest usage category, averaging seven to eight hours per week actively surfing the internet. He adds: “Over 80% of these 15 to 25-year-olds access the internet every day and yet despite these figures both global and regional advertisers have been very slow, if not recalcitrant, in waking up to the potential of the internet.” One way of uniting Arab youths is by giving them an opportunity to interact with each other through the media. The internet is one way of doing this and chatrooms have become very popular in this region. Music television has also gained a strong foothold here, with the MTV generation manifesting itself in some of the more liberal corners of the Arab peninsula. With New World Arabs using brands as badges to represent their personality, marketers must capitalise on this exploding market now. Or risk missing out forever.||**||The next arab generation |~|barbicannew200.jpg|~||~|Chris Bell of Face to Face on how to target young Arabs Barbican’s key target is 17 to 21-year-olds, predominantly males, and its major market is Saudi Arabia. Not the easiest group of consumers to impress. I’d imagine that it’s a challenge shared by any client/agency team from Bogota to Bangkok — trying to excite, engage and motivate action amongst a youth audience is fraught with difficulty. They are smart, savvy, cynical and, a lot of the time, can be painfully disinterested in being shown ‘the cool new lifestyle’. This is never truer than when it’s by brands featuring far too many baseball caps worn the wrong way round and ‘cool dudes’ offering up a high-five to anyone within a five-metre radius. In other words, it’s very easy to get wrong. There were three key points to getting it right. The first was that people the world over have very basic needs and desires. A 17 to 21-year-old in KSA will have very similar basic needs and desires to a 17 to 21-year-old in London or Bogota. The second point, according to our joint creative director Bryan Eustace, was that: “All too often brand advertising in this category is predictable and boring. Brands rely too heavily on star endorsements or traditional advertising ideas. Consumers are tired and bored with these formats. They are predictable, unengaging and far from stimulating.” Ralph Roden, joint creative director, added the third point: “To ensure our brand became more relevant to our consumers’ lives we let the brand become part of their lives. The brand was to fill their need for self expression, give them a voice, an opportunity to share their real life with other 17 to 21-year-olds across the region.” For us, this represented a very real, very believable and very relevant territory for Barbican to own. As a brand, it’s not about fictional and often ridiculous lifestyles. It’s about real people doing real things. The campaign selects random young people from within our target and allows them to chronicle their life through a montage of shots in the print advert or in the TV commercial. It’s our view that Barbican can realistically represent a credible catalyst for these events. Barbican is a friend whose company you’d expect to see in such gatherings. It’s not going to make you climb mountains or pilot a jet but it does represent a common denominator among friends at a wonderful time of their lives. The consumer is also sharing some of our belief, with latest research showing huge cut-through and outstanding recall There is also the reality check of commercial success.||**||

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