The Middle East’s love for Instagram (including its adverts)

Here in the Gulf we just love our pictures and photos. We love it so much that you’ll be hard pressed to find many in the Gulf who aren’t on the social media app. Only yesterday and in a period of less than five years Instagram announced that it had crossed the 400 million user mark (the app added 100 million users in the last 10 months alone). Seventy five percent of those 400 million users live outside the US, and the Gulf in particular has taken to the photo and video-sharing application.

In terms of the Gulf, it’s no surprise that Saudi leads the way – there are 10.7 million monthly active users in the Kingdom (just over a third of the population). The UAE follows with 2.2 million monthly users. And, to the West, Egypt has 3.2 million monthly active users. What’s even more impressive is daily active users – a whopping 6.1 million for Saudi, 1.2 million for the UAE, and 1.1 million for Egypt.

This all makes good news for Facebook, Instagram’s owner, which introduced advertising to the platform this month in the MENA region. Facebook rolled out advertising for select partners this month. The launch earlier this month included both regional brands such as telcos Saudi Telecom and Zain and retailers Souq and AlShaya, as well as global advertisers such as Unilever, P&G, Nestle, Mondelez, Visa, L’oreal and Pepsi. The first ad to go live was Souq’s, which you can see below.

Souq's Instagram advert was the first to be seen by Middle East users of the app

Souq’s Instagram advert was the first to be seen by Middle East users of the app

So far, from what I’ve been told, engagement with the adverts has been far higher than expected and much more than these advertisers are used to on Facebook. While there’ll be some negative sentiment from consumers who aren’t used to seeing advertising on their Instagram feeds, it seems that both Facebook and advertisers are onto a winner when it comes to Instagram advertising.

And for those of you curious people out there, the country with the highest penetration, is Bahrain which is closely followed by Kuwait. Both enjoy over 50 percent usage for Instagram; Bahrain’s penetration rate is over seventy five percent. The below visual was shared by social media expert Khaled El-Ahmed, and while the numbers may be slightly off from the above in terms of users, they’re still valid in terms of percentages.

PS For disclosure, I’m a P&G employee.

Getting engagement right – Zain Kuwait’s ‘We Know You Well’ ads

Advertising is a tortuous task – get it wrong (which most brands do) and your advert is either forgotten or, even worse, hated. Consumers will turn over as soon as they view the advert or hear the copy. But when a brand gets the advert right, the content becomes engaging, entertaining and even iconic. Think Fairy, Hamlet or Heineken.

Unlike in the UK, brands in the Middle East are loathe to do things differently. The Kuwait-based telco Zain is different however. They’re often looking at pushing the envelope in terms of both creativity and message.

My wife stumbled across a couple of adverts run by Zain this Ramadan. Named ‘We Know You Well’, these adverts which are purely aimed at promoting the brand are a fun poke at the younger generation of Kuwaitis and how, despite their lifestyle changes, they still revert to their old selves. If you know any Gulf Arabs, especially Kuwaitis, Saudis or Bahrainis, ask them to explain the particulars to you. The message in the second video is easier to understand, but the nuances and details, from the accents to the music and the voice-over text are uniquely understandable to anyone who knows Kuwait. The title of the adverts also plays on the telco’s own name (Zain means well or good in Arabic).

The adverts are simple, the message is clear, and the content is not only engaging but entertaining (both thanks to the voice-over as well as the acting). The characters are believable as well. All in all, they’re a powerful piece of content which consumers can not only understand but enjoy.

For an added extra, Zain also released a behind-the-scenes video on social media.

If you want to be bold, then look no further than Zain Kuwait and how the telco does advertising. You are truly Zain my friends…

Trying something new – the Parenting Game

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’ve been fairly busy of late. The lack of sleep and general state of red eye has been caused by the arrival of my little princess.

As a first time father I’m both delighted with living the role and taking up my responsibilities (I genuinely do enjoy the 2am feeds and burping walks).

But what I also want to start doing is blogging about this, particularly my experiences. I’m going to start reviewing things that my little one loves and which keep her safe and sound.

I hope you enjoy reading these blogs as much as I do living them with my little one.


#AylanKurdi, the image that has defined the refugee tragedy and what you can do to help

There are moments when we come across an image that is so powerful that it can drive us to tears. Such an image can galvanize a generation, it can melt the coldest of hearts or it can create a well of emotion inside of us. Think of the Vietnam war’s “Girl in the Picture”, of the naked Vietnamese girl who had been burned by napalm and was in agony, or the picture of the lone student protester who held up a column of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

This morning, I saw another image that was so powerful it literally made me cry just looking at my screen. The images below are of a three year old Syrian boy whose name is Alyan Kurdi. Like hundreds of thousands of others from Syria, Aylan and his family sought refuge and a new home in Europe.

As a father of a young child, all I care about is her safety and well-being. I can not imagine the horror that Aylan’s father, who was on the boat with Aylan and who lost his other son as well as his wife, is now living through.

This image of three year-old Aylan Kurdi is the story of Syria’s refugee tragedy. Alyan drowned while his parents were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish mainland (image source: Reuters/The Independent).

My one hope is that this image and story will melt hearts across Europe and worldwide, and drive people to step up and help those from Syria and other countries who are fleeing violence and who want to make a home for themselves in a new country, a home that is safe where they can live far from the shadow of death.

For me, Aylan’s story and the images taken by Reuters are heartbreaking. I beseech you to take action, especially if you are European. You can either the suggestions from the Independent or donate to organizations such as UNICEF or Save the Children which are supporting Syrian refugees.

Let’s do more, let’s help those in need. Let’s join together to ensure that there isn’t another Aylan.

The Ups and Downs of Periscope in the UAE

It was a case of down Periscope last week in the UAE

It was a case of down Periscope last week in the UAE

No pun intended with the title, but Periscope, the live video streaming app which is owned by Twitter, really has been through the wringer of late. The service, which only launched at the beginning of this year, was picking up steam in the UAE thanks to its purchase by Twitter.

However, the country’s users were left out in the cold after the government’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority put a halt to its usage last week. The allegation made on social media was the Periscope users were sharing content that they shouldn’t have been sharing and which was not in keeping with the UAE’s culture.

But that’s only part of the story. According to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority there was no ban on the application, but rather a technical problem which was stopping users from accessing the application in the country.

As of Thursday and 48 hours after the initial blockage the app was up and running. However, the episode is another example of how easy it is for applications to be blocked in the region without notice. You’ve been warned.

How Investigative Journalism Encourages Debate – the Case of Apple and Bloomberg

Bloomberg's scoop on Apple's ownership structure in the UAE was an example of investigative journalism that we often sorely miss in the Gulf

Bloomberg’s scoop on Apple’s ownership structure in the UAE was an example of investigative journalism that we often sorely miss in the Gulf

There’s no limit to the respect I have for good journalists. These people can toil away for weeks and months on a story, digging for a piece of information or a lead that will result in the next big story. We aren’t blessed with a great deal of original breaking news in the Gulf region; much of what there is out there is, I’ll admit, news which companies want to release to the media.

It’s refreshing to see news which isn’t essentially public relations, a story which has been diligently worked upon by an investigative journalist. One piece piqued my interest this week, the news of how the IT giant Apple has been granted an exemption from the UAE’s foreign ownership laws to fully own its operations in the UAE. The piece was written by Bloomberg’s Matthew Martin.

The piece is a public interest story which I’m sure Apple would not have wanted to be published and which, unsurprisingly, Apple didn’t respond to, though I’m told they had ample time to do so. As the doyen of modern journalism, Lord Northcliffe, said: “News is what people do not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”

What I particularly like about such practices is the debate that it engenders, and how it gets people talking. For me, the story leaves me with a host of questions that Apple and the country’s authorities need to address for the benefit of the wider business community. Let’s hope we see more investigative journalism being practiced in the Gulf region. Goodness knows we need it.

Stepping into the Continent’s Political Minefield – Etihad’s Independence Day faux-pas

When I was growing up and in the Gulf, I was often told by my father, “don’t talk about three things.” Those three things were politics, religion and sex. One was to never go against this cardinal rule. Of course, rules are made to be broken. But there’s a difference between when an individual does this, and when a corporation gets it wrong.

The past couple of days are important for our friends from the Asian sub-continent. The 14th of August is the commemoration of Pakistan’s independence from the British Empire. The very next day, the 15th of August, is symbolic for Indians as the date of India’s independence. Both countries are neighbors, but due to history and politics their relationship hasn’t always been neighborly.

Etihad stepped into the political minefield yesterday. The national airline was ostensibly trying to do the right thing by reaching out to Indian nationals and wishing them a Happy Independence Day. Over and above the emotional aspect of the occasion, the move makes perfect sense – Etihad has a sizable stake in the Indian airline Jet Airways, and Indians make up over a third of the UAE’s population. The post, on Etihad’s LinkedIn page, should have been welcomed by all.

Etihad's Happy Independence Day message to India... It's a shame Etihad forgot to do the same for Pakistan the day before.

Etihad’s Happy Independence Day message to India… It’s a shame Etihad forgot to do the same for Pakistan the day before.

However, Etihad forgot one thing. They hadn’t posted the same for Pakistan the day before. Reading through the comments and it’s clear that the Pakistani nationals have found umbrage with Etihad’s faux-pas. While the majority of responses are positive, those from Etihad’s Pakistani national followers speak for themselves.

Etihad's move to wish well to India and not to Pakistan for their respective Independence Days didn't go down well with the airline's Pakistani fans

Etihad’s move to wish well to India and not to Pakistan for their respective Independence Days didn’t go down well with the airline’s Pakistani fans

It’s an easy mistake to make in a country which is home to over 130 different nationalities, but when you consider that Pakistani nationals make up a sizable percentage of the UAE’s population (probably 10 to 15 percent), plus the history between the two nations, maybe Etihad would have been best advised to either go all in or not wish anyone a Happy Independence Day. As is, a simple omission can lead to the loss of both business and reputation among a key segment of the population.