A hijab, bacon and McDonalds’ breakfasts – the wonderful world of Ramadan advertising

Ramadan is a wonderful month, a time of spirituality for the world’s Muslims. It’s also the time of year when the advertising rules change as Muslims fast during the daylight hours and look to spend their nights either with family or in prayer.

In keeping with reaching out to Muslims, advertisers need to be ever-aware of religious sensitivities. Brands often feel the need to make a change to their ads. One such change, which was spotted by Dubai-based communications professional Mohammed Kharroubi (Twitter handle @mkdubai), involved the retailer Carrefour. Spot the change below.

Brands sometimes get things horrendously wrong. Another retailer, the UK retailer Tesco, made a huge faux-pas, when they promoted smokey bacon-flavor Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion. For those who don’t know, any pork-related products are considered haraam in Islam and are not consumed by Muslims. The below image went viral and has resulted in masses of media coverage in the UK.

Tesco has been pilloried on social media for selling smokey bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion

Tesco has been pilloried on social media for selling smokey bacon-flavoured Pringles as part of a Ramadan promotion

And then, there’s the bizarre. According to Dubai-based marketing consultant Hussein Dajani, McDonalds has been running advertising for its breakfasts this month on the radio on Dubai. Unfortunately, Muslims fast during the day, and most of the McDonalds restaurants serving breakfast will be closed.

With Ramadan, it really does seem that while some brands are able to adapt and thrive, others need to do their homework. What are your thoughts? And do you have your own examples of successful and unsuccessful Ramadan advertising?

First the Kama Sutra pictures, and then the 2022 GCC media resolution – what is happening to Qatar’s media scene?

It’s not been the best of summers for Qatar’s media scene. First, there was a slip at the Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq. It wasn’t so much a slip-up as a huge !@#$-up. The paper’s long-time editor-in-chief Jaber Al Harmi was forced to resign after the publication of a photograph depicting sex scenes from the Kama Sutra. The story was best told by the Associated Press. But before that, the offending image is below.

Al Sharq's choice of imagery  for henna tattoos really couldn't have been worse. But where did they find the image?

Al Sharq’s choice of imagery for henna tattoos really couldn’t have been worse. But where did they find the image?

The image showed the woman’s palms decorated in numerous tiny tattoos showing a couple engaged in sexual intercourse.

Harmi took to the paper’s website to describe the incident as “a completely unintended mistake” and the “worst” he had known in his 25-year career in journalism and said he took full responsibility for what happened.

He said he “offered my resignation out of moral responsibility”.

It is not yet known if the resignation has been accepted by the paper’s bosses.

“All apologies are not enough for such a serious mistake, which occurred by publishing morally inappropriate images,” wrote Harmi.

“Our values and principles provide a red line that cannot be breached and so I presented my resignation to the board.”

He added: “This tragic incident revealed to us the extent of the adherence of our community to religion, values and morals.”

On Twitter, he wrote that “all those behind this mistake” have been fired.

But it got better. Following on from the unfolding crisis at FIFA, Qatar has been looking to tackle the corruption allegations surrounding its winning of the 2022 World Cup. As part of this plan, Qatar lobbied the Gulf to request media support. What they got was a call by the Gulf’s governments for all regional media to support Qatar. More from the Doha News website.

In an effort to “counter” media criticism of Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup, the GCC is calling on journalists in the Gulf to publish stories that support the country’s right to host the international football tournament.

The directive was released following a meeting of GCC information ministers in Doha this week. In a joint statement carried by state news agency QNA late last night, they said:

“GCC information ministers renewed their call for the media to counter all those who seek to question the right of the State of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, stressing GCC states full solidarity with the State of Qatar and encouraged media in the GCC to continue countering these campaigns at home and abroad.”

As we say, the media should report the news and not make the news. However, with all that is happening in Qatar, expect more media machinations soon.

Will Etihad’s use of Twitter for Premium customer communications take off?

Etihad's Premium Twitter account is an exclusive account just for Etihad's Gold customers. Is Twitter the right channel for reaching out to premium customers however?

Etihad’s Premium Twitter account is an exclusive account just for Etihad’s Gold customers. Is Twitter the right channel for reaching out to premium customers however?

Excuse the pun in the title, but Etihad caught my eye this week with the news that it has set up a new Twitter account to communicate exclusively with Etihad Guest Gold members. The account, named @EtihadPremium, was launched at the beginning of May and Etihad Guest Gold members, Etihad customers who have flown 50,000 tier miles or 40 tier segments in one 12 month period, received emails on the new service. Below is the text of the email that Etihad sent out to its Etihad Guest Gold members over a month ago (courtesy of www.flyertalk.com).

We’ve launched a Twitter Channel to better serve you! We value your loyalty and have created a new channel that delivers a range of benefits with you, our guest, in mind.

Etihad Guest Gold members can now follow us on http://www.twitter.com/EtihadPremium and enjoy the following exclusive benefits:

Five minute response times
Dedicated service
Retro mileage claims
Exclusive deals

To sign up, please:

Email us at socialmedia@etihad.ae with: a photocopy of your Etihad Guest Card, Date of Birth, Post Code, Twitter Handle.
Please allow 24 hours for review and verification.
Post-verification, our team will follow you on Twitter and send a confirmation email.
Follow us back at http://www.twitter.com/EtihadPremium

The choice of Twitter has sparked some debate online. Hussein Dajani, a UAE-based social media commentator, listed on his LinkedIn profile some of the reasons why he thought Etihad’s use of Twitter didn’t make sense.

1- Etihad already has many existing Twitter accounts (Etihad Airways, Etihad Deals, Etihad Help, etc). Do people (Premium or not) really need one more account to follow?
2- Most of the “Premium” users are high profile people, how many of those are actually on Twitter or would use Twitter when having an inquiry or a complaint?
3- Will Etihad block a person if he / she no longer remains as a Premium customer?
4- How is Etihad being transparent and “fair” to all its customers when treating them differently?
5- Can’t Etihad identify who are its Premium customers from non Premium customers and get their Twitter handles?

Etihad’s social media lead Asif Khan shared his opinion as well. According to Asif, the reasons why Etihad went with Twitter for this concept were the customers themselves.

Etihad has public Twitter accounts and pretty tight SLAs for them – all users (Premium and non-Premium). This is an additional Twitter account for Premium members because there was massive demand – we have done proper research and tried to fulfill appetite – not just another channel launch. You’d be surprised to know how many Premium inquiries we receive. It’s just having a unique key number of managing first class and business class guests on a contact centre – different is its a Twitter account.

Just to clarify, this is an additional channel for communication with our high-valued guests – not the ONLY channel. There are other traditional channels that are being used – dedicated contact centre number, email address, etc. etc. Not sure if I entirely agree with your one-many concept because end of the day we’re not broadcasting information on this channel (one-many) because the intent is to have meaningful personalised conversation with each premium customer with contextual information available to us.

With premium customers, personalization is key. They want a one-to-one conversation, and they want the best possible support. Talking to a Facebook executive recently, she told me that Whatsapp was the sleeping giant of the Middle East’s digital sector. Back in March, Whatsapp was named the region’s most popular means of online communication by a survey commissioned by the Dubai Government.

But let’s go further. Whatsapp is one-to-one communication, through which one can share images, video, and recorded audio messages (we can’t use Whatsapp Call in the UAE as it’s blocked on a national level). Whatsapp can also share the user’s location or a contact, and its secure. Unlike a Twitter handle, I can’t communicate with another Whatsapp user unless I know their mobile number – and, let’s face it, how many premium customers will be flying around the world without a mobile?

The other concern I have is about Twitter and its security. What will Etihad do if the Twitter account is hacked? How can it safeguard the information of these premium customers?

The response to Etihad’s initiative has been mixed on travel websites such as OneMileAtATime and FlyerTalk, with some premium passengers praising the move, others saying they don’t have a Twitter account, and some going so far as to say that Etihad needs to improve its overall customer service levels available through its existing social media accounts.

I’d be fascinated to see how this works for Etihad. The initiative is bold, but with the choice of communications being Twitter will it work as Etihad hopes?

A McLaren and Bentley for the masses in the UAE? Should luxury go mainstream?

The beauty about luxury is that it isn’t for everyone. Luxury is exclusive, it’s a statement of position. Luxury isn’t about function but form and beauty. Luxury automotives can cost more than a decent-sized house, and when you consider that the likes of Rolls-Royce only sold 3,630 cars in 2013 (which was a record year for them fyi), then one gets to truly understand how exclusive luxury is.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a couple of weeks ago adverts for Bentley with copy that read a Flying Spur could be mine for only AED11,514.00 per month – that’s about US$3,000). Few people would be able to afford a car worth about US$200,000 when new. While the payment option, spread over several years, makes sense financially, what harm does it do to the brand for those wealthy enough not to need financing? Would they want to see the car driven by the masses?

What does this sort of offer do to a brand such as Bentley? Does it help or harm the brand in the eyes of Bentley's original target audience?

What does this sort of offer do to a brand such as Bentley? Does it help or harm the brand in the eyes of Bentley’s original target audience?

It gets better. The same dealer in the UAE who sells Bentley also has the rights to McLaren. And what do you do with a supercar which costs over US$220,000? You offer it on installment at AED9,300 a month.

Do you have a spare 10,000 Dirhams to spare a month? Why not buy a McLaren supercar?

Do you have a spare 10,000 Dirhams to spare a month? Why not buy a McLaren supercar?

While brands nee to make money to survive and grow, what is the reputational cost and the impact on brand equity of such offers which change both a product’s positioning as well as its target audience? What are your thoughts? Is this a creative, original idea to build a brand? Or does it do more harm than good?

Arab News, Molouk Ba-Isa, the Axact scandal and how the Arab media lost a world exclusive in 2009

Molouk Ba-Isa broke the Axact story five years before the New York Times. And then her story was pulled by the management of Arab News two weeks after it was published (image source: Saudi Gazette)

Molouk Ba-Isa broke the Axact story five years before the New York Times. And then her story was pulled by the management of Arab News two weeks after it was published (image source: Saudi Gazette)

While there’s plenty of media titles in the Middle East region – by all accounts the Gulf is the one part of the world where print is still making a profit – there’s few occasions I can remember where the region has had a world exclusive.

There’s always an exception to the rule, and unsurprisingly the person who has been in the limelight recently is a Saudi-based journalist called Molouk Ba-Isa. For those who know her, Molouk is a no-nonsense reporter who often tackles items of interest to her readers and who produces original news rather than copying and pasting news releases.

Molouk’s name was mentioned in the New York Times, as the journalist who first broke the Axact fake diploma scandal. To quote from the first piece the New York Times wrote on the story, in which it broke news of the scandal:

Heavy scrutiny by investigators, politicians and the fractious Pakistani media sector has mounted over the past week for Axact, a Karachi-based software company that has made millions selling fake degrees through a sprawling empire of school websites.

Axact, which has its headquarters in Karachi, Pakistan, ostensibly operates as a software company. Axact runs hundreds of websites, many of which purport to be online universities and high schools based in the United States.

Axact has thrived for more than a decade on its ability to hide links between its operation in Karachi and hundreds of fictitious online schools, many of them claiming to be American. But more such links are coming to light in the days since The New York Times published a detailed account of the company’s operations.

The Axact story wasn’t broken by the New York Times, but rather by Molouk Ba-Isa, who was writing for the Arab News back in 2009. Again, to quote from the New York Times:

For years, former employees said, Axact’s diploma certificates were shipped to customers across the globe through a courier service in Dubai, to give the impression of being based in that city’s free trade zone. But that facade nearly collapsed in 2009, when a technology journalist from Saudi Arabia started looking more closely.

The journalist, Molouk Ba-Isa, was following up on a report that Rochville University had awarded a master’s in business administration to an American pug named Chester. Although Rochville’s physical location was a mystery, Ms. Ba-Isa learned from a courier company official in Dubai that the degree originated from Axact’s office in Karachi.

But when The Arab News published her report, naming Axact, she said her editors received a strongly worded legal threat from company lawyers, and the article was removed from the Internet. This week, Ms. Ba-Isa said in an email that she felt vindicated.

In her weekly article for the Saudi Gazette, Molouk wrote about her Axact story which was published both in print and, even more importantly for a company which sells degrees via the internet, online.

On October 7, 2009, I received an email from Abdul Karim Khan & Company with a subject line “Cease and Desist.” The email was sent from akkc2005@yahoo.com, copied to legal@axact.com.

Abdul Karim Khan & Company, claimed to be “Advocates, Attorneys and Legal Consultants,” located at Suite No. 1108, 11th Floor, Kashif Centre, Sharah-e-Faisal, Karachi.

The email stated that the lawyers represented Axact (Pvt.) Ltd and they were putting forward a Cease and Desist Letter authored by Fahim ul Karim.

The letter demanded that the article published on October 6 be removed from arabnews.com or prosecution would proceed. Arab News was also included and threatened in the Cease and Desist Letter.

Immediately, I was asked by senior Arab News staff to provide evidence for all allegations in my report. I turned over my notes and the taped interview with Vicky Phillips, the founder of GetEducated.com, whose dog had been awarded the degree.

I provided telephone numbers for the shippers in Dubai and images of the shipping label. Within a week of the first email, the legal documents arrived from Pakistan to Jeddah by courier.

Once the article had been up on the website for two weeks, senior management at the newspaper made the decision to take the report down to stop any lawsuit.

However, no apology was issued and my report was never retracted. I continued to dig for information about Axact’s illegal activities.

While Molouk should be praised for her pioneering work, why didn’t the management at Arab News and its publisher defend her reporting and keep it online? Did they really fear a court case? Do they bear responsibility for those who have been defrauded by Axact in the five years since that initial piece was published by Molouk? And what does this say about investigative journalist in the Middle East?

A global scoop which never was… Molouk, you did a fantastic job. If only our publishers are as brave as our journalists, maybe this piece would have had a different ending. Ultimately, I’ll leave the last word to Molouk.

My thanks go out to all those who have helped to publicize Axact’s alleged malfeasance. Keep up the good work.

One Day #WithoutShoes – How TOMS is getting consumer sustainability spot on

TOMS' sustainability strategy is simple to understand, its aligned to the business, and it's designed with consumers - and social media - in mind

TOMS’ sustainability strategy is simple to understand, its aligned to the business, and it’s designed with consumers – and social media – in mind

It’s fair to say that getting sustainability right is a challenge for most companies; it’s even harder when you throw consumers into the mix. However, every now and then a campaign comes along that makes you sit up and take notice.

Founded in 2006, the US-based shoe retailer TOMS was founded with a strong sense of giving back to communities in need. The company’s promise was simple – for each pair of shoes bought, it would donate another pair of shoes to a child in need. To date, TOMS has given more than 35 million pairs of new shoes to children in need.

This year TOMS brought their global CSR campaign, which has been running for eight years, to the United Arab Emirates. The company has taken its original premise of “One Day without Shoes”, an event where participants do not wear shoes throughout the day in order to raise awareness for TOMS’ goal of giving shoes to children-in-need, online and onto social media.

The concept is a simple yet powerful initiative where they would like people to take a picture of their bare feet and share it on Instagram. With each picture shared, one pair of shoes will be given to a child in need. A simple picture tagged with #WithoutShoes can help the cause and provide a donation.

As of last Thursday afternoon, more than 296,000 children will benefit from the campaign, according to the company’s website. It’d be interesting to see how many UAE consumers got involved (I’ll see if I can get a response from the UAE retailer which has the TOMS franchise, Apparel Group.

The below are just a sample of the 300,000 plus images which have been generated over the past two weeks, both by consumers as well as celebrities and the media. Let’s hope other companies can learn from TOMS and how powerful a simple concept such as this can be for the brand, the consumer and for communities in need.

#WithoutShoes with great friends. 👣#BareFeet #MorningswithMelissa

A photo posted by @morningswithmelissa on