Is a lack of Arabic content and low digital spending a challenge or opportunity for MENA marketers?

What should one be doing online in the Middle East? It’s always been a mystery, to me at least, that companies aren’t more active in the digital space in the region. Well, the researchers at the Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute have come up with some findings that underline how organizations are missing the boat when it comes to the Arab consumer and the internet (there’s been plenty of coverage on the study, including this piece on Stepfeed).

Firstly, let’s look at Arabic language content on the web. The researchers used a number of methods to understand how much Arabic content was online. One of the most interesting means used was to look at the 50 most popular web sites in Egypt, Qatar, Saudi and the UAE based on Alexa rankings to understand if Arabic was used and, if so, whether Arabic was the primary or secondary language. The results may, or may not, surprise you.

The research surveyed the 50 most visited websites in each country to understand how Arabic was used.

The research surveyed the 50 most visited websites in each country to understand how Arabic was used.

As the report itself states:

Despite a rapid increase in the number of Arabic-speaking Internet users, Arabic content remains one of the most under-represented languages online in terms of its share of the world’s websites. Even in predominantly Arabic-speaking countries like Egypt, a third of the top 50 visited websites are either not available in Arabic or do not include Arabic as the “default” or primary language.

It’s not all bad news however, according to Klaus Schoenbach, Associate Dean for Research, at Northwestern University in Qatar. He believes that content generated by users, particularly on social media, makes up for this corporate shortfall.

The findings do not necessarily suggest that Arabic content is low overall. Relative to the approximately 6 percent of Arabic speakers in the world, it is true that there are a disproportionately low number of Arabic websites on the Internet; however, by some metrics Arabic has a disproportionately high representation in social media. One possible reason for this could be that much of the Arab world came fully online during or after the rise of a social-dominated Internet, which replaced the original website-based Internet.

Still, the question remains. Why are businesses not focusing more on Arabic? Isn’t this a huge (and easy) opportunity to get right?

The second obvious challenge is spending online. Right, let me ask you lot. Who uses the internet? Did you use it today? Did you use it for a couple of hours? You probably answered in the affirmative to all of those questions. And yet, ad spending online in the MENA region is only 10 percent. To quote from the research:

Advertising on digital media is continuing to grow both globally and regionally. Worldwide, total digital advertising spend has sustained high growth over the past five years at an 18 percent CAGR. While MENA only represents 0.3 percent of global digital ad spend, it has grown at a phenomenal CAGR of 39 percent, by far the biggest growth rate in the world and almost double the rate of most other markets. Digital ad revenues were worth USD 550 million in 2015, contributing to about 10n percent of the region’s total ad revenues. But while MENA’s digital share of ad spend is catching up, it is still far behind advanced markets, where digital ad spend typically holds a 30 percent share.

This chart tracks approximate online spending from 2010 to 2015 both in terms of revenues as well as  a percentage of total ad spending.

This chart tracks approximate online spending from 2010 to 2015 both in terms of revenues as well as a percentage of total ad spending.

Considering the ubiquity of online usage across the Gulf, including via mobile, the question one must ask is obvious. Why isn’t more being spent online? Consumers are online, so shouldn’t marketers be online with their brands as well?

The full report can be accessed at It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in media across the region.

Rein in or let loose? How should an in-house communicator behave with media-friendly colleagues?

As an in-house communicator, would you reel an experienced colleague in or trust them to communicate well? (image source:

As an in-house communicator, would you reel an experienced colleague in or trust them to communicate well? (image source:

I had an interesting conversation today with a journalist (I still do that every now and then, as they’re a very fun bunch to be around). He was telling me about a recent event, of how a communications head for an organization came to him and asked about an award won by this person’s organization. It seems that the award nomination hadn’t been vetted by the communicator, and they wanted to know more about the nomination, including who specifically had submitted the nomination.

The journalist wasn’t particularly happy with what he saw interfering after the event. His viewpoint was clear, telling me that:

Yes, some journalists actually have relationships with people in organisations that don’t involve PR or comms, and while you can help that relationship, don’t mess around with it when it works so well!

As communicators, it is a natural instinct for us to control the message, especially when there’s an external party such as a journalist involved. However, does this always work? Does it make sense to rein in fellow staff members, especially when there’s potential to damage a relationship with your colleague or with the journalist whom your colleague has a relationship with.

For the journalist in question, much of his frustration comes from a feeling that when the marcomms team gets involved, the editorial process comes to a halt. In contrast, his source get to the point, he knows what to say and gives content that the journalist wants.

Would you rein in a colleague, especially one who is able to communicate well and who has a good relationship with a journalist? Or would you let them loose, albeit with some conditions and observations. You tell me, I’d love to hear your views.

And by the way, the award nomination won a top prize on the night.

How do you make a whole country hate a child-focused health intervention programme? Ask Nido…

It’s not often that the first (and most popular) comment on a YouTube video is a request for ISIS to blow up a company’s headquarters. However, as I have learned time and time again, anything is possible when you combine the Gulf’s nationals with social media and an issue they’re passionate about.

To cut a long story short, a video for Nestle’s Nido brand been trending in Saudi. The video tells the story of an initiative by Nestle and the company’s consumers on the occasion of the powdered milk brand’s 70th anniversary, to provide 14 million cups of milk to 40,000 children for six months. The activation is a cause-related marketing exercise which involves the region’s shoppers. And you’d think everyone would love it; who doesn’t like seeing kids being fed and a corporation giving away its products to a good cause?

Well, here’s the issue. Someone behind the video/brand thought it’d be a good idea to boost the number of videos through paid media. For the space of how many days beginning from the 3rd of March, this video was everywhere. To the extent that it’s been watched over ten million times. Which is great, if you like big viewer numbers. However, people don’t like to be forced to do anything online, especially being forced to watch the same video over and over and over again.

The statistics sum it all up – 419 likes versus 9,663 dislikes. But it’s the venom in the comments, the hatred of how someone (please stand up) who has decided to spend a load of cash to promote the video has ruined the viewing experience of tens of thousands of Saudis who have had to sit through this content. Saudis complained en mass, even going so far as to tweet @nidoarabia and @nestle to ask them to stop promoting the video as well as reporting the video as spam. Peeved that their own content is being pushed to one side and having to deal with disgruntled YouTubers, Saudi content creators have apologizing endlessly. And there’s even been calls for a boycott. Now, that’s how you change beliefs and habits whilst also inspiring action Nestle!

The comments, many of which are hilarious, range from pure hatred of the brand’s blanket to many admitting they’re now beginning to hate drinking milk (and children…).

We've had enough of Nido!

We’ve had enough of Nido!

There were some Saudis even reminiscing for Marwan Taloudi, the man who spammed Saudis with his YouTube get-rich-quick ads.

YouTube is still a business after all, but if you’re going to get people to like what you do, then don’t shove it down their throats for days on end.

And just cause I love you all, and I love Nido even more, I’d like to share the video with you. I hope you enjoy watching the most hated video in Saudi right now.

A big thanks to Osama Natto for the story and the content.