Zain Ramadan’s ad, the MBC ban and how politics & business mix in the Middle East

This week Zain put out its Ramadan ad. The Kuwait-based telecommunications company has a reputation for mixing politics into its messaging during the holiest month of the year for Muslims. The company’s advertisement last year, which took on the issue of extremism through a portrayal of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, became a viral hit in the Arab World.

This year, Zain’s timing is impeccable. The topic of the video is Jerusalem. You can watch the video below (it’s subtitled and includes a couple of nifty cameos by global leaders such as Angela Merkel as well as Donald Trump). There’s also a good description of the video and its context provided by The National’s Naser Al Wasmi. Already there’s been two million views of the video in less than two days.

Zain’s stance on political advertising is unusual. While there’s been a movement in the West for companies to take a stand on political issues that were once deemed to be off-limits (for example, immigration in America), companies in the Middle East rarely speak about wider societal issues.

While Zain’s latest Ramadan video may prove popular with many (Zain has operations in eight countries in the region, including Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon), there’s been reports in the Kuwaiti press that the MBC Group, the largest satellite television station, has banned the airing of the ad on their stations during Ramadan. MBC, which is Saudi-owned, banned the airing of Turkish soap operas in March of this year, a decision which surprised many given the popularity of Turkish dramas across the Middle East but which must be viewed in light of recent Saudi-Turkish relations.

Zain’s Ramadan ad is a rare example of a Middle East business taking the brave decision to use its media voice to take a stance on a political issue. But as has been shown by MBC and other voices online, it’s neither easy nor simple to take on a political issue in a region which is already politically divided across multiple fault lines.

A how-to on the UAE’s “Social Influencer” Licensing & three outstanding questions

It’s almost Ramadan, the time of year when we post and pray. This year’s Ramadan may be a little different, possibly more stressful for some. Under regulations introduced in March by the UAE’s National Media Council (NMC), those making money to promote brands will need to be signed up with an e-media license by June or else face fines and other sanctions.

In the rest of this post, I’ll share the definition of what is an influencer as per the NMC, the process to get certification, as well as three questions I have on issues which maybe aren’t addressed or which have not been talked about. Thank you to Lexis Nexis and Fiona Robertson at AlTamimi for the below.

Who is an “influencer”?

The legislation is straightforward as to who is covered. To quote from the National Media Council:

“Any person who practices the above-mentioned media activities on Social Media, on a commercial basis, shall obtain a prior license from the Council, provided that:
1. It shall have an account on the generally recognized Social Media;
2. Ads that are presented on Social Media shall be subject to the advertising standards that are applicable at the Council;
3. Social Media accounts’ owners who offer paid advertising services shall obtain a license from the National Media Council in accordance with the applicable regulations in this regard and hereunder.
4. The account owner is responsible for the content of the account.”

 

The resolution covers all electronic media across the country. And the NMC defines electronic advertising as “any paid or unpaid form of presentation or promotion of ideas, goods or services by electronic means or network applications”.
For a person to get an e-media license, they’ll also need a trade license. The cost of both will be a minimum 30,000 Dirhams depending on where you buy your trade license (the e-media license is 15,000AED).

How do you get a License?

Below are the requirements and the process to follow to apply for an e-media license:

e-media license

The three questions

I’m sure there’s lots of questions from people who work in the marketing and communications industry on this new legislation. My three are:

  1. How does this cover children? There are some child stars in the US who have made millions from social media. Think of “Toys Review for kids by a kid!, for example (the six year-old child and his family have made in excess of 10 million dollars). Does the legislation cover this? There are young social media players here such as Rashed Belhasa who I assume are putting out paid content.
  2. What happens to those pushing out content on behalf of employers? The definition of electronic advertising is wide enough to ask me this question. Many employees share content from their employers. I’m assuming this won’t come under the purview of the NMC, but it’d be good for them to explicitly say so.
  3. Is this a blow to the concept of micro-influencers? The idea of people with smaller followings online, say 20,000 on Twitter and Instagram, working with brands has become popular over the past year. Often these people don’t take much money in return for sharing any content or working with a brand. Would they be able to afford the licensing? In addition, would an influencer agency want to take them on board, and bevvy up the cash with the prospect of getting a lower return than working with someone more established, with stronger brand appeal and a greater number of followers?

I guess we’ll find out how this all plays out soon. In the meantime, Ramadan Kareem!

Creatives, PR and Media – Where are the Gulf’s Faces to Watch?

There’s many young faces to watch in the Gulf’s creative, public relations and media industries, but if you’re looking for Gulf nationals on the agency side you’ll be sorely disappointed. The industry must find ways to solve this issue of diversity and inclusion.

I’ve enjoyed reading about the future of the region’s marcomms sector over the past couple of weeks in Campaign Middle East. The publication has listed the ‘ones to watch’ in the creative, public relations and media sectors. The people featured are an impressive bunch, and just reading about their abilities, potential and experiences at such a young age (they’re all 30 or under) is inspiring.

I was struck, however, by one detail. I didn’t see anyone I recognized as a Gulf national. There was so much talent from countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, but no one from Saudi or the UAE.

For anyone based over here, it’s probably not a surprise that there’s not enough diversity and inclusion in the marcomms industry/function, especially on the Agency side (this listing was Agency-focused). While there are Gulf nationals working agency-side, especially in Bahrain and Saudi, there’s certainly not enough.

How Can We Attract More Nationals?

The marcomms industry isn’t alone in struggling to attract enough young national talent – only one percent of the Emirati labor force is employed in the private sector, compared to 60 percent in government. But the landscape across the Gulf has shifted in a number of countries. Governments in Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia are heavily promoting the idea of nationals applying to the private sector. More nationals are also eager to try new fields, particularly in the creative space. Here’s my suggestions on what each party must do to change perceptions and encourage diversity and inclusion.

The Industry and National Misconceptions

Let’s begin with the agencies and private sector firms who hire (the client side). We’ve got to break down the misconceptions and stereotypes around nationals, focusing on two key points. First, there’s the issue of work ethic; for far too long, there’s been a view that Gulf nationals don’t want to and won’t work the longer hours that the private sector asks of them (governments traditionally worked from 7 or 8am to early afternoon). Second, there’s compensation; Gulf nationals have often earned more working for the public sector.

I’m not going to be naive and pretend that these issues don’t exist. In Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE there’s a high differential between private and public sector pay for nationals, as well as additional benefits such as longer vacations.

However, we’ve already seen a shift in Bahrain, Oman and Saudi, where it’s common to find a national working in marketing or comms on the client side. To their credit, some agencies such as Gulf Hill and Knowlton have always looked to hire local in these markets (they had a large roster of Saudis some years back, and they’ve also hired a number of Bahrainis). In these markets governments are both telling their nationals to look towards the private sector and reducing the compensation differential.

For many in the private sector, they’ve not even put in the effort to test if the old stereotypes are true. There’s nowhere near enough engagement with universities across the region, not enough internships for nationals, and little in the way of mentoring. These are low-cost activities, which both agencies and clients should be undertaking. At the very least, they need to look for local talent, so they can benefit from insights that only nationals can bring to the table.

Governments and Talent Development

The private sector is only one half of the challenge. The other is governments.  Understandably, the region has long sought to develop its own talent. The number of nationals working in the marcomms function has risen rapidly, at least on the government side. It’s understandable that many nationals, particularly in Qatar and the UAE, would want to work in the public sector – pay in these two countries is, generally speaking, much higher. Plus, there’s a preference for locals, meaning there’s less competition for positions.This has become a double-edged sword. There’s more marketing and communications jobs in government, pay is better, and there’s less competition for these roles. What this has led to is young nationals being advanced into senior roles, often when they’re not yet ready or experienced enough.

If governments are serious about developing local talent, they’ve got to change this approach to public sector hiring and instead focus on long-term development, in partnership with private sector firms. This could include funded internships, either at home or abroad, as well as engagement with industry associations such as the IABC to promote certifications and long-term career mapping (I’ll share more about this soon). What’s clear is that national communicators who have worked only in one sector are missing out on all the potential learnings and development the other can offer, including the ability to work with and learn from other nationalities and culture (diversity and inclusion is also an issue on the government side).

Advice for Young Gulf Nationals

My advice for any young Gulf national is simple. Go and explore the private sector, understand the training and development it can offer you, and ensure you’ve tried every single option before you go into the public sector. If you’re after a challenge and you’re passionate about what you do, the money and position will follow. But if you want to be the very best you can be, and learn from a wider group of people from around the world, then moving into the private sector will be the best thing that you can do.

Likewise, we need you. We need the industry to be more diverse and inclusive (this equally applies to the public sector, where there aren’t enough expats working today), we need your insights and knowledge, and we need your understanding of the local culture, behavioral psychology, and awareness of how the Gulf’s local communities are changing. Today, we don’t have enough of this on the agency or client side. And it’s our loss. This scenario needs to change.

If you want to talk more, message me. I’m always giving my time to universities, to talk about the profession and help you understand your options. I’m happy to answer any question you may have, and point you in the right direction.

Breaking Taboos – the issue of Sexual Discrimination in the Middle East’s Marcomms Industry

The #MeToo movement has rarely been discussed in the Middle East. It’s time we start talking seriously about sexual harassment in the region, especially in the marcomms industry (image source: http://www.alaraby.co.uk)

For all the impact that the online social movement #MeToo has brought to much of the world, there’s been little public talk of the challenges that women in the Middle East face when it comes to sexual discrimination. That changed this month, when ArabAd’s Iain Akerman published a piece detailing a recent case of allegations of sexual harassment at one global agency in the UAE.

The article is a must-read for all of us who work in marketing and communications (I was dismayed by a point of view shared by Ricarda Ruecker, vice-president of leadership and organisation development at MCN, that women could be to blame for any harassment they suffer due to their dress or behavior).

I want to applaud Iain and ArabAd for taking on this issue. The allegations are well known in Dubai, but they haven’t been published till now due to the nature of local defamation laws and the understandable reluctance of those women involved to talk about their ordeal publicly. Iain and ArabAd have taken a risk in publishing this piece.

Sadly, there’s so little straight talk on what women here have to deal with in the workplace. There’s lots of PR from certain quarters about the importance placed on women’s rights in certain parts of the region. And yet, I can’t help but ask one question; how does all the talk translate into action? Are companies asked, for example, to published pay scales for their male and female staff, as is now the case in Europe. The answer is no. Do we have enough female management in the industry? My answer would be not enough. And do women in the industry feel that they’re protected from harassment? I don’t feel that they do.

Small steps are being made when it comes to gender parity in the region’s marketing and communications industry. A group that I’m part of, the Advertising Business Group, is pushing to tackle gender stereotypes in the region’s advertising space. But it’s obvious that we need to do more. I’d argue that industry associations should play a larger role in talking about the issue and affording support to female members and organizations on both listening to their concerns in the case of the former, and helping put in place zero-tolerance policies for all types of harassment.

Ultimately, each and every one of us should not only pledge to fight discrimination and harassment, but we should also support anyone who feels that they have been wronged. Nothing justifies discrimination and harassment, and it’s time we started talking more about the issue openly and honestly.

The Six Essentials for Promoting Brand Building and Trust Among MENA Consumers (MEPRA/YouGov Research)

trust-in-blue-marker

Trust is one of those intangibles which we as communicators must always focus on. Trust, that notion of one person relying on and believing in a second person, is key to changing attitudes and behavior. But how do you build trust, and what channels should you focus on? These are the questions that we need to answer to be able to do our job of building and protecting reputations. So, where should one begin when looking to build trust?

Based on research by YouGov, which was commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association and which included a survey of across the six Gulf states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, the place to begin isn’t online, but rather face-to-face. Fake media, less impactful advertising, and third-party advocacy are also reshaping where consumers in the region put their trust.

I’ve written three blog posts on the issue which I’ve already published on the blog, to explore the findings country-by-country, but here’s the big picture headlines from the research, which surveyed 4,475 people across the region.

1. Face-to-Face with family/friends is key to influence

It should be obvious to us all, and here’s another reminder for anyone working in communications/marketing. If you want to build trust in a brand, its products and services, then look at how you can engage the public through word-of-mouth. Across the region, 85% of respondents trust product and service recommendations from their family and friends. Nothing else comes close to these positive statistics.

2. Online works if you focus on friends and family, less so on social influencers

Over the past couple of years we’ve shifted for an incessant focus on digital to idolizing anything social. As the first big finding shows, in-person interaction is still the most persuasive. Online engagement does work, but it’s not as effective; 52% of respondents trust online recommendations about products and services from family and friends (interestingly, the percentages are highest for the Gulf and lowest for the Levant).

When it comes to social influencers, consumers are conflicted – 34% do trust social influencers/people with large online followings on products and services, compared to 29% who find them untrustworthy. A lack of transparency re paid/sponsored content probably isn’t helping. What’s helping even less is a tendency for social influencers in the region to say little which is negative when reviewing products and services.

3. There’s not as much trust in the media as we PR people may think

I was surprised by how low the scores were when it came to trust in the media as a source of information on products and services. The top-rated media was a brand’s own website (which should make sense, but given how bad websites are in the region this is still surprising), which scored 46% for trustworthiness. Every other medium scored in the 30s, which is a surprise considering how much faith public relations professionals put in securing editorial coverage with media outlets (for many, it’s still the essence of their day jobs). Blogs scored the lowest, at 31% trustworthiness (they were rated as untrustworthy by 30% of respondents). Should brands invest more in their own online media? The answer would seem to be an obvious yes.

4. Advertising is trusted almost as much as the media (except when it’s online)

The research is a mixed bag for the advertising sector. Out-of-home advertising such as billboards seem to be the most trusted by consumers, with a trust rating of 36%. Television is close behind with 35% trust, followed by radio at 31%. Online comes in last, at 28%. There’s more mistrust than trust for online advertising, with 33% of those polled not believing product and services information they see when displayed as an online ad. This may be due to misleading advertising around product pricing and availability. Whatever the reason for the low trust levels (especially online), marketers need to do more to win the trust of consumers, especially with trust in advertising dropping; 61% of those polled agreed with a statement that they trust advertising less today than they did five years ago.

5. Social media is a popular news source, but it’s not trusted thanks to ‘fake news’ concerns

Social media is becoming/has become a key source of news for most people (58%) in the region when compared to five years back (and there’s no distinction either by age, which is surprising). However, there’s still a trust issue. Almost half (48%) agreed they they have low trust in social media, which isn’t that surprising given the amount of fake/incorrect information out there. Which goes to underline the need for brands to focus on their owned media channels even more so.

The research did hammer home the power of third-party advocacy. When asked if they have more trust in what a third party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services, 65% responded by saying yes. Brands need to focus on winning over trusted individuals/groups who can influence consumers.

6. When it comes to social media, Facebook is King

If you’re looking to find out about a product or service in the region, it seems that Facebook is the place to go. Over half (53%) said that they found Facebook to be the most useful platform as a source of information (this rose to 72% for Egypt). Nothing else came close. WhatsApp was a distant number two, at 12%, and Instagram third at 9%. There was no mention of Twitter, and it would have been good to have understood where Twitter and YouTube featured as sources of information on products and services for the public.

So that’s the big picture for you. Keep an eye on the blog in the coming few days as I put out country-by-country reports. If you need more specific information, please do reach out to me.

Brand Building and Trust in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, Based on YouGov/MEPRA Research (Part 3)

trust-in-blue-marker

This is the third and final post on the research by YouGov, which was commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association and looks into consumer trust, both online and offline, when it comes to advertising and media recommendations in goods and services.

This post covers Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

Egypt

1004 people were surveyed in Egypt, 97% of whom were Egyptian and 3% were expat. When it comes to gender, 51% were male, and 49% were female. Just over 40% were aged between 18 and 29, 21% were between the ages 30 and 39, and 39% were aged over 40.

In terms of geography, it’s no surprise that over a third were Cairo-based,  with 36% living in the capital. Of the remainder, 24% live in the Delta, 17% in Alexandria, 16% in Upper Egypt, and the remainder in the Canal Zone/outside of these areas.

In terms of salaries, 30% earn less than US$266 per month, 24% earn between US$266 and US$532, 17% earn between US$533 and US$1,065, 8% earn between US$1,066 and US$2,665, and 3% earn more than US$2,666. Approximately 18% of people refused to disclose their earnings.

Finally, 41% described themselves as single, 47% as married with children, and 6% were married but had no children. The remaining 6% were classed either as other or did not respond.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

When it comes to those closest to them, Egyptian respondents said they have an 85% level of trust in face-to-face conversations with friends and family about products and services. Only 3% of respondents said that they would not trust a face-to-face discussion. Those who displayed the highest levels of trust include respondents earning between US$533 and US$1,065 (90%), those living in the Canal Zone (96%), and those who are married with children (88%).

Trust in social media posts by friends and family about products and services averages at 51%; mistrust comes in at 14%. Trust is most pronounced in those earning above US$2,666 (62%).  Those who are between 18 and 24 are least likely to trust such posts (20%), as are those living in Alexandria (22%).

Egyptian respondents have a higher trust in third-party endorsements of products and services than most other countries in the region; 62% agreed that they trust third-party endorsements more than what a brand says about its own products and services, compared to 6% who don’t. The highest trust is among those who are earning less than 500 Egyptian Pounds and those who are earning over 10,0001 Egyptian Pounds (both 70%), as well as expats (76%).

Trust in Social Media

Egypt’s respondents were torn over social media posts by influencers and people with lots of followers on products and services; 32% said they found such posts trustworthy, and 31% said they found them untrustworthy. Men were much more likely to be trustworthy (37%) than women (27%). Those who are earning between US$1,600 and US$2,665 also had the most trust (51%) in such posts. The least trusting were expats (23% for, 43% against).

Unsurprisingly, social media has become a vital source of information for Egyptian respondents; 57% of respondents agreed that it has become more important to them as an information source today than five years back (12% disagreed). This is especially true of younger respondents between 18-24 (63%). However, almost half (45%) have low trust in what they see online.

When it comes to the most popular social media channels for information on goods and services, it may be no surprise that Facebook is the most popular by far (71%), followed by WhatsApp (8%). In third with 8% was the choice of none. It seems that if you want to do social media in Egypt, you have to be on Facebook.

Trust in Media & Advertising 

Only two media channels scored higher for being trustworthy than untrustworthy among those polled – they were brand websites (46% versus 18%), and website articles (35% to 24%). All other media scored higher for not being trustworthy, with television and blogs both at 27% (their untrustworthy scores were 41% and 35% respectively), and radio at 30% positive, compared to 35% negative. Respondents weren’t asked why, but it’s probably fair to say that Egyptians have a healthy skepticism of official media, given the events of the past seven years.

Levels of trust in advertising are approximately the same as the media, with billboards being the most trusted (34%), followed by television and radio (both 30%), and finally online at 28%. For online, radio, and television, they’re not trusted more than they are trusted, with negative scores of 32%, 31%, and 33% respectively.

When asked if they trust advertising less today than they did five years ago, 62% agreed and 8% disagreed. Those earning the least (500 Egyptian pounds) trust advertising the least, with a 70% rating. Over two-thirds of respondents (69%), agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. Only 8% disagreed.

Jordan

503 people were surveyed in Jordan, 89% of whom were Jordanian and 11% were expat. There was a slight preference for males (52%), as opposed to females (48%). Age-wise, the largest group were between 18 and 29 (43%), 25% were between the ages 30 and 39, and 32% were aged over 40.

In terms of geography, the majority were based in Amman (59%), with the second and third largest geographies being Irbid (16%) and Zarqa (12%) respectively.

In terms of salaries, 9% earn less than US$266 per month, 24% earn between US$266 and US$532, 32% earn between US$533 and US$1,065, 17% earn between US$1,066 and US$2,665, and 5% earn more than US$2,666. Approximately 13% of people refused to disclose their earnings.

Finally, 47% described themselves as single, 42% as married with children, and 7% were married but had no children. The remaining 4% were classed either as other or did not respond.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

Jordan’s respondents are very trusting of their family and friends recommendations about services and products when they’re given face-to-face; 89% responded that they trust such interactions. In contrast, only 2% were distrustful. Those over 40 (93%), who earned between US$1,600 and US$2,665 (94%), and who are married with children (92%) are the most trusting.

When it comes to online product and service recommendations from family and friends, the trust percentage drops to 50%, while mistrust rises to 15%. Trust is highest among those who earn less than US$266 (58%), and those who are married but who have no children (64%).

When it comes to third party endorsements, Jordanian respondents score higher than any other country in the region bar one (hint, it’s below); 74% agreed that they trust third-party endorsements more than what a brand says about its own products and services, compared to 6% who don’t. The highest trust is among consumers who are above 30 (80%) and earners over US$2,666 (92%).

Trust in Social Media

Jordan’s respondents were even more split than Egypt’s; 32% said they found social media posts by influencers and people with lots of followers on products and services trustworthy, and 32% said they found such posts untrustworthy. Those who were most trusting were those over 40 (40%), and those earning between US$2,666 and US$5,332 (38%).  Men were much more likely to be trustworthy (37%) than women (27%). Those who are earning between US$1,600 and US$2,665 also had the most trust (51%) in such posts. The least trusting were women (37%), and those aged between 25 and 29 (40%).

Just under two-thirds of respondents said that social media has become a vital source of information for them (63%); this is especially true for 18-24 year-old respondents (69%). This is especially true of younger respondents between 18-24 (63%). Trust in online content is an issue, with 54% having low trust in what they see online (this rises to 65% for those aged between 30-34).

When it comes to the most popular social media channels for information on goods and services, Facebook tops the list with 63% of respondents saying it’s the most useful channel for information about products and services. Second choice was none (10%), followed by LinkedIn in third place with 7%. WhatsApp was fourth (6%), followed by Instagram (5%).

Trust in Media & Advertising 

When it comes to trust in the media, Jordanians don’t seem to prefer any particular medium. Radios, website articles and blogs scored a 33% trust rating when it comes to being a source of information about products and services. Television and newspapers scored 32% and 30% respectively. Brand websites scored the best, at 40%.

Levels of trust in advertising as a source of information are slightly lower; billboards were at 32%, TV advertising scored 30%, radio ads 25% and online advertising 21%. The only ad medium which scored higher positively than negatively was billboards (27%). For online advertising, the percentage for those who distrust the medium was 43%, over twice the number who said they did trust online ads as a source of information about products and services.

When asked if they trust advertising less today than they did five years ago, 68% agreed and 10% disagreed. Those who were above 40, earning a high salary and married with children were most likely to trust advertising less today than they did five years ago. Almost three-quarters of respondents (73%), agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. Only 9% disagreed.

Lebanon

Last, but by no means least, Lebanon is the final country in this survey. 251 people were surveyed in the country, of which 48% were male and 52% female. In terms of age, 34% were aged between 18 and 29, 21% between 30 and 39, and 45% were over 40.

Income-wise, 63% earn less than US$1,600, 11% earn between US$1,600 and US$2,665, 8% earn between US$2,666 and US$5,332, and 6% earn over US$5,333. 12% didn’t disclose their salary.

Approximately 71% are Lebanese nationals, with 29% being expats. In term of geography, the largest number of people live in Beirut (43%), followed by non-named locations (37%) Tripoli (14%), and Jounieh (4%). Regarding the marital status, 38% were single, 51% were married with kids, and 7% were married with no children.

Due to the small survey size, I won’t be drilling down further by group.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

Lebanon’s respondents are highly trusting of their family and friends recommendations about services and products when they’re given face-to-face; 87% responded that they trust such interactions. In contrast, 3% were distrustful.

When it comes to online product and service recommendations from family and friends, the trust percentage drops to 46%; mistrust rises to 20%.

When it comes to third party endorsements, the Lebanese respondents scored the highest of any country in the region; 75% agreed that they trust third-party endorsements more than what a brand says about its own products and services, compared to 6% who don’t.

Trust in Social Media

When it comes to sourcing information on products and services from online influencers and those with large followings, the Lebanese are the least trusting and most distrusting. Only 26% said they found social media posts by influencers and people with lots of followers on products and services trustworthy, and 39% said they found such posts untrustworthy. Lebanese respondents do however mostly agree that social media has become a vital source of information for them (63%).

When it comes to the most popular social media channels for information on goods and services, Facebook again comes out tops with 60% of respondents saying it’s the most useful channel for information about products and services. Second choice was none (12%), followed by LinkedIn in third place with 7%. WhatsApp and Instagram were joint fourth (5%).

Trust in Media & Advertising 

Lebanon has always been a bastion for the region’s media sector, so I was keen to look at the levels of trust in the press. Unfortunately, there’s no anomalies here. The Lebanese don’t trust (or distrust) media more than anyone else.

No one source is preferred over another when it comes to product and service information. Brand websites are newspapers are the most trusted (both 34%), followed by radio, television, and website articles (all of which score 33%. Blogs are the least trusted, at 28%.

Advertising fared worse than the media; billboards were the most trusted medium (28%), followed by TV advertising (27%), radio (24%), and online in fourth place (21%). When asked if they trust advertising less today than they did five years ago, two-thirds agreed (67%) and 12% disagreed. In total, 73% agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. Only 10% disagreed.

And that wraps up a brief overview of the research. If you’d like more details, please do let me know and I’ll share data with you.

Findings on Brand Building and Trust – YouGov/MEPRA Research for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar (Part 1)

trust-in-blue-marker

Trust is one of those intangibles which we as communicators must always focus on. Trust, that notion of one person relying on and believing in a second person, is key to changing attitudes and behavior. But how do you build trust, and what channels should you focus on? These are the questions that we need to answer to be able to do our job of building and protecting reputations. So, where should one begin when looking to build trust?

Based on research by YouGov, which was commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association and which included a survey of across the six Gulf states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, the place to begin isn’t online, but rather face-to-face. Fake media, less impactful advertising, and third-party advocacy are also reshaping where consumers in the region put their trust.

This is the first of four blog posts on the issue, to explore the findings country-by-country. but here’s the big picture headlines from the research, which surveyed 4,475 people across the region.

The first three posts will be a glimpse into the results, country-by-country, for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, followed by Saudi and the United Arab Emirates in the second post later on in the week. The Levant and Egypt will follow next week. I’ll share big picture thoughts next week, in partnership with Gulf News.

Bahrain

Bahrain Map

152 people were surveyed in Bahrain, a third of whom were nationals and two-thirds expat.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

Bahrain’s population think highly of their friends and family. They scored the second highest in the Gulf for trust in face-to-face conversations with friends and family about products and services, at 88%. That trust doesn’t carry online, to social media; only 42% of respondents trust social media posts from friends and family about products and services. In contrast, 20% find such posts untrustworthy.

When it comes to third party endorsements, 69% of respondents agreed that they had more trust in what a third party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services. Only 8% disagreed.

Trust in Social Media

When it comes to social media posts by influencers, and people with lots of followers on products and services, there’s less trust and more distrust. Only 28% trust such posts, opposed to the 34% who show mistrust.

While social media has become more of an important source of information to Bahrain’s residents than it was five years ago (55% agreed with this statement, opposed to 14% who disagreed), just under half (47%) have low trust in what they see online (interestingly, the percentage of those who don’t is also 14%).

When it comes to the most popular social media channels for information on goods and services, Facebook topped the list (31%), followed by Instagram (27%), and WhatsApp came third (11%). A note on the research here – Twitter doesn’t appear in the responses, presumably as it wasn’t included in the survey options.

Trust in Media & Advertising 

Trust in media and advertising in Bahrain is mixed. At the top was a surprising choice – brand websites; 40% of respondents trust what they see on a brand’s own website. Newspapers and magazines were second, at 38%, website articles at 36%, and TV and radio reporting both at 34% respectively.

Bringing up the rear were billboards at 31%, television ads at 29%, radio advertising at 24%, blogs at 22%, and online advertising at 20%. Trust has fallen in advertising over the past five years, with 68% saying they trust advertising less now than they did five years ago. While you may think this is good news for trust in media, you’d be wrong. Almost three-quarters of respondents (74%), agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. Only 7% disagreed.

Kuwait

kuwait map

251 people were surveyed in Kuwait, just under a fifth of whom were nationals and over four-fifths expat.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

Kuwaiti residents are a little less trusting of their friends and family than their Bahraini counterparts; 85% said they found service and product recommendations in face-to-face conversations with friends and family as trustworthy. However, they’re more trusting than others online; 53% trust social media posts from friends and family about products and services. In contrast, 15% find such posts untrustworthy.

Third party endorsements are less trusted among Kuwait-based respondents; 63% said they had more trust in what a third party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services. Only 6% disagreed.

Trust in Social Media

Considering the number of social media influencers based in Kuwait, the response to the question of influencer trustworthiness was fascinating. Only a quarter of respondents found influencer posts on products and services trustworthy, compared to 31% who didn’t.

Social media has become an essential source of information on goods and services to people in Kuwait, according to the survey, with two-thirds agreeing that social media had become more important compared to five years back. However, trust online is an issue, with 48% having low trust in what they see online (this is opposed to 16% who don’t).

The most popular social media channels for information on goods and services are Facebook, which dominates at 56%, followed by Instagram (17%) and WhatsApp (9%).

Trust in Media & Advertising

Kuwait’s respondents view media in a similar fashion to their Bahraini brethren in terms of their most trusted choice, which was a brand’s own website (47%). The next most trusted medium was website articles (34%), and radio stories (32%). Newspapers and television fare worse, at 28% and 30% respectively, which is surprising considering Kuwait’s wide selection of newspapers and television (Kuwait has the most open media in the Gulf). Blogs were the least trusted, at 28%. Seven out of ten respondents (71%) said that fake news has dented their trust in mainstream media reporting.

Radio and online advertising are the least trusted, both with a 23% approval rating. Television advertising fares slightly better, at 28%. The most trusted advertising medium was that of outdoor, with billboards scoring a 33% approval rating. Two-thirds of respondents trust advertising less today than they did five years ago, with ten percent disagreeing. Similar to Bahrain, just under three-quarters of respondents (71%), agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media (5% disagreed).

Oman

omanmap

The map of Oman excluding Musandam

151 people were surveyed in Oman, over 57% of whom were Omani nationals and 43% were expats.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

The Oman-based respondents were the least trusting of face-to-face recommendations for products and services from friends and family; 83% said they’d trust such a recommendation. That dropped to 43% for recommendations from family and friends on social media; in contrast, 23% of Omani respondents don’t trust product and service recommendations on social media from friends and family.

Third party endorsements are trusted by three-fifths of the respondents in Oman, with 12% distrusting what a third party says about a good or a service compared to what a brand says about its own goods and services.

Trust in Social Media

When it comes to influencers and social media, there’s little to tell when it comes to trust and mistrust – 33% trust posts by influencers or people with large followings recommending products and services, but 34% say the opposite.

Roughly half of respondents (52%) say that social media is a more important source of information about products and services than five years back. Half of the respondents (48%) have low trust in terms of what they see online (14% don’t).

Facebook is the most popular social media network, but only by a slim margin. A quarter of respondents said it was the most useful for information on products and services, compared to Instagram (19%), and WhatsApp (15%). LinkedIn came fourth, with 12%.

Trust in Media & Advertising

Trust in media among the Omani respondents is much higher when compared to the results from Bahrain and Kuwait. Radio is trusted the most (45%), followed by newspapers and television (both at 42%). Unlike Bahrain and Kuwait where they were the most trusted, brand websites are the fourth most-trusted, at 39%. Website articles are trusted by a third, with blogs coming in last at 29%. Sixty-three percent of respondents agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media, opposed to 13% who feel to the contrary.

When it comes to advertising, billboards and television are the most trusted, with 32% ratings respectively. Radio follows in third place, at 29%, with online advertising as a source of information abut products and services only trusted by 19%. Approximately 58% of respondents trust advertising today less than they did five years ago, compared to 11% who don’t. Fake news is little less of an issue in Oman, where 63% agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media. In contrast, 13% disagreed with the statement.

Qatar

map-qatar

150 people were surveyed in Qatar, 5% of whom were Qatari nationals and 95% were expats.

Family, Friends and Third Parties

The Qatar-based respondents were the most trusting of face-to-face recommendations for products and services from friends and family; 93% said they’d trust such a recommendation. That dropped to 57% for recommendations from family and friends on social media. Only 15% of Qatari respondents would not trust product and service recommendations on social media from friends and family.

Third party endorsements are trusted by two-thirds of the respondents in Qatar. However, 11% distrust whatever a third party says about a good or a service compared to what a brand says about its own goods and services.

Trust in Social Media

Qatar residents are similarly torn when it comes to trusting product and service recommendations from social media influencers or people with large numbers of followers. Roughly 30% do trust such recommendations, whereas 27% don’t.

However, what’s not up for debate is the importance of social media as a source of information on products and services today compared to five years back – 57% said it was, compared to 13% who said it isn’t. When it comes to trust in social media, almost half (47%) have low trust in what they see online, compared to 13% who don’t.

When it comes to which social media network is the most popular for finding information on products and services, Facebook is the leader by far with 60% of the vote. Surprisingly, LinkedIn is second with 10%. One in ten say that they don’t find any social media network useful for finding information.

Trust in Media & Advertising

The media trend in Qatar follows that of Bahrain and Kuwait; brand websites are the most trusted for information on products and services, at 44%. What does buck the trend is the second most-trusted source, which is website articles at 35%. Considering Qatar’s extensive media sector, trust in other media doesn’t show much difference to the other countries above: newspapers are trusted by 33%; radio by 31%, and television by 28%. Blogs are the least trusted, at 20%. Roughly 68% agree with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered trust in mainstream news media, with 9% disagreeing.

Advertising fares worse, with the most popular medium, namely billboards, only scoring a 31% trust rating. Television follows at 29%, radio at 23%, and online at only 20%. Approximately two-thirds or 67% of respondents trust advertising today less than they did five years ago, compared to 10% who disagree. When it comes to fake news, 68% agreed with the statement that so-called ‘fake news’ has lowered their trust in mainstream news media, and 9% disagreed.