What does the closure of 7Days mean for the UAE’s print industry?

7days

7Days was a refreshing change to the region’s media landscape. The paper, which is closing for good at the end of December, will be missed by its readers and by the industry.

Many of us in the media industry were saddened to hear of the impending closure of the English-language daily 7Days. The paper was founded 13 years back in Dubai, and ran on a free distribution model similar to the concept pioneered by the Metro newspaper back in London.

7Days was unique in many ways. First was its business model, which was to make money through advertising rather than newspaper sales. Secondly, 7Days positioned itself as a community newspaper. It had a strong roster of journalists who focused on local interest pieces. And the community responded in kind; 7Days became known for its letters page, where readers would often vent their frustrations (I’ll admit, I was a huge fan).

The paper had struggled with its finances; a month ago, the management team announced that they’d be cutting the daily print run to once a week and focusing online. And now, the paper will be shutting down completely. To quote the statement made by 7Days CEO Mark Rix:

“The current trading environment and future global outlook for print advertising remains severely challenged. Whilst it was our stated intention to re-focus and restructure the business for 2017 and beyond, it has since proved not possible to create an acceptable cost base that could deliver a viable and sustainable business. It is therefore with great sadness that we announce the unique 7DAYS news brand will close and thus, cease to inform and entertain the UAE in its refreshing and inimitable way.”

While there’s been much talk about the decline of print, both globally and regionally, I have a different take on 7Days. Most of the papers in the region are government-owned, and as such their operations are bankrolled by the state. In addition, due to their ownership they’re seen as a means to communicate with government and hence attract a level of advertising that may seem incongruous with their distribution/readership numbers. For those who have worked in media here, they will be aware that a number of dailies have been unprofitable for many years.

7Days was different – it was an attempt to redefine how a paper could operate and make money. 7Days didn’t hold the same editorial line as other papers in the UAE due to its ownership (the paper is part-owned by the UK’s Daily Mail General Trust). And its distribution setup was different as well; the paper made money from advertising and classifieds rather than paper sales. The paper was also audited; at its height the paper distributed over 62,000 copies daily (except Fridays).

The fact that 7Days was able to operate for 13 years with an operating model that was both new and unique to the region is a testament to how well the paper was run by the editorial and sales teams. 7Days survived many challenges, including one imposed closure and one recession. However, with money flowing from traditional to new advertising models such as digital and social, the model has not proven to be sustainable without the backing of government largess. Even in the Gulf, the future seems to be focused on digital media.

I was asked by one young public relations professional, Rehmatullah Sheikh, what would happen to 7Days digital assets, particularly its social media following. The paper has developed a large online presence, with 161,000 followers on its @7DAYSUAE Twitter account, and 644,730 likes on its Facebook site. Some have suggested that the paper, particularly its letters section, could live on through these sites. There certainly seems a will among the readership to see 7Days continue in some form or another. Could 7Days become a pioneer for the second time, and promote a public-led media forum through its online assets? I for one hope that 7Days will continue in some shape or form.

Snapchat and what it offers communicators

I’ll be the first to admit, that Snapchat is still a mystery to me. And, judging by my conversations with others, I’m not the only one. However, Snapchat is the social network for young millennials, with 60% of users in the US aged between 13 and 24 years. The service has over 150 million daily users (these numbers are higher than Twitter’s own daily usage). The service reaches 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar numbers over here in the Gulf.

As communicators, we have to embrace Snapchat (whether we understand it or not). While much has been written on Snapchat, on how to use it, as well as how Snapchat compares to other products such as Instagram, I wanted to share different ideas on how to reach an audience via the hottest social media channel for youth in the Middle East region.

Several of the most effective options that we communicators have to reach out via Snapchat are paid-for. Snapchat’s advertising solutions are very different to what you’ll be used to on other social media platforms. Here’s three of their top solutions.

Your Traditional Video Ads

Let’s start with the basic Snapchat ad. Called Snap Ads, these products begin with an up to 10-second vertical, full screen video ad that appears in the context of other Snaps. Brands can give Snapchatters the choice to swipe up and see more, just like they do elsewhere on Snapchat. Snap Ads give brands the opportunity to embed further content as well; by swiping up on the video, the Snapchatter will be able to access extended content including long form videos, articles, app install ads, or a mobile website. Snapchat claims that the swipe-up rate for Snap Ads is 5x higher than the average click-through rate on comparable platforms.

Sponsored Lenses

And now we get to the fun stuff. Sponsored Lenses offer a different take on brand activation, offering not just an impression, but what Snapchat calls “play time” — the time Snapchatters spend playing with the interactive ad you’ve created for your brand.

It couldn’t be easier for Snapchatters to use the Sponsored Lens product. To activate Lenses, Snapchatters press and hold on their faces. The product is designed to promote engagement; lenses can include prompts like “raise your eyebrows” to trigger an animation. Snapchatters can send Lenses to a friend or post a Lens to their Story. On average, Snapchatters play with a Sponsored Lens for 20 seconds.

Sponsored Lenses can prove extremely popular – take the example of Taco Bell and its Cinco de Mayo Snapchat Lens which was viewed 224 million times.

taco-bell-filter

The Taco Bell Sponsored Lens was the most popular in the app’s history, and was used by millions of Snapchatters.

Sponsored Geofilters

The third option for creating paid-for engagement on Snapchat is sponsored geofilters. This product does what it says; when Snapchatters in a specific location(s) take a Snap, they’ll be able to see the Geofilter and use it to explain where, when, and why they took the Snap. The campaign can cover a country, a city, or even a location such as a mall, an airport, a monument or a hotel. In the US, a single National Sponsored Geofilter typically reaches 40% to 60% of daily Snapchatters. A good, simple example of a Geofilter is shown below from Yankee Stadium, and was created by 6S Marketing.

6s-snapchat-sponsored-geofilter

Snapchat Geofilters give Snapchatters the option of branding their Snap with your location-specific messaging. Check this out this filter from Yankee Stadium courtesy of 6S Marketing

The Drawbacks

These options aren’t available as of today in the MENA region. However, my hope is (well, it’s more than a hope) that Snapchat will be opening up soon in Dubai and provide these products to brands locally. The other caveat is cost. Snapchat advertising products don’t come cheap. The Fast Company reported that Snapchat was asking US-based advertisers to cough up hefty sums of cash for a Sponsored Lens: $450,000 per day for Sunday to Thursday, $500,000 for Fridays and Saturdays, and $700,000 for holidays. There are cheaper options, but you’ll have to have a decent budget to play on Snapchat.

However, if budgets allow and once Snapchat expands into the Middle East, be prepared to go Snapchat crazy!

Ramadan and the Impact of Social Media

We’re only a week or so away from the holiest month of the Islamic year, when Muslims fast to remember the first revelation of the holy Koran to the Prophet Muhammed. Just as the Middle East has embraced social media, so have Muslims. Ramadan is one of the most active times of the year for social media in the Middle East, on all social media channels, as Muslims reach out to friends and family, as they prepare for the Holy Month, and as they celebrate in the run up to Eid.

First of all, let’s look at Twitter. The short messaging service recorded over 51 million mentions of Ramadan last year, with 8.4 billion impressions.

The number of Tweets during Ramadan in 2015 based on Twitter's own internal statistics

The number of Tweets during Ramadan in 2015 based on Twitter’s own internal statistics

Google’s focus is on YouTube, in particular channels which have a specific relationship with this period of the year. Cooking is initially popular (Ramadan meals are cooked and served at home), followed by religious channels and general entertainment.

YouTube viewership during Ramadan changes dramatically as you can see from this internal Google data

YouTube viewership during Ramadan changes dramatically as you can see from this internal Google data

And last but not least, there’s Facebook. During 2014, 14.6 million Muslims in the MENA region posted 47.6m updates on Ramadan and Eid. The attached presentation from Facebook provides fascinating insights into when Muslims are online and how much more time they’re spending online, as well as the shift towards mobile and a breakdown of chatter by age and sex. Facebook believes that millenials are shifting away from television and towards the internet, which may be disconcerting for advertisers and television networks.

Facebook MENA Ramadan Insights

While it’d be fascinating to understand how Muslims are using Whatsapp and other messaging services to spread religious messages and other related content, I don’t have any data on this (and other) channels.

Whatever you’re planning for Ramadan, do remember the importance of social media channels to Muslims across the region. Make your content engaging (either entertaining or informative), relevant, and shareable. And Ramadan Mubarak!

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.

More media launches in the Gulf – Newsweek Middle East and Inc.

Who wouldn’t want to be a publisher in the Gulf right now? While the industry is losing money left, right and center in the US (and in Europe), the Gulf is seeing a glut of publication launches. The newest titles are Newsweek Middle East and Inc. Newsweek Middle East was launched recently by ARY Digital Network, a Pakistani television company. Their first issue was launched in English at the end of October and an Arabic edition is also in the pipeline. The website is http://www.newsweekme.com. The publication’s two front pages are below, along with a short video from their Twitter feed (the team have accounts on Facebook and on Instagram, and for those of you young uns out there, they are also running a Snapchat account under the name @NewsweekME).

The second publication, which is yet to launch is Inc. magazine, a monthly publication focusing on fast-growth companies. To be based in Qatar, the publication has been hiring journalists from Dubai publishers and should launch by the turn of the year in both English and Arabic.

While the launches of local editions for two global titles is to be welcomed, especially the Arabic-language editions, the question is if/when will this region suffer the same slowdown in terms of ad sales (Newsweek stopped publishing in the US for sometime in 2012 and 2013 and went fully digital for a year). With the Gulf becoming a global pioneer in terms of digital firsts among consumers (for example smartphone penetration, social media usage), will advertisers realize there’s more ROI to be had in advertising online rather than in print? Let’s wait and find out.

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…