The rise of the Khaleeji Woman as online content creators (part two)

As it’s International Women’s Day, I couldn’t wait any longer and, I’ll be brutally honest, I wanted to see lots of cake porn! Here’s the second of a two-part guest blog on how women across the Gulf are using social media and their skills not only to create entertaining and informative content, but to also earn a living. In this second post, Paul Kelly, creative director and co-founder at Digital Ape, argues that brands need to rethink how they both develop and execute content creation strategies with online female content creators in the Gulf. Enjoy the read, and let Paul know what you think!

During the last post, we discussed a survey of MENA based women, and their attitudes to content, particularly food content online. This week we will focus on the content creators who these surveyed women follow and imitate. We will look at how they are creating engaging content and why that matters for brands and publishing houses alike.

How are they doing it?

People are attracted to people. If I can find someone online, who understands what happens in my day, speaks my dialect and knows what I need better than say a publisher in Dubai, then I will follow their content, and my friends will too.

Women across the GCC are doing this in their millions, Khaleeji women want to see themselves reflected in their entertainment, and they want advice and recommendations tailored to them. Gone are the days when they must consume content created by an American in New York, and served to them on TV or in print. Women from the UAE to Saudi and beyond and seeking out other women who look like them, speak like them and understand their lives.

This I believe is one of the reasons why old fashioned publishing houses, should be quaking in their boots. As much as we try, Western or Levantine men in Dubai will never truly understand what Khaleeji women want in entertainment content, and now that they have a choice, these women will choose to consume content made by their peers and when that happens at scale, these content creators become publishers in their own right.

A content creator who builds an audience and keeps them engaged is no different to a publisher, and creators with a female Khaleeji audience, have an audience underserved by content, and exponential growth rates equal revenue.

The train-wreck.

So how has it come to influencers being ridiculed for their work? Worse still, how has it come to people calling themselves influencers, buying audiences and getting a free meal ticket?

Aside from the typical Dubai-syndrome of echo chamber marketing; it’s a mix of naïve marketing managers chasing trends, agencies ill-equipped for creative relationships (trying to replace banner ad revenue) and people who see social media as a shortcut to making a quick dirham.

Instead of actively investing the time needed in these powerful communities, brands, in place of real strategies, throw wads of cash at so-called influencers and hope for big results, often leading to disappointment.

At Digital Ape, we’ve got this down to an art. Just like money is a hygiene factor when it comes to employment, so too is it when it comes to dealing with real people creating content. It’s about giving content creators what they need; Props, filming equipment, sessions with filmmakers, assistance in real-time sessions with editing, contract help, this way everyone gets the best of the relationship. Creators develop better content with help from the brand thereby growing audiences, which in turn helps the brand. Women develop a revenue stream from content that fits and that the audience understands. This isn’t horse trading it’s about developing a win-win situation for creators, brands and audiences.

Find the fit for your brand by having an empathetic network of people to draw on, then seek out their audiences. Work WITH them. Don’t use influencers, work with your content creators. It’s an investment that pays handsomely.

 The future.

It’s no surprise that local publishing houses are scrambling to get on board with the creator craze – they after all, were the content creators and influencers of an older generation. Less able to respond to a new reality of screens and pixels, and even less able to understand how to convert revenue from the eyeballs they’ve been left behind as content becomes borderless and habits are quickly changing.

After all, is what someone like PewDiePie doing any different to what VICE was doing in 2010? Arguably with 54mn subscribers (at time of writing) on YouTube he has as much impact as a medium sized cable network. Is Kim Kardashian any different to Hello! Circa 1998? Her ability to shift units of anything she sells is phenomenal.

Some will argue until that until we have proper regulation in the GCC we’ll never achieve a level of sophistication that will mean any content creator is taken seriously.

Forget that.

What I am, and us at Digital Ape say, is that the content creators are the new publishers. Instead of being locked up in an edit suite at MBC, they are at home in their own bedrooms with their phones, doing the exact same thing, for an audience which increases with every post.

What we are seeing is a new model of content democracy where the 1% who make the content for the 99% are now starting to take back their revenue. Where once it was the Newscorps or CNN’s or ITP’s relying on their talent to sell time, space or inches, it’s now the Felix’s, Rayyan’s and countless mothers, wives and daughters who have a passion to create that will shape our entertainment for the next 20 years.

Digital Ape’s research with MENA women underlines the role digital plays in offline purchase intent

Me, my wife and our baby – a personal story of how the Gulf is letting down its women by denying their children the right to nationality


The children of Gulf women married to foreigners are not automatically granted nationality, unlike their male counterparts (image source

I promised I’d write on my experiences as a father and I’m having to start things off on a serious note. As some of you may know, my wife is from this region but I am not. We welcomed into our lives a little princess earlier this year.

The sad story is that in the Gulf region children born to Gulf women, in other words women with a nationality from the six GCC states, who are married to foreign men do not receive their mother’s nationality. This is in contrast to Gulf men who are married to foreign women. Their children do receive their father’s nationality.

It’s important to us that our little one cherishes both her cultures and that she’s recognized as both. She’s fortunate to have a European nationality through me, but, try as we might with visits to interior ministry offices and other government bodies, we realized that there is no formal process for our daughter to become a Gulf national like her mother. This is the same all over the Gulf, despite sporadic exemptions to the contrary.

I’ve heard countless reasons for this, such as the need for Gulf women to marry Gulf men, and the legal requirement that a Gulf national should have only one passport. To me, any discussion is bogus. If I was a Gulf male and my wife was a European foreigner our daughter would have qualified automatically for both nationalities.

I hear lots of news about progress being made it terms of women’s rights in the Gulf, which I applaud. However, until Gulf women are able to give their children everything that their male counterparts can, I cannot contend that women here are anywhere near to being equal to the men.

I hope for change, if not for my wife’s generation, then at least for my daughters. I hope you will join me in calling for a change to how Gulf women and their children are treated in the Gulf.

Learning about a local community – Humans of Bahrain

We’re bombarded by adverts on a daily basis, and unfortunately it seems that social media may be going the same way. What with all of the selfies, the food pictures and the holiday snaps it could be argued that there’s little in the way of meaningful insights into wider social communities. However, every now and then you come across a gem that’s worth shouting about.

My wife was the person who first told me about this one Instagram account. Humans of Bahrain aims to tell the story of people living in Bahrain, both local and expatriate. It’s an account that is frank and candid, and shares a personal view of each and every one of the people being profiled by the account (it’s similar to sites found in the US and Asia which profile local communities).

Each picture on the account includes a story told in text below the image, both in English and Arabic. Subjects covered include education, marriage, careers and employment, and good old-fashioned feelings and emotions.

So far, the account has posted 169 images and it has just over three and a half thousand followers. If you’re looking to learn more about culture and the people that make up Bahrain, this is an amazing site to follow. I wish more people would focus on what is around them to tell the story of their community and their home rather than simply themselves.

"مضحك لما يدش عندي زبون فيلقاني قاعد ويقول لي 'بيّا چم ذي؟' ولما أرد عليه بنعم يا إن يضحك ويتبلعم أو يستحي ويشرد، وأنا أضحك معاهم، بالعكس ماشوف فيها شي.. كلها كلمة بلغة ناس ثانية حالهم حالي أنا ماني أحسن منهم في شي. ليش مو كلنا مثل بعض؟" – "Funny how when a customer approaches me and asks me 'Bhaiyya, how much is this?' and when they hear me talk they either laugh, stop talking, or turn red and storm out, and I only laugh in return because I honestly see nothing wrong with it.. A word from another language, I am better than the people who speak it in nothing and in no way. Aren't we all the same?"

A post shared by Humans of Bahrain (@humansofbhr) on

"Can you tell us about a culture shock you got here in Bahrain?" . "A culture shock in Bahrain? Well, I've been here for twenty two years so the first thing that happened when I got out of the airport was that I fainted. I was only thirteen at the time so that was the heat shock. But the cultural aspect was primarily the difference in the sense that there were mosques, singing prayers and people wearing the traditional dress. I grew up here so this is home for me. Nothing really shocking. I love Bahrain." – "هل تستطيع إخبارنا عن صدمة ثقافية أصابتك في البحرين؟" . "صدمة ثقافية في البحرين؟ أنا هنا منذ اثنتين وعشرين سنة. سقطت مغشياً عليّ فور خروجي من المطار عندما وصلت البحرين بسبب حرارة الجو. كنت حينها في سن الثالثة عشر. رؤية المساجد واللباس التقليدي شكلت الاختلاف من الناحية الثقافية، لكنّي كبرت هنا فالبحرين هي وطني، لا شيء يصدمني حقاً فأنا أحب البحرين."

A post shared by Humans of Bahrain (@humansofbhr) on

"صار لي ثنين وثلاثين سنة في شقة ومقدمة على بيت، مطلقة، عاطلة عن العمل وعندي ولد معاق. راحة المواطن والعيشة الكريمة الي نسمع عنها مب محصلتها.. مثل الياهل يقولون لچ بنعطيچ حلاوة.. عقب يقصون عليچ. ونصيحة للبنات، تحملوا تتزوجون من أهلكم، روح بعيد وتعال سالم .. كتبي تحت بعد مطلوب زوج حقي." . "أكتب مطلوب زوج؟ عادي؟" . "إييي عادي من الي بيي عاد.. كتبي بعد أبي عمره خمسة وعشرين سنة." *تغمز* – "I am divorced and unemployed with a disabled son. I have been living in an apartment for thirty two years, and I applied for a house but I have never experienced the decent and comfortable life we often hear about on the news. It's like you're a child, they promise to give you candy but you get nothing. Oh, and some advice for young women, don't marry a relative, like they say: go far and return safely. Also, write down: Wanted: a husband for me." . "Can I really write that?" . "Oh yes! It's not like anyone's going to actually propose.. also add that it's better if he's twenty five years old." *winks*

A post shared by Humans of Bahrain (@humansofbhr) on

Educating the Gulf on our humanity through social video – examples from Bahrain, Saudi and the UAE

Here in the Gulf region we’re increasingly seeing the use of online video content, particularly to tackle issues that are both social and controversial. This week there have been media stories on three examples from three different countries.

The first video has been produced by the Saudi Human Rights Commission to Saudi nationals to be kinder to their domestic workers, most of whom have to leave behind a family of their own to earn a living and support them. The video is well shot, and aims to give humanity back to domestic workers, especially those from South East Asia, through concepts such as motherhood.

The second is from Bahrain, but shot by one social media influencer called Yousef Al Madani. The clip focuses on the treatment of white-collar workers in Bahrain, most of whom come from the Asian subcontinent. Yousef looks to take the place of one of these workers at a local grocery store, where they often have to rush out to take orders from customers who sit in their cars and wait for the items to be brought to them. The clip, which has been talked about in the media, has been viewed over half a million times. This video is dubbed into English as well.

The third and final clip is from a corporate, Cola Cola to be exact. To quote the National:

An online advertising campaign by Coca-Cola showing the company handing out excess baggage tags at the airport to travellers has been viewed almost one million times on YouTube.

The clip “Coca-Cola –Taking Home Happiness” begins by showing passengers checking in at Dubai International Airport to head off to various destinations to see family. By Thursday, the video had generated more than 987,000 hits since it was uploaded a month ago. According to the website for Campaign Middle East magazine, Coco-Cola shot the video on December 22 with the cooperation of the airport.

The campaign – which is available only in the UAE and Oman – is expected to expand with additional prizes like flight vouchers, TVs and mobile phones, the company said. The video follows a similar online campaign last year which showed labour camps with Coca-Cola phone booths, into which bottle tops rather than coins could be fed to pay for international calls.

The video, which is probably the best shot out of the three (this is Coca Cola after all), is also dubbed.

What are your thoughts on the above? Are these videos effective? Would they have been more effective on television as well, or less effective? And is one more effective than the other, possibly due to its topic, its producer, its intent as well as its authenticity? Do let me know your thoughts.

Inauspicious Beginnings or PR Coup: Al Waleed’s Al-Arab TV station and how it was shut down on its opening day by Bahrain

Al Waleed’s Al-Arab is now known worldwide thanks to Bahrain’s closure of its operations on its first day of broadcasting (image source:

Have you heard of the saying, ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’? If you’re a communications professional at BP or you work for Bill Cosby you may feel differently, but the quote, often attributed to the American self-publicist PT Barnum, still rings true in terms of brand awareness and familiarity.

One man who doesn’t lack for publicity is the Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Al Saud. Al Waleed, who has long had an interest in the media (he owns stakes in News Corp, Fox and Saudi Research and Publishing Group), set out his own media vision for the region a couple of years back when he announced his intention to set up his own news channel. Named Al-Arab, the channel would compete with the likes of Al-Jazeera and MBC Al-Arabiya to shape the news agenda.

After years of planning, the channel went live this week. Al-Arab is based in Bahrain, ostensibly to allow the channel to benefit from Bahrain’s relative media freedoms and, as the channel’s general manager and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi put it, to cover “all views” in the region.

On its first day of operations the channel was temporarily suspended by Bahrain’s information ministry. Akhbar al-Khaleej, a pro-government paper, reported that the suspension was due to the channel “not adhering to the norms prevalent in Gulf countries”.

The allegation is that Bahrain’s government took offense to an interview aired with Bahraini opposition activist and politician Khalil al-Marzooq, who was talking about Manama’s decision at the weekend to revoke the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis.

The closure has made headlines worldwide, and has guaranteed headlines for Al-Arab in capitals such as Washington, London, Paris and Berlin. While the closure may have been an operational nightmare, for a publicist it has been a coup. As Oscar Wilde put it, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. By this measure Al Waleed should be delighted with the launch of his television channel.

The stunt may have also have helped to cement Al-Arab’s position as a channel that will tackle any and all subjects. Before the channel’s launch, Khashoggi stated the need to be both bold in terms of talking about taboos as well as the need to discuss issues from a balanced perspective. “We are going to be neutral; we are not going to take sides,” he said. “We are going to bring in all sides in any conflict because right now we have a conflict in almost every Arab country.”

By setting down this marker from day one, will Al-Arab be able to set itself apart from other channels in the region which do have particular media biases. Will Al-Arab create a middle ground that wins over Arab audiences?

According to Al-Arab’s Twitter feed the station will be operational again soon. I for one can’t wait to watch its re-launch.

And if you want to see the alleged reason for why Al-Arab was shut down watch the clip below.

#ChallengeBahrain, an island in gridlock and a social media backlash

If you were planning to enjoy a quiet weekend in Bahrain this weekend, you’ll have been disappointed. Most likely, you’ll have also spent your Saturday stuck in traffic. The island kingdom was host to Challenge Bahrain, a professional triathlon with a $500,000 prize purse. Most importantly, for the smallest country in the Gulf (which measures a whopping 765.3 km²), the Challenge Bahrain triathlon covered a total of 113 kilometers.

The size of the triathlon meant that many of the roads around Bahrain were closed for most of Saturday, including the island’s key highways such as King Faisal Highway, and Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Causeway. Unfortunately, most of Bahrain’s residents seemed to be unaware that there was 1) a race, and 2) that the race would mean traffic chaos during the weekend.

To give you an idea of how much the race affected the island, this is a map of the race's path across Bahrain

To give you an idea of how much the race affected the island, this is a map of the race’s path across Bahrain

The ensuing disruption to traffic meant that most people decided to stay at home. Instead, they vented their annoyance online, on social media. To give you an idea of how popular the topic became, have a look at the below analysis from Keyhole, and remember that the total population of Bahrain is just over 1.3 million people.

An analysis of the #ChallengeBahrain hashtag by Keyhole

An analysis of the #ChallengeBahrain hashtag by Keyhole

Tweeting and messaging with the hashtags #ChallengeBahrain and #ترايثلون_البحرين Bahrainis showed their feelings about the race and its planning. They let the race organizers know of their displeasure.

A small selection of the Twitter posts using the hashtag #ChallengeBahrain

A small selection of the Twitter posts using the hashtag #ChallengeBahrain

More tweets from yesterday's #ChallengeBahrain

More tweets from yesterday’s #ChallengeBahrain

For those heading to the airport it was even worse. As many of the roads to Bahrain International Airport were closed people had to walk for kilometers just to make it to the terminal.

Images of the traffic from Al-Deir and Samaheej near to the Bahrain International Airport. People had to walk for miles to reach the terminal building.

Images of the traffic from Al-Deir and Samaheej near to the Bahrain International Airport. People had to walk for miles to reach the terminal building.

Unfortunately, Bahrain’s Gulf Air was one of the sponsors. Forty two flights were delayed due to transportation in and around the Airport; hardly the type of brand association any airline would need.

The traffic was so bad that even Bahrain’s chief traffic cop had to apologize publicly for the mess.

Bahrain's top traffic cop apologizes for the gridlock during #ChallengeBahrain

Bahrain’s top traffic cop apologizes for the gridlock during #ChallengeBahrain

Some Bahrainis did see the funny side. Many created and shared memes, particularly on dark social sites such as Whatsapp, hinting at how successful the event had been in shutting down Bahrain, a feat which even Bahrain’s main political opposition couldn’t achieve.

A meme of AlWefaq's leader and #ChallengeBahrain

A meme of AlWefaq’s leader and #ChallengeBahrain

While the event came to a close on the same day, many of the organizers are looking ahead to 2015 and the second edition of Challenge Bahrain. For most Bahrainis, their hope is that someone will be listening to their social media and that whatever happens next year will not impact the island on the scale as they saw yesterday. If it takes several months to get in shape for a triathlon, I can’t wait to see what the island’s residents have in store for next year’s gridlock as they prepare over the next 12 months for Challenge Bahrain 2015.

Are Snapchat users in the Gulf abandoning the picture app after latest hack?

Are Snapchat users in Bahrain, and the rest of the GUlf, leaving the service after the latest hack to affect the service? (image source:

Bahrain’s Al-Bilad newspaper printed an interesting piece today following the latest hack on the popular photo-messaging application Snapchat. The app is best known for allowing users to share videos and images which disappear 10 seconds after being received. Explicit images sent via Snapchat have reportedly been leaked from a third-party app in an event being dubbed the “Snappening”. Hackers are threatening to post online a large collection of photos, including nude images, sent by 200,000 Snapchat users (it is possible to save the pictures by taking a screen grab before the images are deleted).

The piece in Al-Bilad claims that dozens of Bahrainis are leaving Snapchat following the hack. There’s little to back up this assertion and no information on how many users the app has in Bahrain or in the Gulf. However, it’s entirely plausible that this is the case. Snapchat is best known for the sharing of images of a personal nature. If these hacked images are leaked, and there’s 13GB of photos that hackers are threatening to share online on the chat forum 4chan, then Snapchat users in the Gulf could be affected. For a region that is known for its conservatism and for the concept of honor, particularly among its women, any public distribution of personal images would be disastrous for women in the Gulf.

You can read the piece here (which is in Arabic), as well as comments by Ali Sabkar, the President of the Social Media Club Bahrain, on how to avoid being the victim of such hacks in future, especially for people who use closed social networks. Few Gulf brands use Snapchat (one exception is Dubai Media Inc), but the app is huge in the US. The application’s designers claimed in June that over one billion images were being shared every day via Snapchat.