The Hulk, Cairo Living and a Mountain View – The Unique World of Egyptian Advertising

Anyone who has experienced life in Cairo will be able to understand this copy

Anyone who has experienced life in Cairo will be able to understand this copy

To me, Egyptian advertising is like Marmite. I either love it or hate it. To most of us raised in the region who used to watch lots of Arabic TV, we’ll often know where a commercial is conceptualized and produced. The accents obviously play a part, but it’s more about the humor being used and how the actors communicate with each other.

Recently, I came across one advert which had me in stitches. For anyone who has ever lived in Cairo and who has experienced the trials and tribulations of getting anything done in the city which is nicknamed the mother of the world will understand the point behind these adverts. Mind you, I doubt that they got licensing from Marvel to use the Hulk character in the ads.

There’s not just one advert by this company (what they do and the implied benefits are obvious at the end of the adverts), but a series of different copies which all run on the same theme which were developed for last Ramadan. They’ve recently been airing on MBC. Watch, enjoy and let me know if it passes your Marmite test.

Did @Khaleejtimes break the UAE’s defamation law with the Muwatana video?

And the viral video of the year goes to this amazing clip which was published by the Dubai-based English language daily Khaleej Times yesterday morning. The video is of a heated discussion between a UAE national female with an expatriate Arab female (possibly the Egyptian actress Abeer Sabry) about what the Arab expat is wearing. The discussion, which is only 1 minute 22 seconds long and is mainly in Arabic, is about the Emirati lady’s disagreement with what the expatriate Arab lady is wearing.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of this – there’s the Twitter hashtag #فيديو_المواطنة which tracks the debate – but the video has been a sensation. It was posted at 10am UAE time on the 12th of May, and within 24 hours it has already had over 1.7 million views.

The question is, does this video and its publishing on an open platform break the UAE’s defamation laws? The UAE does not allow for filming of a person without that person’s permission, which I am assuming was not given in this instance. The basics of the UAE’s defamation law are below:

1) It is publicly forbidden to take a picture of another person without their permission.
2) Verbal abuses or gestures (even without the presence of a witness) can also lead to a fine and/or sentence.
3) Defamation via libel (written) or slander (spoken) is dealt by a criminal court as opposed to a civil court, where punishments would only include a monetary fine.

In addition, following the outcry last year about the Ramadan YouTube incident the authorities stated that they would look into online content if it became a matter for ‘public opinion and concern.’ The person who filmed that clip was arrested for defamation and the videos were pulled from YouTube.

The law isn’t clear on what happens when people share content online, but judging by the interest in this video it’s going to be hard to remove the content which has been shared over 24,000 times.

So, the question stands. While there’s a strong possibility that whoever filmed the incident broke the UAE’s defamation law, did the Khaleej Times break the law by posting the video online without the consent of the persons being filmed? Whether yes or no, the muwatana video as it has been named by social media users will become a precedent for other media outlets who are looking to develop their distribution and reach through the use of content shot by their readers and the general public.

And if you haven’t seen the video, here it is below!

Obama and Netanyahu reach out to the masses – how the net helps as well as hinders the message

Politicians who use digital for their messaging need to remember that once it's online, it's there forever (image source: YouTube)

Politicians who use digital for their messaging need to remember that once it’s online, it’s there forever (image source: YouTube)

Politicians love to talk, at least those in the West do. Some politicians talk with a purpose, while others talk for the sake of rhetoric. We’ve had plenty of talk over the past couple of weeks, thanks in part to both global and regional political campaigns.

The net has completely changed how leaders communicate with their audiences. For example, leaders can now directly reach out to whole nations directly and without the need for a medium or intermediary such as the media. Two examples come to mind this week. The first is that of Benyamin Netanyahu, who went over the heads of Israeli media to directly address the Jewish Israeli public to exhort them to vote. In his address, which was posted to his Facebook page, he warned of the Israeli Arab threat. You can have a look at the video below.

While the demagoguery may have worked with the right-wing voters, this and other responses to questions such as the possibility of there being a two-state solution are not helping Netanyahu internationally. In a day and age where everything is on the internet and can be translated by a machine, there’s little to no opportunity for politicians to say one thing to one audience and then do a 180 with a different audience. Netanyahu’s media assertions that his words were misinterpreted are difficult to understand for anyone with an internet connection who can watch his words directly online.

Obama has also been using video this week, to address Iranians on the eve of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Using the opportunity to reach out directly and talk about the opportunity for an agreement over their nuclear ambitions, Obama’s message is simple and sincere. He’s stepped over the Ayatollahs and the government-controlled media to appeal to Iranians, who can access his speech online (the video is not recorded in high definition, for faster loading for Iranians). I’ve included both the comments and the video below.

“This moment may not come again soon. I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully — an opportunity we should not miss. The days and weeks ahead will be critical. Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain. And there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution. My message to you — the people of Iran — is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek. This year, we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries.”

There’s no doubt the power of digital to step over the media and appeal directly to the masses. What our leaders need to remember is that whatever is put on this medium is immutable. For politicians who are known for changing their position based on whom they’re talking to such as Netanyahu, digital may come back to haunt them. For others who are trying to reach out and build bridges, such as Obama, video represents the best medium to send a message out to as big an audience as possible.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Do you want to know more about social media in the Middle East? Download the TNS ArabSMIS report here

Do you not know where to start when it comes to social media and the Middle East? This report may be your answer (image source: http://blue16media.com)

Do you not know where to start when it comes to social media and the Middle East? This report may be your answer (image source: http://blue16media.com)

We have our fair share of big events in Dubai and this week was no exception. The past two days has seen the Emirate become the place to be for social media influencers. Whilst we found ourselves invaded by all types of beautiful people (and others) waving their selfie sticks and pouting for the camera, there were some handy takeaways for an audience looking to learn more about how to use social media to build brands for themselves, their companies or their countries. Oh, and Twitter has finally decided to open an office in the MENA region, obviously in Dubai.

The most impressive part of the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit was the report. Coming in at a whopping sixty seven pages, the report by research house TNS covers a whole host of areas of social media interest across the MENA region. The study combines both qualitative research with a quantitative survey of more than 7200 users of social media spread evenly
across 18 Arab countries.

If you’re looking to know which channels are used across MENA, then look no further. The report includes stats on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Google+, and YouTube. It also includes social media usage habits, including time of use, duration of use and devices used. Most importantly, the report looks into attitudes about social media across the region and what people are doing online.

If you’re doing anything online in the MENA region, download this report and start dissecting. You can thank me later, on social media.

The ASMIS Social Media MENA Report

When it comes to social media, advertising and the Middle East, why don’t we have any ethics?

The region loves social media, but its influencers and advertisers are less keen to say when a post is paid for (image source: www.business2community.com)

The region loves social media, but its influencers and advertisers are less keen to say when a post is paid for (image source: http://www.business2community.com)

Who needs ethics right? Ethics are boring, they’re dry, and they mean we have to use disclaimers. Ethics really aren’t fun. But you know what, without them we’d be in a fair amount of trouble. With the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit happening this week in Dubai, and a fair few social media influencers being in town (including quite a few from Kuwait who don’t make it clear that they accept money for posting on their social media channels), I want to reprint this post which I shared with the Media Network Middle East last month. I’d love to hear your views on ethics, or the lack thereof, when it comes to social media and advertising in our region.

While European and American consumers are benefiting from crystal clear regulations on sponsored social media content, there’s little to no clarity here on the same.

We’re awash with social media in our region. Everywhere you go, you’ll see people sliding their fingers left and right, pushing up and pulling down on their smartphone screens. We’re all at it, checking our Instagram accounts, refreshing our Twitter feeds, and posting Facebook updates.

Today we have social media celebrities, people who have become famous through their online activities. There are Instagrammers in Kuwait with over a million followers, Facebookers in the UAE with hundreds of thousands of likes, and Saudi Tweeters with followings equal to the population of Bahrain.

Alongside these social media celebrities we have witnessed the rise of paid posts. Those of you with a keen eye will have noticed how many celebrities online have become more commercial, and have begun to share updates, images and videos promoting brands.

There’s nothing wrong with promotional advertising. Using paid influencer marketing is a common tactic to spread awareness, promote a brand, and to engage social media users across the globe. Online advertising can be more cost effective in terms of measurement and reach.

However, there’s no distinction between an advert and paid-for content. Both involve a payment of some kind by a company for a promotion of its brand or services. Regulators across Europe and the United States have essentially ruled that if money is changing hands, obvious disclosure must occur in-ad. Their reasoning is simple; consumers have a right to know what is an advert and what is not an advert.

While European and American consumers are benefiting from crystal clear regulations on sponsored social media content, there’s little to no clarity here on the same. Consumers here have no authority to turn to or no regulations to guide them on what is and what isn’t sponsored.

There seems to be little eagerness for brands or social media celebrities to advertise what is paid-for content either. This is understandable, as their followers may be less inclined to engage with a post if they know it is sponsored, or even follow a person who they know accepts money for posts.

While this lack of disclosure may appeal in the short term and help to maximise revenues (paid-for posts in Kuwait can fetch up to three thousand dollars per posting), it does nothing to building goodwill and trust with consumers across the region. A lack of honesty and transparency on what social media celebrities are paid to post will negatively affect trust in both the sponsoring brand as well as the celebrity who is accepting the payment in return for sharing the content.

In the US the burden is on brands to ensure that their endorsers, such as bloggers and online influencers) are in compliance in terms of disclosure. Paid-for posts have to include language such as #Ad, Ad: or Sponsored. Even brand posts and shares by a company’s employees have to be clearly labeled to account for the bias.

Either brands can take action and begin to self-regulate, or they can wait for regulators to finally step in and possibly take a harder-line approach to sponsored influencer endorsements. Is risking a reputation and trust, built up over years of marketing, worth risking over a lack of disclosure? I hope the answer is no.

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.

The #truthbetold – How Saudi’s UTURN and @omarhuss are tackling taboos through social media

By its very nature, a taboo can be difficult to talk about. Breaking a taboo is traditionally objected to by elements of a society. What we’re seeing in Saudi is an effort to tackle taboos through social media. One of the leading digital and social media agencies is Jeddah-based UTURN, and its founders and presenter Omar Hussein have taken it on themselves to tackle sensitive subjects. Their idea is simple – create scenarios whereby they provoke Saudis to respond to the situation through actors and staged behaviours, record their reactions, and package this for distribution over the internet.

Named #truthbetold or #الحق_ينقال in Arabic, Omar Hussein and UTURN have tackled several issues to date since they began their series at the end of November. The first, in partnership with Ikea Saudi Arabia, was the issue of Saudi women working as cashiers. An actor in the queue would begin cursing the female cashier to prompt a reaction from the audience around him. The video is below and is only in Arabic. However, it is worth watching just to understand the issue and the responses of those featured.

The second, launched a month after at the end of December, is on the issue of alleged racism towards foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, and was staged in the roast chicken chain Tazaj. Again, the video is in Arabic but the body language of those in the set and who are not aware of acting can be read by any person watching.

Released at the end of January, the third episode tackles the issue of child workers in Jeddah. Done in partnership with the Fatoor Faris restaurant, people are seen responding to a Saudi actor abusing a child actor who is pretending to sell him gum.

Each video has been watched over half a million times, and, even more importantly, UTURN is using Facebook as a means for Saudis to discuss these issues. The idea is so simple and yet so powerful. Thank you UTURN and Omar Hussein for doing this. I wish others were as creative and as brave as you.

And I wish that communicators would look at Saudi, a country which is viewed as the most traditional and conservative in the region, to understand how we can better use social media to change perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. You and others in the Kingdom are leading the rest of the Gulf in terms of how we use social media for change.