Magazines remain the key advertising medium for brands targeting
Arab women. However, the rapid growth of TV programmes and channels
throughout the Middle East is offering advertisers more opportunities
than ever before to reach this affluent, discerning, yet highly discreet
Throughout the region, the economy is growing fast. Saudi Arabia is the
advertising focus, with the highest gross domestic product per capita in
the Arab world (dollars 6,800, according to a recent estimate).
Neighbouring Egypt is also enjoying rapid economic growth. In 1992, the
country began a programme of privatising state-owned businesses. It also
relaxed the rules on foreign investment. As a result, many foreign
companies have set up business there.
Arab women are an attractive target group for a broad range of
advertisers for two reasons. Traditionally, they are heavy media
consumers and are increasingly influential in Arab households. Regional
demographics reveal that the female 20- to 30-year-old age group is
larger than the male in many key target markets.
’They have enormous buying power within the home,’ according to Carole
Trinkoff, media director at the advertising agency, MEMAC London, a
Middle Eastern affiliate of Ogilvy and Mather, with clients such as
The Western image of Arab women as bored, pampered and insular is far
from the truth, she adds. ’Their role is fundamental to the Islamic view
of family life.’
The Middle East market poses particular challenges to advertisers.
Differences exist between countries within the region. Saudi Arabia, for
example, has far stricter censorship laws and controls on media content
than its neighbours.
’It is essential to differentiate between Saudi Arabia and the rest of
the Arab market, both in terms of the type of creative approach and the
way in which available local media is used,’ Samar Salman, group media
director of the ad agency, TMI, whose clients include De Beers,
Variations in economic strength have also led to degrees of
sophistication in respective domestic media markets. There are, however,
a growing number of trans-national and pan-regional media
The growth of pan-regional TV has been a critical factor for media in
the region over the past decade. As well as state-run channels, there
are now satellite-delivered networks such as the Middle East
Broadcasting Company (MBC), Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) and
Future TV. Orbit, a digital service, is also beaming channels across the
region, as is Showtime, which is planning a new channel for Arab women
Satellite dishes may officially be banned in Saudi Arabia, but estimates
suggest dish penetration now stands at 50 per cent. Despite concern that
cross-border transmission of international programmes could flout
Islamic law (notably with the exposure of women’s hair and bodies taken
for granted in imported Western fare) most homes now have satellite
dishes, either legally or illegally.
’Satellite channels, whether received direct or via cable, are taking
many viewers from local terrestrial stations,’ Salman says. ’The
fragmentation of audiences is unbelievable.’ The national broadcaster,
Saudi Television, for example, is suffering annual audience losses of
between 20 and 30 per cent.
MEMAC estimates there are at least 87 channels beamed into the region,
spanning Arab, English and other language services distributed via
satellite, cable and terrestrial re-transmission. ’The resulting clutter
has led advertisers and agencies to go by programme rather than channel
preference,’ Trinkoff says. ’We advise all campaigns (targeting Arab
women) to combine a mix of media, balancing TV with magazines.’
There is also growing scepticism about the content filling the
ever-expanding TV hours. Assad Saraf, the managing director of the
specialist agency, Mediareach, says the new channels have brought
increased competition for programming and films and high repeat levels
with the same material airing regularly on different channels.
In spite of the recent rapid growth of other media, Arab women’s loyalty
to magazines remains solid. Sayidaty, a weekly title, is the largest
selling women’s magazine in the Gulf with circulation throughout the
region, North Africa, Europe and the US. It covers fashion, beauty,
accessories, literature, cinema, social and family issues.
’Magazines remain a major media opportunity for advertisers given the
restrictions that exist on TV,’ according to Terry Cox, the director of
Sayidaty’s publisher, Saudi Research and Publishing, the largest
publisher in the region. ’Channels are subject to censorship - all sorts
of things that are acceptable in a magazine would never be seen on TV.’
There is very little difference in the make-up of the Arab media market
from that of the UK, he adds. It’s diverse, varied and increasingly
segmenting as the business grows more sophisticated. Sayidaty’s sister
title, Hia, for example, focuses on the upmarket, affluent female
consumer. Also popular is Saudi Research’s Al Jamila, a monthly beauty
Fashion, leisure, and general entertainment titles are growing fast, but
segmentation has a long way to go before it matches Western markets, Cox
Advertisers cashing in on growing media opportunities in the Middle East
range from cosmetics, beauty and health brands through fashion, sports
equipment and aerobics products - exercise machines are popular because
Saudi women are not permitted to use gyms. Spending on computer and
software brands in the region is growing rapidly.
Inevitably, advertiser demand will lead to further media growth.
Commercial radio, like outdoor and sponsorship, remains underdeveloped
but increasingly popular. One of the few commercial stations is MBCfm,
launched three years ago in Saudi Arabia by MBC. Andrew Maskall, MBCfm’s
marketing manager, says that, with 70 per cent of the population aged
under 30, MBCfm is predominantly a youth station, although designed to
have broad appeal.
The station schedules women’s interest programmes from 8am to midday
GMT. Regular features include a dish of the day, a discussion of family
issues and a medical phone-in. As media opportunities develop, so the
use of media is becoming more sophisticated.
’A certain sign of things to come was MBC’s recent decision to move
MBCfm sales to Arab Media Services in Jeddah, which already holds MBC
TV’s sales account,’ Maskall says. This will enable advertisers to book
It’s a route others will be bound to follow. ’Fragmentation and
competition are leading to more mixed-media campaigns,’ Salman believes.
’Everybody is being forced to be more creative in their approach to
This article was first published on Campaign