Marketers chasing Saudi Arabia’s elusive Gen Z

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Melissa Moubarak, strategy manager at UM MENA. (Dubai Lynx)
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Raha Moharrak (center) was the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest. (Photo by writer)
Updated 13 March 2017
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Marketers chasing Saudi Arabia’s elusive Gen Z

DUBAI: Understanding the Saudi consumer is a key goal for many marketers in the Arabian Gulf. You only needed to glance at the program for this year’s Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity — the annual advertising show and awards — to realize this.
Yet of those consumers, it is those born after 1995 — otherwise known as Generation Z, or post-Millennials — that are of particular interest to brands. Why? Because they are reshaping the face of consumerism.
On a global level Generation Z tends to be socially conscious, rebellious and ethical. In 2015 the economist, author and professor, Noreena Hertz released the findings of a research project into the attitudes of 13 to 20-year-olds — a group she nicknamed “Generation Katniss” after the star of “The Hunger Games.”
Hertz found that only 6 percent of this generation trust big corporations to “do the right thing.” For 20 to 30-year-olds, it was 12 percent. She also revealed that the generation’s wider concerns focus on data privacy and inequality, while traditional institutions were distrusted.

Efforts to reach Gen Z
Drawing on research conducted across eight markets in the region, media agency UM MENA has studied the behavior and purchasing decisions of Generation Z regionally. It has done this via the use of both “big” and “small” data. For Saudi Arabia, this meant a survey of 440 teenagers in the Kingdom, the use of ethnographic focus groups and social listening exercises.
“Many international brands faltered when trying to communicate with teens in the region,” said Melissa Moubarak, strategy manager at UM MENA, during a talk on Generation Z at the Dubai Lynx.
“Some, particularly the edgier ones, have come in with a very Western brand of edginess, one of complete rebellion and dissent. Others, in an effort to be culturally conscious, have tried to communicate along a very conservative line. Both got nowhere fast. The majority of today’s Arab teens cannot be considered subversive the way Western teens are. But at the same time, their exposure to globalized ways of thinking have made them a lot more liberal than most of the societies they live in.”
Flashes of rebellion
In Saudi Arabia, UM’s research has found that 87 percent of those who fall within the Generation Z bracket believe it is important to be accepted by society, while 56 percent said it was important to stand out and be noticed. The result is flashes of rebellion. This rebellion takes shape via little streaks of “uncommon” behavior that breaks day-to-day conformism.
“These happen more frequently in the virtual world, but also extend into the real world — a dash of purple lipstick here, a hidden tattoo, crazy hair color under a hijab,” said Moubarak. “This is how we are seeing the rise of unusual hybrids among Arab teens.”
She points to trends such as “Hijabi Lolitas” (in which head coverings are added to the Japanese fashion look) and Mipsterz (Muslim hipsters) as an example, both of which try to combine the best of both worlds. A further indication of this is that 53 percent of teenagers in Saudi Arabia said they prefer to overlay the traditional with the unusual.

Virtual versus real world
Their preferred means of communication is the smartphone and various forms of social media and messaging apps. It is here that the lines between the virtual and the real become blurred, with 18 percent of the Saudi teens admitting they would prefer to have no face-to-face communication whatsoever, against a national average of 3 percent.
Virtual communication also means a tendency toward visual communication, such as the use of emoji, with almost three quarters of those polled in Saudi Arabia saying it is important to seem active on social media.
“What we have noticed, however, is the natural talent this generation has at crafting beautiful visual stories around their personal brands,” said Moubarak.
“Growing up under the digital spotlight has made teens today acutely aware of their personal brand and how they portray themselves online.”
Teens live in an “ego-system” where their personal tastes and preferences reign supreme, driven by deep impulses toward convenience, said UM’s research.

Social media climbers
Generation Z is also less likely to use Facebook and has an affinity for Snapchat. It is always on and broadcasts live to the world. If you add this to the fact that Saudi Arabia has the highest YouTube watch-time per capita globally, you end up with a picture of youth that is changing the rules of influence and engagement.
“The implications for brands? Harness their talents as self-promoters,” said Moubarak. “Over two-thirds said they wanted to be famous online, more and more of them are entrepreneurial, self-taught, making use of the masses of applications freely available to them to voice who they are online. Interestingly, this has become more than just play for them. The desire to become famous online, coupled with success stories of ‘influencers like them’ has made their communication a lot less about play and a lot more serious.”
Among those on stage with Moubarak was Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest. A social media influencer as well as a climber, she offered her advice to those seeking to stand out and be noticed.
“If you ask me what advice I give to any generation, it is this,” said Moharrak. “First be honest with yourself about what you want and if you were born in the Arab world, sit down with your family and tell them ‘this is my dream’. Because that is the first step to getting there. Have that conversation. Give your parents a chance to talk to you. Don’t just hide.”


Despite setbacks, Arab summit at media forefront

Updated 39 min 52 sec ago
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Despite setbacks, Arab summit at media forefront

  • Japanese journalist says they have to cover the summit because the Mideast region is too important for Japan
  • TV, print and radio journalists were given the necessary equipment and space to allow constant reporting of the summit’s opening remarks

BEIRUT: Journalists from across the world gathered in Lebanon’s Beirut Waterfront to cover the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit on Sunday despite the tumultuous days leading up to the event.

It was not just Arab and Middle Eastern journalists who were present at the summit’s official media center; reporters from Japan, Europe and the US were also in attendance. 

There were conflicting reports on the number of journalists attending, ranging from 600 to double that. The summit’s official spokesman Dany Najim said 1,200 journalists covered the event. 

In addition to journalists working with news organizations and institutions were those traveling as part of country delegations. 

The Arab League sent 11 journalists, while official numbers put an average of 10 journalists per delegation. 

“We must cover the summit. The region is very important to us. It’s where we buy oil and gas,” said a Japanese journalist.

TV, print and radio journalists were given the necessary equipment and space to allow constant reporting of the summit’s opening remarks. While they were placed in a hall adjacent to the main summit meeting room, two large screens were continuously airing the summit’s activities and talks.

Rigid security protocols were in place for the safety of attending delegations. Roads starting from Beirut’s Phoenicia Hotel in Minet Al-Hosn district all the way to Al-Nahar newspaper’s offices in Martyrs’ Square were closed as part of a security zone. 

Transportation of journalists was organized by the summit, where a bus was available round the clock to pick them up and take them to the Monroe Hotel — the media hub for the summit — in Minet Al-Hosn, before taking another bus to the Beirut Waterfront.

Several stores and restaurants were forced to shut for the days of the summit, while some issued mass text messages to the public to announce that they will stay open.

This is the fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit. The previous ones were hosted by Kuwait in 2009, Egypt in 2011, and Saudi Arabia in 2013.