Saudi Arabian advertising wars go viral as broadcasters up their game for Ramadan

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Khulud Abu Homos, executive VP – programme and creative services, OSN. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 May 2018

Saudi Arabian advertising wars go viral as broadcasters up their game for Ramadan

  • Advertising pundits in the Middle East are hoping that the month of Ramadan will give a boost to what has so far been a lackluster year for the industry
  • According to a report from Google Think, Ramadan viewership on YouTube over the past three years has increased threefold

LONDON: Advertising pundits in the Middle East are hoping that the month of Ramadan will give a boost to what has so far been a lackluster year for the industry. Overall GCC ad spends have plummeted with an estimated 25 percent regional drop from 2016 to 2017 alone, data from Ipsos Stat showed.
Ramadan has traditionally been peak season for broadcasters, but a volatile regional economy, the introduction of VAT levies and a rise in digital consumption have compounded uncertainty in the industry, experts said.
According to a report from Google Think, Ramadan viewership on YouTube over the past three years has increased threefold in comparison to TV, while TV viewership remained flat.
Some major GCC advertisers are not spending on TV at all this Ramadan, which represents a sea change for traditional advertisers. “All in all, TV — especially Arabic TV — will see some ads but this Ramadan marks a significant moment in budgets shifting to digital,” Zaira Lakhpatwala, managing editor, Communicate, told Arab News.
Austyn Allison, editor of Campaign Middle East, said the advertising market is “leveling out.”
“Brands are spreading their budgets more evenly throughout the year, and they are also moving them away from television,” he said.
According to Allison, TV stations are “sitting planning their Ramadan grids right now,” trying not to give too much away to the competition and hoping that their Ramadan shows will catch more audience than their competitors.


 Allison said: “While they (TV stations) wait, they will have their fingers crossed that spend booms like it did five years ago as advertisers discover budgets down the back of the sofa. I suspect though that while there will be a bit of a rise, Ramadan has now ceased to be the month that saves the year.”
Wissam Najjar, regional managing director at media agency OMD, said he has witnessed a “delayed start” in advertising investments this year, with advertisers moving more budgets into the coming months, “particularly to focus on Ramadan and the FIFA World Cup, in which the highest number of Arab teams are competing at the same time.”
Najjar told Arab News: “Following the introduction of new taxes such as VAT, there has been a slow start to the year in Q1 and Q2. That said, Egypt has experienced a better beginning to 2018 than Gulf countries and there is better economic news on the horizon with rising oil prices. In Saudi Arabia specifically, the mood is lifting thanks to the reforms and the busy entertainment calendar. The expansionary budget will also boost both optimism and consumption.”
Najjar added: “This Ramadan will see the launch of a new TV channel, SBC. Together with other leading channels, such as MBC and some of the Egyptian stations, they will have an interesting line-up of programs to entertain audiences during Ramadan. We hope Ramadan will act as a turning point this year, marking the beginning of the upward trend in investments.”
Khulud Abu Homos, CEO of Dubai-based content and media agency Arab Format Lab, is also hoping this year’s Ramadan period will act as a “light at the end of the tunnel” for the industry.
“Call me an optimist, but I strongly believe that the market is going up from here. For the first time in three years of cuts in advertising budgets, I believe that this Ramadan will see a rise in spending. Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in particular, will be spending substantially on campaigns that explain the changes their governments are making in their interactions with citizens. Also, I believe that YouTube viewership and advertising will play a much bigger role this Ramadan,” Abu Homos told Arab News.
As the Holy Month approaches, competition between rival broadcasters is heating up.

The teaser campaign for a new Saudi culture channel to be launched for Ramadan has stirred up particular controversy.
The campaign centered on the Arabic word “ghasb,” meaning “force,” which began appearing in April on advertising boards, TV, radio and social media outlets with no further explanation.
It was revealed last month to be all about a new TV channel, SBC, owned by state-owned Saudi Broadcasting Corporation. The key hashtag associated with the channel, due to go live at the start of Ramadan next week, is “Ghasb Tehebaha” which translates as “you’re forced to love it” or “you have to love it.”
Reactions to the campaign on social media were mixed; while some were intrigued by the branding, others were less impressed.
“As for force, the time of coercion is over,” said another.
SBC’s campaign last week prompted a clever response from rival broadcaster Rotana, the Arab world’s largest entertainment company.
A counter advert, promoted earlier this month on Rotana Khaleejia’s official Twitter account, ran with the slogan “Alhob mu Ghasb”, meaning “Love is not Forced.”
“This is the beginning of the war of advertising between Saudi TV and Rotana,” tweeted Dr. Obaid Saad Alabdali, a former university professor and commentator on marketing culture in the Arab world.
“Could this be the beginning of allowing comparative advertising in the Saudi market?”
One of the main figures behind SBC is Dawood Al-Sharian, formerly anchor of the popular MBC show “Al-Thamina.” The show attracted a huge Saudi audience thanks to Al-Sharian’s hard-hitting presenting style, tackling hot-button issues such as unemployment and extremism. He was appointed as head of SBC in November.
SBC’s Ramadan line-up includes “Awalem Khafeya” (Invisible Worlds), starring legendary Egyptian actor Adel Imam, “Bedoon Filter” (Without Filter), starring Saudi actor Abdullah Al-Sadhan, and “Share Chat,” starring Hassan Usseiri, Fayes Al-Malky and Rashid Al-Shamrany.


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Regional advertising spend fell by a quarter last year.

Twitter publishes tweet trove from ‘clumsy’ Iran regime campaigns

Updated 11 min 35 sec ago

Twitter publishes tweet trove from ‘clumsy’ Iran regime campaigns

  • Twitter found 770 Twitter accounts that it traced back to Iran
  • Nearly 4,000 accounts affiliated with Russian troll farm

WASHINGTON: Twitter published a trove of some 10 million tweets that it said are potentially the product of state-backed operations by Russia and Iran, shedding new light on the scale and nature of misinformation campaigns mounted by the two nations.
Twitter said on Wednesday that it had identified 3,841 accounts affiliated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm” that has been indicted by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller for attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
It found another 770 Twitter accounts that it traced back to Iran.
“We are making this data available with the goal of encouraging open research and investigation of these behaviors from researchers and academics around the world,” Twitter said in a statement on its “elections integrity” site.
In total, the exposed accounts shared more than 10 million tweets and 2 million images and videos, Twitter said, before being taken down.
Twitter had already made public the existence of tweets it believes to be the product of foreign misinformation campaigns, but the release of the tweets themselves on Wednesday will allow researchers to learn much more about Russia and Iran’s disinformation efforts on Twitter since 2016.
It comes less than one month before US Congressional elections which are already the subject of foreign-directed social media campaigns, according to senior US intelligence officials.
The release shows that both the Iranian and Russian operations started out as campaigns to support countries’ governments at home, but the Moscow-based effort expanded into an “offensive weapon” targeted at the United States, said Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, which has seen the tweets.
“The Iranian operation was clumsy. It tried to use social media to draw people toward pro-regime messaging sites,” said Nimmo, whose lab published a detailed analysis of the tweets on Wednesday.
“The Russian operation was much more skilled. It masqueraded as real Americans to turn real Americans against Hillary Clinton, and against each other,” Nimmo added, referring to Donald Trump’s presidential election challenger.