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
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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.


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.