Tag Archives: Middle East

Advertising in the Middle East: a closer look at Saudi Arabia

All markets have their own challenges when it comes to advertising and marketing. Some will be regulatory, others religious, cultural or even linguistic. But international brands need to toe the line very carefully in order to pass successfully through strict checks when advertising in the Middle East. Creative Culture takes a look at a series of adverts that succeeded in the Saudi market, and why.

Welcome to the driver’s seat

Following the royal decree that Saudi women can now drive, the advertising world saw an abundance of adverts targeting their new female audience. One such advert was posted on social media by Ford. While the lift on the ban certainly gives women a new sense of freedom, Ford was careful to highlight this in a way that was still respectful of the culture. Instead of showing the woman’s face, the image focuses only on the eyes, with the blacked out background creating the illusion of a woman wearing a niqab. And Ford wasn’t the only one to use this type of illusion – Cadillac achieved the same effect using the car window.

Advertising in the Middle East


In early 2017, Italian chocolate brand Raffaello launched an advert in the Middle East that played by the rules. Sticking to Saudi Arabian traditions and cultural norms, they made sure that they got the message right. Playing into cultural expectations, the advert is filled with group shots centred around drinking tea, which is a very important custom in Middle Eastern culture. And although the woman is the one pursuing the man, it’s done in a way that is considered acceptable in Saudi culture, as everything is carried out in the traditional order. The love story develops from the innocent passing of notes. There is no form of physical contact between the two lovebirds until they are a married couple, and even then, the public display of affection stops at holding hands.

Iftar table

To celebrate Ramadan, American pizza brand Domino’s launched an advert in July 2017 that went deeper than selling pizza – it was about bringing people together to discuss stereotypes and encourage collectivism. As the brand describes, the aim of the campaign was “to encourage communication and interaction between them… [enabling them to discover that] the only way to judge someone is by actually knowing him and communicating personally with each other.” This advert echoes the Heineken #OpenYourWorld campaign, but Domino’s focuses on issues specific to the Middle Eastern community. It is also interesting to note that no women are featured in this advert.

Celebrate the breakers

For their 2016 campaign, KitKat AMEA took a very innovative approach. The campaign targeted young men and women who, as the result of a “socially reserved culture”, were looking for ways to express their individualism, and enjoy their own unique breaks. In order to generate buzz, they chose to introduce the term “breakers” unbranded. This was particularly difficult because there is not Arabic equivalent for “breakers”. By using social media, celebrity endorsement, competitions and a partnership with Saudi Arabian Sa7i YouTube channel, they managed to pull off a successful campaign.

What will they say about you?

In their February 2017 advert, Nike caused quite a stir in the Middle East with their female-empowerment campaign. Released online, the advert aimed at breaking stereotypes and barriers and showed women running, skateboarding and boxing. The campaign went viral, but received mixed reviews for its controversial message. In Saudi Arabia, for example, female physical fitness is considered un-Islamic, with women’s gyms being deemed illegal. Nike seemed to play into this as the voice over at the beginning of the advert, which asks, “What will they say about you? Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations” is spoken in Saudi Dialect. Some perceived it to be an utter failure, while others saw it as a triumph. Either way, it has gained credit as trying to break stereotypes and barriers and it certainly got the Arab world talking.

Whether safe or controversial, these adverts prove that knowing the target culture – what they expect, what makes them tick, and what opportunities exist in the market – will only strengthen your approach. By highlighting these elements in their campaigns, brands instantly begin to speak to consumers on a local level, allowing them to truly resonate with their audiences.

By Carly Coulter

[French] Going to Dubai? Don’t forget a GPS!

Did you know that Dubai has no physical address system? Currently, there is no need for a postal delivery service as the city does not contain zip codes, street addresses, or area codes. You might begin to wonder how this major international commercial and financial hub survives, given the current set-up. The solution is simple – post office boxes are made accessible to residents around the city (some being available around the clock).

This system may soon be made even easier as a new 10 digit address code will be implemented in the coming years. It is believed that these codes, when mapped to a national grid system, will eliminate the need for extensive directions or complex street addresses.

By Estelle Chenouard

[French] Introducing Kurdistan – young and prosperous

Before we can start painting a picture of trends and culture in Kurdistan, we will first determine the exact status of the region and its population. There is a clear distinction to be made between Kurdistan the autonomous state and the Kurdish as a people. The latter can mainly be found within the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria whereas Kurdistan as an autonomous State with its own government and institutions on the other hand is located in northern Iraq and has been granted this status of autonomy in a gradual process that came to a conclusion in January 2005.

The Kurds are particularly proud of their heritage and language. Along with their traditional clothing, it distinguishes them from the Arabs with whom they share many similarities in terms of culture, customs and religion. Linguistically, the Kurdish language is part of the Indo-European language family.  It consists of a broad range of different dialects which can be roughly divided into Northern Kurdish  (“Kurmanji” and “Badinani”), Central Kurdish (“Sorani”) and Southern Kurdish (“Pehlewani”). These differ in vocabulary and pronunciation as well as in their written form – the Northern dialect group uses Roman letters while the Central and Southern opt for a form of the Arabic-Persian alphabet.

Economically, the autonomous region of Kurdistan has seen a period of fair prosperity in the recent decade. Thanks to its vast oil resources, Kurdistan has been able to develop a respectable infrastructure within quite a short space of time. Financed through foreign investment and supported by Kurdistan’s economic growth, new building projects continuously change the face of the cities while at the same time, campaigners try to increase Kurdistan’s attractiveness as a tourist destination. Many in the region hope for it to become a “second Dubai”, known for its safety and openness to Western visitors.

International brands have yet to discover the potential of expanding in the Kurdistan region but a few major hotel names are taking on a pioneer role in this respect. Giants such as Marriot and InterContinental Hotels have announced openings in Kurdistan scheduled over the next two years. As for fashion, furniture, food items and the like, Turkish brands are still predominant although more and more famous Western brands such as Nike, DKNY or Mango are becoming available in the highly modernised malls of Kurdistan’s cities. In terms of cars, Kurdish people have a preference for Japanese brands and their reputation of having resilient engines. Toyota in particular is a common sight on the streets of Kurdistan.

As in most other parts of the world, the role of social media has been steadily increasing during the last few years. Although still far from omnipresent, more and more people have access to the internet at home and via their smartphones – and use them to “facebook”, tweet, post pictures, videos, for entertainment purposes but also for young people to voice their opinion and raise political issues. Besides the typical global social media platforms, a local version of Facebook called “kurdnetwork” has been recently launched. It is targeted at the Kurdish community worldwide. Designed in a very manner as the world’s biggest social network, it is a place for Kurds to meet, exchange opinions and share videos and photos – which are divided into various subcategories such as “comedy”, “art” or “traditional songs”.

Being independent from its “mother country” Iraq will most likely lead Kurdistan to becoming a serious competitor in the race for success and prosperity among Middle Eastern countries. Judging by the pace of the region’s development, we will see in the near future if and how global players will avail themselves of the opportunities this young market has to offer.

By Magdalena Raszowska