ARAB MEDIA: THE BUYING POWER OF ARAB WOMEN - Meg Carter reports on the moves advertisers are making to reach a female market that is increasingly lucrative

By MEG CARTER,, Friday, 06 June 1997 12:00AM

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 consumer market.

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

consumer market.

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

called Style.

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

cross-media packages.

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


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