ARAB MEDIA: THE BATTLE FOR ARAB EXPATS - Arab media have to work hard to attract advertisers and expatriate consumers with careful targeting and a respect for their diverse heritages

By RICHARD COOK,, Friday, 06 June 1997 12:00AM

When the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, espoused the concept of pan-Arabism in the 60s throughout the Middle East, he spoke to an Arab world not unduly constrained by national boundaries, and he did so with radio broadcasts. How much more easily he could have put his message across today.

When the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, espoused the

concept of pan-Arabism in the 60s throughout the Middle East, he spoke

to an Arab world not unduly constrained by national boundaries, and he

did so with radio broadcasts. How much more easily he could have put his

message across today.

Arabic-language satellite television has been available across Europe

for six years now. What began with the London-based Middle East

Broadcasting Centre has mushroomed to take in at least eight


Some of these have adapted Western programming and compete for

advertising revenue in the global market. Others present a home-grown

Arab culture as a powerful antidote to a ’corrupting’ Western influence,

but all rely on the same international ad revenues.

The Iranians living in Europe - estimated to be about 200,000 - have

access to a broader range of Arabic programming than their friends and

relatives living in Iran, where more than 1,500 satellite receivers were

confiscated last November in an attempt to combat the onslaught of

Western media.

And this is just a part of the expatriate Arab market, a market that

perhaps comprises too many different nationalities, cultural histories,

ages and socio-demographic classes to be regarded as a homogenous


Nevertheless,the expat market can stake its own claim at pan-Arabism,

with sub-groups of immeasurable importance to certain types of


When you consider that 85 per cent of Saudis fall into the AB

socio-demographic class, and that on its own Saudi Arabia represents the

fifth-largest diamond market in the world, then that appeal should not

need much explaining.

’This might seem impressive, but gold is much more popular,’ Steve

Pollock, the media account director who oversees the De Beers account at

JWT Europe, says.

But the make-up of the expatriate Arab world is rather different to that

of the oil-rich Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates, for example,

offers dollars 15,000 as a wedding gift to any national getting married

to another national to persuade its population to stay put. Overseas

figures, on the other hand, can be distorted by the presence of migrants

from the Gulf or Iran/Iraq wars, or economic migrants from North


The Arab-British Chamber of Commerce estimates there are about 500,000

Arab nationals resident in the UK, higher than in any other European


Of the largest groups, there are 200,000 Iraqi nationals who have

residency status and most are economic or political migrants, according

to the Chamber of Commerce. Then there are 60,000 Egyptians, followed by

40,000 Moroccans and 30,000 Lebanese.

’In terms of socio-economic class, both Egyptians and Lebanese tend to

be very high income and, while the individual Gulf states are not hugely

important, in terms of absolute numbers resident over here, they are

hugely important in terms of individual wealth and, of course, are

augmented by visitors from that part of the world over here on

business,’ a Chamber spokesman says.

Derek Day, the creative partner at BDDH and the man responsible for the

Emirates Airline campaign, agrees. ’Often the challenge to advertisers

is to come up with something that can be adapted to appeal to all the

different people you want to talk to,’ he says. ’It can present a real

creative problem. For Emirates we have shot around 15 different

executions in our press campaign, using subtly different ’award-winning’

people to appeal to different target markets. In one press ad we use

Terry Pawson, the designer of the Dubai golf course, and picture him

enjoying champagne on the flight. It’s an execution that would appeal to

Western expats living in the region, but would clearly not be

appropriate for an Arabic market.’

As far as the media choices available to expats are concerned, they are

similar to the media available within national boundaries. While there

are newspapers such as the Al-Mujahir, based in London, or the

Immigrant, in most of the Western markets, the mainstream Arabic media

outlets are far more popular.

Satellite TV stations can be divided into three types. First, there are

the North African stations which are modelled on the government

terrestrial stations in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and cater for

mostly North African Arabs. The second, stations such as Egypt’s ESC and

EDTV in Dubai, are national stations which play to a cross-national,

even a global, audience. The third group of stations are the ones that

are not officially aligned to any particular Arab state, even if they

often rely heavily on Saudi Arabian investment.

These last two categories appeal to advertisers the most. They include

the first station of this type to launch, the London-based Middle East

Broadcasting Centre, MBC, Orbit and ART.

Orbit, which is Rome-based and Saudi-owned, broadcasts two in-house

Arabic language TV channels, a further two which have been converted to

appeal to an Arabic market, like Orbit-ESPN Sports, and several Arabic

language programme strands on some of its other channels. Orbit-ESPN

Sports, for example, has commentary in Arabic and shows football and

other sports which are popular in the region.

ART Europe, meanwhile, is the expat version of the successful

Saudi-owned ART channels. Its spokesman, Mohammed Sultan, says the

service ’is aimed at Arabs in Europe and Europeans interested in Arabic

culture and language’. All the programming is in Arabic.

’The problem for all of the TV stations is that the frequency of

research into audiences is not really what it might be,’ Imad Kublawi, a

director at the Middle-East agency network, TMI, explains.

Because there are so many different channels - around 100 in all - it

becomes a very difficult exercise to construct a media schedule. It’s

one reason why newspapers and magazines continue to do so well in ad

revenue terms.’

Print media also do well in circulation and readership terms. Many of

these have taken Nasser’s exhortations towards pan-Arabism to heart. The

broadsheet, Asharq Al Awsat, was a pioneer of satellite transmission for

simultaneous printing around the world.

The title, which is edited in London, is printed in ten centres, ranging

from New York and London to Frankfurt and Marseilles, as well as in the

Arab-speaking world. Asharq Al Awsat claims a circulation of close to a

quarter of a million, and has a readership mix that comprises roughly

two-thirds Saudi Arabians and one-third other Arab nationals. But it is

the most important of the five main newspapers that cater for expatriate


Magazines include Al Majalla, the Arab news weekly, which sells around

150,000 copies throughout the Arab world, the women’s weekly, Sayidaty,

which was the first of its kind to serve the pan-Arab world. It claims a

circulation of more than 160,000 and, while more than a third of its

readership is described as housewives, they are housewives with

considerable economic clout.

Indeed, research by the Saudi Research and Publishing company, which

owns most of the leading Arab newspapers and magazines, shows that

Sayidaty readers like to buy luxury goods, ranging from watches and

jewellery, to upmarket household items such as crystal ware and works of

art. And, if Sayidaty readers have disposable income, so do the readers

of its monthly sister title, Hia, which targets affluent Arab women and

sells around 35,000 copies.

Other important titles include Arrajol, a monthly, which is the only

lifestyle title aimed at the Arab male, the sports weekly, Aalam

Ariadah, and Asharq Al Awsat, which sells more than 150,000 copies a


The Arab world has always been united by a strong sense of cultural

identity and this is reflected in the media its people consume.

Of course, the Arabs living as expats are often educated at top European

universities, hold down well-paid jobs in education, medicine or

business and are often married to non-Arabs. And for them, although they

live abroad, their sources of information about ’home’ are unlikely to

be confined to Arab-produced media. But the success of Arab titles in

the UK - and the proliferation of satellite TV stations broadcasting

across the globe - shows how strong their link with the mainstream Arab

world remains.

This article was first published on


You must log in to use Clip & Save

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Additional Information

Campaign Jobs