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, campaignlive.co.uk, 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
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
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
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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