The World: Insider's view - Israel

Advertisers need to prepare for an Israel dominated by a fundamentalist religious viewpoint, Yair Geller writes.

Although one of only two "young states" to be described as advanced, rather than merely developed, by the UN, Israel is known less for its industrial prowess than for its troubles. But government reforms in the past five years mean the country is seeing a shift to solid economic growth, a more positive national mood and a widespread aspiration that eventual peace in the Middle East will open a window to its neighbours and allow Israel to share its unique technological skills beyond its borders.

Take a close look at Israel and you will find a fascinatingly rich - and unique - consumer audience, one that all the big holding companies want to better understand, and be part of, through their partnerships with local agencies.

So what exactly is unique here? Well, Israel is the only country in the world where religion is the reason the majority of its people have chosen to up sticks from their original home and move to live and flourish together in one place (70 per cent of Israelis are Jewish). Israel's culture can best be described as a fine tapestry of European, Mediterranean, Latin, Arab, African and American influences. Together, these influences result in a constantly shifting dialogue that shapes all consumers.

Half of the Jewish population here describe themselves as secular, while the other half - along with the majority of the remaining, mainly Muslim, population - describe themselves as religious. It's a situation that calls for tact and awareness on the part of advertisers. But increasingly the distinction doesn't stop there: fundamentalism, among both Arab and Jewish groups, is on the rise (5.8 babies on average are born to "religious" households, against a rate of 2.7 per secular family). As a result, we're seeing a strong influence on - and even dominance within - advertising in categories such as baby products and education.

Within 20 years, the majority of Israeli households will be classified as religious, and strictly religious groups do not watch TV. This fact isn't lost on Tel Aviv advertising agencies: several agencies have created "sector divisions" thatspecialise in marketing to the ethnic sectors within Israeli society.

The second most pervasive trend is what can be termed the rise of escapism. Many young secular Israelis are tired of what they see as a political and economic burden: constant military threats, having to serve three years in the army, and the ever-present culturally contradictive needs. As a result, these youngsters tend to escape into a "here and now" attitude, the outcome of which is over-consumption and an addictive use of digital media. The most effective way to approach this target audience is by using a lighthearted tone and style, one that provides relief and respite.

- Yair Geller is the founder and joint managing director of Geller Nessis Leo Burnett.