The world we live in is driven by technology and innovation, especially in the marketing, PR and sales arenas. In the past, traditional media, such as print advertising and public broadcasting, mostly lived offline - and consumers interacted with brands, in stores or at home.
If buyers had a problem with your product or service, they would have to go through the arduous process of physically submitting complaints and waiting for them to be aired on various channels. Even in the early stages of technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), broadcast media was the main driving force of news and advertising, which is not the case today.
Today, the media is largely driven by consumers and commentators on social platforms. Influence comes from “real” people online, as opposed to being solely dictated by big corporates and media conglomerates. And while censorship abounds, consumer sentiment is still a key factor when it comes to brand recommendations and growth.
“A 2016 survey conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar shows that Emirati nationals are highly active on social media. The country has the highest per-capita mobile phone penetration in the Arab world, estimated at 80.6%, meaning that social media is readily available”. - ICFUAE
In order to fully get to grips with the new media landscape, it’s important to understand the history of media here and the context this offers marketers today.
A history of media in the UAE
Pre-UAE, the media landscape in the Trucial States was heavily impacted by British infrastructure. It lacked the literacy and development needed to spur on mass media as quickly as it emerged in other parts of the world. In fact, modern mass media outlets weren’t around until the late sixties, when Abu Dhabi Radio and Television came into fruition. At the same time, a few weekly newspapers started circulating.
The first daily newspaper, only came about a year before the UAE was officially formed. From here, the media landscape grew and a lot of effort was made to appeal to the diverse population of the Emirates. The launch of Dubai 33 in 1977 meant a new world of television, geared towards expats, was now available. New daily newspapers did emerge, some of them in English - although a number of them had private ownership - showing a vested interest in diversifying media in the area. The Ministry of Culture began to put the infrastructure in place that would support new media coming to the fore.
Of course, this expansion meant that laws would be put in place to regulate what was shown, starting with the Press and Publications Law in 1980. This law effectively gave government the legal right to censor content, regardless of whether it was locally produced or from international sources. Censorship brought a lot of criticism to these leaders, the ruling family and allied states, especially as any information that could “damage” the Emirati economy was banned under defamation.
The 1990s saw an incredible shift in UAE broadcasting...
The 1990s were an exciting and challenging time for media, given the growth of satellite television, which allowed broadcasters in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to start sharing their content with global audiences. At the same time, local media continued to expand.
But perhaps the most important and significant event of the time was the advent of the first media free zone in 2002, which allowed foreign media to create content for international audiences - and they weren’t required to pay tax on the content they shared.
Today, there are still media laws that affect these designated areas but there are now 4 of them, in Dubai, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi and Ras al-Khaimah. This is significant because these zones have helped create a media center which international broadcasters, such as the BBC and CNN and Al-Arabiya, make frequent use of.
The Internet in the Emirates
In the mid-90s, the internet became available to the public and infrastructure was put in place, across the country. In fact, today, the UAE is competitively networked and benchmarked among the most connected regions in the world, coming in at number 26 (World Economic Forum Ranking). It’s the front front runner in terms of connectivity in Qatar and the highest ranked state in the Arab nation. But, using the internet in the UAE is a strictly regulated exercise due to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which can affect censorship or repercussions for sites that are considered amoral.
Number of social media users per 100 people, in the MENA region (Greater Middle East)
Today, a conflict exists between vast media consumption and regulations in the UAE and the MENA regions, characterised by self and governmental censorship.
UAE MEDIA: QUICK FACTS
- The UAE has one of the highest television viewership rates in the world (86% daily)*
- Most of us choose to watch international channels via satellite.**
- Radio is a popular communications channel (78% daily).***
- International music radio like Virgin Radio Dubai (Western contemporary), City 101.6 (Bollywood), and Al-Arabiya 99.0 (Arabic music) are by far the most listened to stations.
- In terms of talk and news, Dubai Eye 103.8 leads in popularity.
- We love to read newspapers (56% daily) despite censorship.
- We Are very active on social media with the highest per-capita mobile phone penetration in the Arab world (80.6%).
- Social media usage is currently at 95% for Whatsapp, 82% on Facebook, 81% on YouTube, 60% on Instagram and 55% on Twitter. ****
[****] Most Used Social Media Platforms in UAE 2016. Source: Northwestern University in Qatar, 2016 Media Use in Middle East Survey.
Media Regulation & Recent Key Events
- Influencers: [March 6 of 2018] Social media influencers can’t just post as they’d like in the UAE. A regulatory body exists to ensure this. The National Media Council, announced new guidelines for UAE social media influencers:
- The UAE logo: [November 2019], the UAE recently chose 49 artists, (seven from each emirate) to create a new logo for the UAE in keeping with a national branding campaign.
- Following Covid-19: [March 2020] after Covid-19, social media and video streaming platforms grew rapidly. YouTube saw a 16% month-on-month increase in users during March, whereas Facebook and Twitter experienced 17 % and 22% monthly increases.
The challenges we face today as marketers
In many ways, the influx of visitors and the temporary population has presented a number of challenges for us as marketers. With this sudden fast-paced change in the buyer landscape, the UAE has been somewhat forced into embracing technology and marketing as a necessity, drawing attention with the high disposable income of our population.
Brands have capitalised on this burst in new buying opportunities, and the use of marketing tools such as media monitoring software has never been more meaningful. But this “newer” version of our market comes with its own pitfalls of consumer trends and culture, as well as a Shariah state law shaping the kinds of advertising you can show to audiences. We look at what media monitoring is like in the UAE, the challenges and how international brands tailor themselves to fit this framework.
Advertising in Action:
Above Harper’s Bazaar Arabia showcases fashionable abayas
Apple is another example of a brand that appeals without offending, creating tailored Ramadan celebration iPhone advertisements and features. The Holy Month of Ramadan is practiced throughout the UAE, and respecting this month is very important for many of us as UAE consumers. According to TheDrum.com, Apple’s Ramadan campaign captures the reflective purpose of the Holy Month through the lens of the iPhone XS - Muslims taking time for self-reflection, and to connect with friends and family, complete with features to help people observe. The campaign further cemented Apples stronghold on the UAE market.
- Higher buying power comes with a perception of ownership and expectation from brands
Many of us understand the power of resources and are not afraid to be vocal about brands on social platforms. This might seem like a daunting space for businesses to operate in, but if marketers do their research and remain respectful of culture, this space will allow for great loyalty, trust and growth. Brands in the UAE that have successfully established their presence include Nescafe, Emirates - the national air carrier, Mercedes-Benz and Ford to name a few.
- Mobile UX and responsiveness is becoming an increased focus considering the significant role of mobile usage
An increasing focus on user experience design and incorporating technology into everyday life means marketers can no longer rely on content over experience. According to Entrepreneur Middle East, in 2016 the UAE had the third highest mobile commerce usage rate, with 40% of the population having purchased products via mobile - and this number increases exponentially with the pandemic encouraging people to buy online.
We can look to Virgin Mobile as an example. Uniquely positioned as the first digital mobile brand in the UAE, Virgin Mobile is revered for brand excellence and uses an omni-brand experience to connect with users digitally on various platforms: from mobile to their interactive in-store kiosks located at Virgin Megastores across the UAE.
Embracing technology is opening doors for both consumers and brands
With a strong currency, our market typically has a large disposable income average and the desire to be on the cusp of all new things tech. This is where specific marketing such as Virtual Reality (VR) becomes a popular concept and brands have seen this opportunity to merge different sectors with technology of this kind.
A good example of this is in tourism and VR working hand-in-hand; with a VR game created for the user to be the hero and stop a VR cyber attack on one of Dubai’s most treasured tourism sites, the Burj Khalifa. The sheer breathtaking reality of this game, makes users feel like they are truly climbing one of the tallest buildings in the world.
This is a great way to marry tech with tourism and is a useful mechanism as this game can be applied to several skyscrapers in the UAE. Similarly, there have been major investments in Artificial intelligence. In fact, AI is expected to contribute almost 14% of the UAE’s GDP by 2030, equivalent to $96bn.
The importance of tech in media
Media monitoring helps brands gain some control over the social situations they find themselves in online. Doing this, in a marketing and PR context, refers to using software that scans millions of social mentions and data points, online, through key phrase searches. As a result researches and strategists can gather and measure campaigns, marketing initiatives, competitors and industry news.
As a brand custodian, this allows you to:
- Find out what audiences your audiences are most intrigued by
- Discover how consumers feel about your campaigns, based on sentiment analysis
- Learn more about what products and trends your consumers love, and love to hate
- Identify the beginning of a crisis before it’s in full swing - or prevent it entirely
- Create detailed personas and target your messaging to highly tailored audiences
“The Middle East is a vastly diverse region, mixed with many local cultures and traditions, as in Africa, but, with an added demographic injection of western and far eastern expat cultures, creating a very culturally distinct mixing pot. Understanding each cultural touch point, pain point and style of communication adds to your brand's ability to better communicate and support their customers and develop campaigns that speak to each user persona throughout their region”. - Brett Magill, Global Social Media Manager
- Identify complaints and untagged mentions and respond to them before they damage your brand
- Nurture relationships from positive mentions
Get down to business
Internally, marketing PR and comms professionals face a plethora of challenges when it comes to combining data and creativity. Whether it’s validating resources spent on specific campaigns, research and reporting or getting buy-in from higher-ups to allocate resources to marketing. With the right tools, you can start to elevate how your business operates in the media, from the inside out.
Pull accurate data for strategy, reporting and measuring ROI: Using standard report functionality and vanity metrics will only get you so far. Dig deeper to monitor corresponding topics, competitor brands and influential figures in the public news and social sector.
Use accurate data, presented on a centralised dashboard, to monitor the correlation between engagement, sentiment and sales.
“Generally, client's are more open to brand awareness only communications, as budgets have been more plentiful in the past, however, trackable return on investment in the form of leads or downloads is naturally a core pillar alongside brand awareness” says Magill.
Avoid cherry-picking and test the assumptions you believe to be true: All too often, we accept fallacy as fact. When it comes to the changing nature of the UAE consumer, it pays to test assumptions. This is best done through comprehensive research in real time.
Gain a competitive advantage: Monitor the performance of competing brands with top mentions, and insights into their audiences to check for overlap.
Inspire new campaign concepts: Trending topics, public sentiments and social movements can all spark ideas when it comes to creating new content and staying abreast of what’s relevant.
Fine-tune KPIs and add meaning to their existence: Setting performance indicators internally is a great idea in theory - but it means nothing without assessing the relevance to your organisation and performance in terms of what consumers value most.
“If you’re looking to meet an existing KPI or close the gap, you can look to competitors who are already doing that specific thing well. Then, analyse their methods and map out their audiences for a competitive advantage. This also allows you to identify overlap” - Mike Gopal, Strategic Management Consultant, &AD Consultancy
Take the grunt work out of manual monitoring and automate: With the vast consumption of content prevalent in the UAE, attempting to manually monitor the media is a fool’s errand. Automated software that filters big data can help you analyse and quickly adapt. In this way, you’ll achieve more with the resources at hand.
Tools of the trade
For the last 20 years, we’ve invested in developing software that collates and dissects data from around the digital world, spanning news, social media, print, broadcasts and more recently podcasts. And, when we refer to big data, we’re talking about 500 million new touch points added to our search functionality per day.
Meltwater's media monitoring software allows you to monitor 15+ social media networks, 300,000 global news sources, and over 25,000 podcasts for example.
- Centralised dashboards
- Monitor share of voice
- Deep analytics
- Real-time alerts
A powerful way for brands to draw audience insights
The unique and intricate nature of media in the UAE means you need every tool at your disposal to tap into insights that help you understand the landscape your brand operates in. Prevent and manage a crisis, never miss a mention, open new doors of opportunity in this exciting market.