Iraq is so much more than a spillover market

Haider Jraidan is executive creative director at BPG Group and business head – Iraq

“When my son was in kindergarten, he went on a school trip to the Sharjah Zoo. His nice Lebanese teacher asked him: “Koki, are you mabsoot?” My little boy was taken aback and replied: “No, miss… why would I be mabsoot?! I didn’t do anything to be mabsoot?”

The teacher did not understand my son’s reaction. Mabsoot in most colloquial Arabic dialects means ‘Are you en-joying yourself?’ But being Iraqi, my son was surprised by the question. To him mabsoot means ‘beaten up’, which gave the teacher’s innocent question a whole new meaning. Although they were both Arabs, speaking the same language, and had many things in common, their unique nationalities set them apart.

If you are an Arab working in the comms business, a common expectation is to “Arabise the content”, or simply add a dimension that’s relevant to the local Arab audience, no matter the category. Most ad professionals in the region have a tourist’s knowledge of the cultural nuances of each country – the different dialects, food, rituals etc. This leads to a lot of generalisation (even among Arab colleagues) and the result is a pan-Arab campaign sold with the promise of the universality of the ‘big idea’.

Iraq is one of the victims. Many advertisers see Iraq as an Arab country similar to Saudi Arabia or Egypt. While that is true to a certain extent, each has its own peculiarities. Moreover, the upheaval in Iraq during the past three decades and its impact on its citizens is significant.

Iraq is a country moving out of a socio-economic recession. It has a population of over 30 million with a GDP of $131 billion and rising. It is the fourth most populous country in the Middle East and one of the richest. The country’s oil output is over three million barrels a day, with a long-term goal of 12 million barrels.

In the near future, Iraq is expected to be the world’s biggest source of new oil supplies. This will dramatically improve Iraq’s state finances. The International Monetary Fund expects annual oil exports to almost double to $139 billion by 2016, converting last year’s estimated budget deficit of 8.7 per cent of GDP to a surplus of 18 per cent four years from today.

Iraq is significantly different from other regional markets and increasingly lucrative for brands to commission tailor-made campaigns. At present, most work for Iraq is developed out of regional offices in Dubai and Beirut without context or insight. Add the ever-ready answer “Don’t worry. Iraq is covered by the spillover” and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Well, I only have one thing to say: “Congratulations, you’re going to get Mabsoot.”

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  1. Layth Delaimy says:

    I cannot agree more being an Iraqi myself. If this they continue the Beirut, Dubai adverts they will only be Mabsoot out side Iraq and Mabsoot inside

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