Saudi Report 2021: Tap-Shift-Swipe-Click, by The Classic Partnership’s Alok Gadkar

The Classic Partnership’s Alok Gadkar looks at how modern Saudi advertising is pushing boundaries to speak to a new generation.

Under the supervision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, and in alignment with Saudi Vision 2030, KSA is busy clicking. 77 per cent of consumers are shopping more online, and 60 per cent of consumers are spending more money on virtual experiences as per an online study done by Mastercard. The mobile phone seems to have become a part of the human anatomy that hardly rests on the side table. More and more people are migrating to online platforms for their day-to-day lives. Grocery, clothing and healthcare products have become the most purchased products online.

The rule book is now being built as communication with consumers changes swiftly. This very change in behaviour and media consumption habits drives the change in creative thinking. Let’s talk about the classic billboard. There was a time when a woman’s face was forbidden entirely on those lightboxes. If printed, most times it would be either inked out or pixelated. A few moons have gone by and we now see signs of hope and colour springing from these same out-of-home sites.

As marketers and storytellers, we are the mirror to society. What we create will be a seamless reflection of what the consumer takes a fancy to. From old to new, from safe to bold and from acceptance to activation. When society goes through a change, it opens up new conversations. People want to express themselves more freely, and a new order comes into being. With more and more Saudi nationals joining the workforce and businesses being run locally, the narrative is rapidly morphing and, therefore, there is a need for efficacious communication.

YouTube reached more than 20 million people across KSA in August last year, according to Arab News; 95 per cent of users watch DIY content, with an average watch time of 55 minutes per day. With digital taking precedence, optimised content has become paramount. The advanced Saudi consumers are ready to express themselves more openly and absorb novelty. This switch in user behaviour entails giving birth to dynamic content, and also opportunities to recruit young content creators.

A recent campaign to introduce 5G for Saudi telecoms operator STC is one such example of how understanding consumer interest can provide real-time insight to audience sentiment and needs. By analysing Google Search, the brand discovered that many consumers weren’t familiar with 5G. They used famous Saudi YouTuber Sohayb Qubs, who answered the most searched questions on Google through a series of fun videos to tackle this challenge. Simple questions like: What is 5G? How does 5G impact my life? These videos were further served back to the people who searched for these questions.
In collaboration with Google’s experts and with access to their data, a unique problem was solved.

For Splash, the region’s leading fast-fashion brand, we launched a new bold, fun and fresh campaign, ‘In Love With Fashion’, based on today’s Saudi youth. Inspired by the raw energy that defines youth, the campaign showcased the diversity and eclectic insights of Saudi Arabia, bringing to life a dystopian diary that plays on the reality of what it means to be young and ‘Khaleeji’ and to truly be in love with fashion in your own unique way. A series of films were developed based on different insights that would work specifically in Saudi, and a few within the region. One such film was a tribute to the Qahtani Tribe from Habala, often called ‘flower men of Saudi’, who wear colourful headpieces for both aesthetics and wellness. An idea based on a human truth or a solid cultural insight can drive the required engagement for a business.

This is the moment when brands need to make a change, pushing boundaries and being fearless. This is when you take the plunge and break the pattern. Here is when marketers need to stop accepting a blanket creative that goes across GCC, which is of no consequence to anybody in the kingdom. Clients are willing to accept, and while consistency and predictability are two critical sides of the same coin, some polish is required.

Amine Hammoud, head of marketing at Centrepoint KSA, says: “Over the past 25 years of Centrepoint’s existence in Saudi Arabia, we have adapted our product offering and customer communication to the taste and preferences of our Saudi customers. This stands true with the latest social and behavioural changes that the kingdom has been witnessing for the past few years. Centrepoint is adapting its content and communication strategies to appeal to Saudi customers in a fast-changing environment.”

In between the socio-political representation of Saudi Arabia, the story will constantly evolve. We are catering to Gen Y as we continue to engage with the audience through humour and other such yardsticks. Regardless of the past, the present and the future, the conversation of ‘Modern Saudi’ vs ‘Truly Saudi’ will continue and so will the creative interpretation.