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Branding on the Moon: Marketing in The Middle East

Landing in The Middle East is the natural progression for brands as they seek to take advantage of this increasingly consumerist society. But this melting pot of cultural contradiction – that just 30 years ago was little more than harsh desert – poses challenges the likes of which brands have never before encountered.
In an industry that is renowned for provocation in the most liberal of markets, how can advertising thrive in a conservative meritocracy whilst pushing the creative envelope? And how is the evolution of digital communications in The Middle East presenting opportunities to circumnavigate these constraints?
In this panel we look to address the challenges faced by brands and agencies in the region and explore the strategies to overcome them. We highlight where and why brands have failed and succeeded and consider what the future holds for the world’s harshest advertising environment. An eye-opener for anyone interested in the nuances of doing business in The Middle East.

Additional Supporting Materials


  1. What does this landscape look like and what are the challenges facing brands that want to colonise? The Middle East is governed like nowhere else. Strict adherence to Islamic law means one of the most censored media landscapes in the modern world. And yet the families in charge have encouraged western investment on a galactic scale bringing with it an influx of foreign nationals, consumerism and media. A land fraught with paradoxes where having local ties - a “Wasta” - can be invaluable.
  2. Who are the target audience and what makes them different from the rest of the world? The Middle East is a global cultural melting pot. In many countries expats outnumber the locals and the gulf between rich and poor is vast. With such diversity how do we create campaigns that are not just culturally, but humanly relevant? Sheikhs change rules over night, every ad goes through the censorship department and locals need to be considered in every campaign. Welcome to the stakeholder layer cake.
  3. What makes people tick in such a unique environment? What communication channels do they have at their disposal? What impact has cable TV had on the attitudes of a new generation? With one of the highest mobile and Internet penetration rates in the world does censorship still exist? Yes websites are still monitored and banned by the authorities but post Arab Springs how are brands such as Heineken leveraging social media to deliver messages they wouldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago?
  4. Is this lunar-like location conducive to human creativity or are we constricted by the limitations of our environment? Do more rules and restrictions stifle creatives or does it force them to find more innovative solutions? The standard of creativity in the region is definitely improving, but when things can be vetoed last minute by the powers at be is it worth the fight? Especially when the repercussions for pushing too hard can lead to bans, jail and deportation. Choose your battles wisely.
  5. What have the early pioneers learned and what knowledge can they pass on to future lunar travellers? Luxury brands are thriving, local brands are developing and despite limited competition international brands are finding they’re not just affected by what happens in the region – Arla the Danish food company being a prime example. Ultimately, business in The Middle East is about understanding the system, playing by the rules and finding ways to work with them – just like anywhere… sort of!



Mark Haycock, Planner, gyro

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