Social media experts weigh in on this year’s Ramadan advertising trends

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Updated 25 April 2022

Social media experts weigh in on this year’s Ramadan advertising trends

  • Senior leaders from Meta, Twitter, TikTok, Snap and Google on what matters to consumers during the holy month

DUBAI: Ramadan is a month of abstinence for many Muslims around the world as they fast through the day and embrace spirituality, charity and generosity. It is also one of the busiest shopping periods, especially in the MENA region, with online consumer spending valued at $6.2 billion this year, according to Statista. That figure is a 39 percent increase in online spending compared to last year.

With many consumers spending more time looking for entertainment and helpful content, such as cooking tips or spiritual guides, social media usage often increases during Ramadan. A survey by advertising platform AdColony and research company GlobalWebIndex found that 50 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia spend one to three hours on their smartphones per day.

During Ramadan, most Saudi consumers use smartphones over other devices to shop online (65 percent), browse through social media apps (64 percent) and message family and friends (61 percent).

Arab News spoke to senior leaders from Meta, Twitter, TikTok, Snap and Google to learn more about Ramadan advertising.

 FARES AKKAD, REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR MENA, META

What were the top trends during Ramadan last year?
Last year, we saw how many advertisers embraced a mobile-first strategy rather than just building for TV and then adapting or optimizing for all the other mediums later. We also saw a lot of brands do various augmented reality filters, Messenger Bots and mobile video ads that were not only innovative, but also impactful, too.

What are the top Ramadan trends this year?
With people’s openness to new things during Ramadan, discoveries are taking place across borders. Studies show that 69 percent of Ramadan shoppers get “excited about trying new brands and products from abroad” and nearly one in two Ramadan shoppers globally (47 percent) made at least one cross-border purchase.

The leading MENA streaming platform, Shahid VIP, wanted to reach a global audience with Ramadan-specific content. They leveraged mobile-first short-form videos on Facebook and Instagram to drive an uplift in subscriptions across the US and Canada, resulting in a 3.9 percent lift in action intent, 8.2 percent lift in sign-ups and 8.4 percent lift in brand awareness.

We are also seeing many campaigns utilizing content creators in interesting ways; creators often play a particularly important role during this period. These diverse voices drive greater levels of representation, with as many as 46 percent of shoppers using Meta technologies during Ramadan to watch live videos by creators.

How did the resurgence from the pandemic affect Ramadan advertising?
As we slowly emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers and marketers are steadily coming back on their feet. In 2020 and 2021, there was a lot of uncertainty and confusion; however, now we are seeing everyone getting used to the new normal.

With Ramadan being an annual festival, how can brands avoid becoming repetitive?
The spirit of Ramadan will never change, but technology does, and people’s needs do, too. Just like how the pandemic created a space for ideas that bring people closer together in times of physical distancing, something else will come along and brands will have to pivot and focus on what brings value to people.

The metaverse is not just a buzzword. While realizing this future might take five to 10 years and all of us working together, there are steps that we can take today to start planning for the future. It is important to continue to grow a brand and business in the digital space on our 2D apps — this will help brands imagine the opportunities and prepare them for the metaverse of tomorrow.

Lastly, brands can stay relevant by creating more interactive and immersive content, leveraging new AI capabilities and forging stronger audience relationships. The future is bright for the next era of creating.

 
ANTOINE CAIRONI, HEAD OF REVENUE — MENA, TWITTER

What were the top trends during Ramadan last year?
In a pre-Ramadan survey of Twitter users in the region (KSA, UAE and Egypt), 60 percent said that Twitter was their go-to platform to discover what is happening during the holy month. Their most sought-after content included entertainment, comedy, food and cooking, as well as health and wellness.

Despite the context of the pandemic, the general popular themes of Ramadan remained prevalent. Video continued to be a leading form of content consumption for people and video as an ad format performed strongly on the platform. A 2021 research study found that people on Twitter in the Kingdom and the UAE reinforced the increase in usage of video as a format for content discovery.

Watching videos during Ramadan remains within the top three activities on the platform.

What are the top Ramadan trends this year?
About 50 percent of people on Twitter in Saudi, UAE and Kuwait, and 60 percent of users in Egypt, spend more money during Ramadan. A significant amount of people are likely to explore new brands and products (41 percent in Saudi Arabia, 53 percent in the UAE, 42 percent in Egypt and 40 percent in Kuwait).

We also found that Twitter goes hand in hand with television in a multi-screen effect during Ramadan. People use the platform while watching TV to read about what others are watching, discover new shows and share their own opinions. People move from simply watching TV to sharing moments and emotions around the content that matters to them during the holy month.

Once again, video remains a prevalent form of content consumption for people on Twitter and continues to be one of the best ways to reach people and tell a story in a very meaningful way.

In addition, time spent on gaming increases during Ramadan, as 39 percent of people interested in gaming spend 35 percent more time on the activity during Ramadan.

How did the resurgence from the pandemic impact Ramadan advertising?
Ramadan advertising spend is prioritized by most organizations as it is a critical time for marketing in the region, but it has remained consistent with a focus on growing a brand’s Twitter presence throughout the pandemic.

In the region, restrictions have been gradually lifted since 2021, so from a creative content perspective, we are seeing a rise in advertising campaigns that show more examples of life as we knew it pre-pandemic.

Brands that do well on Twitter in terms of high viewership and engagement focus on ways to emotionally connect with target audiences during the month and aim to inspire, rather than focus on promotional tactics.

With Ramadan being an annual festival, how can brands avoid becoming repetitive?
It really comes down to how creative brands are willing to get with content, and how they connect with audiences in a memorable and emotional way. Most brands in our region prioritize Ramadan marketing campaigns, cluttering the online space. So, from a consumer perspective, the content from many brands might appear to have a lot of similar themes.

However, we have found that our audience is extremely receptive to brands that use Twitter for a new launch during Ramadan. People are two times more likely to talk about a brand within their own connections and their circle of friends and family, which makes them influential too.

 
FAHAD AL-MAGHRABI, HEAD OF BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS — GLOBAL BUSINESS SOLUTIONS KSA, TIKTOK

What were the top trends during Ramadan last year?
About 74 percent of TikTok users focused on community activities related to Ramadan and 57 percent spent more time with family and friends.

Digital consumption patterns varied during the month, with users moving more towards watching content than creating it, and consumption increasing after iftar until midnight.

During Ramadan last year, people browsed more content than expected related to beauty (23 percent), fashion (23 percent), food and cooking (23 percent), sports (15 percent) and home decor (14 percent).

Video views grew by 21 percent and engagement increased by 22 percent. The entertainment category alone grew by 70 percent, creating an opportunity for brands to engage with a community that is seeking joyful distractions.

When it comes to shopping, preparations for Ramadan start in the weeks before the month. Consumers, who are seasonal shoppers, tend to buy more. But most importantly, they do that together. This community consumption trend is reflected in the high traction on the platform.

What are the top Ramadan trends this year?
There are specific seasonal spikes when people tend to buy more, and this is in the two weeks leading up to Ramadan and the two weeks before Eid, which is reflected on the platform.

This year, our overarching message for brands during Ramadan is encompassed in “Ramadan Uninterrupted.” Essentially, we want brands to understand the importance of being part of the community during this period, rather than disrupting it.

How did the resurgence from the pandemic affect Ramadan advertising?
Today, consumers are spending more time online than ever before and there has been an uptick in online shopping. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed unprecedented growth in people shopping online worldwide and in digital consumption. This is particularly relevant during key seasonal occasions such as Ramadan.

Advertisers are seeing greater benefit in investing in this key retail moment and using it not just to sell products and services, but also to connect with their audience on a deeper level and encourage longer-term brand loyalty. This is where TikTok’s Community Commerce model comes in, which is quickly helping retailers grow and go viral.

With Ramadan being an annual festival, how can brands avoid becoming repetitive?
This year, like any other, TikTok is the destination for people to share during Ramadan in the form of short videos. And when they do so, they do not want ads or disruption — they want content that seamlessly blends into their edutainment time.

Keeping the values of Ramadan in mind, brands must bring content that is familiar and relatable to the audience, which helps them gain affinity and advocacy. In fact, 61 percent of TikTok users perceive brands as part of the open community and 84 percent of users say they come across content they can relate to on TikTok.

Ramadan is also known to be the month of inspiration and discovery, whereby 46 percent of MENAT digital users discover new tips, skills and content during Ramadan.

One approach is to explore the wide pool of creators who have built their own community and deliver their messages in an authentic and distinguished way. Creators do not just reach customers; they connect with them on a deeper level. Many brands cannot compete with creators’ storytelling abilities.

Additionally, today, the size of an influencer’s following is one of their least valuable assets. Brands have realized a big following does not equal big success. Micro-influencers have become so popular, as they have much more engaged followings, and so recommendations are more trusted.

 
ABDULLA AL-HAMMADI, REGIONAL BUSINESS LEAD, SNAP INC.

What were the top trends during Ramadan last year?
It is no surprise that the past few Ramadans were celebrated a little bit differently in the context of the pandemic. Embracing personal contemplation, purposefulness and even nostalgia, many people connected and celebrated virtually. Adapting to the changing times, behavior shifted, and new experiences came to life that bridged the digital and physical worlds.

During Ramadan 2021, Snapchatters opened the Snap Map in MENA 82 percent more often compared to Ramadan 2020. More than 1 billion Snaps were posted to Stories, and users in the Kingdom viewed AR Lenses more than 90 billion times.

Ramadan content continued to grow with users spending 33 percent more time on Ramadan content in 2021 than in the previous year.

What are the top Ramadan trends this year?
This year, communities across the MENA region are returning to togetherness. About 46 percent say that they plan to take part in more celebratory activities this year, and about 42 percent were actually planning to seek inspiration for Ramadan celebrations three weeks or earlier before Ramadan began.

We also found that 65 percent of our community will look to social and video apps for inspiration this Ramadan.

How did the resurgence from the pandemic affect Ramadan advertising?
We believe that media effectiveness, audience segmentation, authentic communication, and the ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds are essential considerations in planning 2022 Ramadan campaigns.

Digital platforms that help close friends and family stay connected, informed and express themselves are clearly influencing purchasing decisions. Technologies like AR have become an innovative way to have fun, create new traditions and connect.

With Ramadan being an annual festival, how can brands avoid becoming repetitive?
Communities have adapted to the changes of recent years, and their behaviors have evolved. Brands need to adapt to these preferences also. They must make sure they reach their audience at scale through immersive and impactful experiences across the entire consumer journey.

To achieve this, brands should be open to experimenting with new and creative technologies such as AR, providing consumers with an immersive experience that resonates with them, entertains them and informs them. Most importantly, brands should invest in innovative ways that can actually make a difference in consumer lives, while also tapping into their emotional and pleasurable aspects.

 
SOUHEIL SOUEID, HEAD OF ADVERTISING PRODUCTS & SOLUTIONS, GOOGLE MENA
What were the top trends during Ramadan last year?

In the last two years, it is obvious that many of our offline habits have moved to being online.

The top three trends of last year were:

1. The core values of Ramadan remain the same. On the first day of Ramadan last year, there were 17.5 million Qur’an livestream views on YouTube in MENA, and we saw a 100 percent increase in YouTube search interest for “donations” and “charitable giving” in Saudi Arabia during the four weeks of Ramadan in 2021 versus all other months of the year.

2. Optimism is rising and people are seeking a mood lift. Google Trends shows that searches around mental health increased during Ramadan last year with a 190 percent year-on-year increase in search interest for “psychological comfort” in the UAE.

3. Ads bring nostalgia to people in the MENA region, which is reflected in the fact that about 75 percent of the top-watched YouTube videos in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were ads.

What are the top Ramadan trends this year?
We will wait to get the full analysis before sharing those findings with you.

How did the resurgence from the pandemic affect Ramadan advertising?
The pandemic has truly brought a level of uncertainty to businesses globally. This lack of clarity on what is next has added even more pressure on brands to drive concrete results.

Marketers and decision-makers at senior levels expect more transparency across all marketing channels. This is why we are seeing brands focusing more on full-funnel solutions to help them achieve their business objectives.

In this context, transparent and rigorous measurement becomes critical for brands to assess results and action timely decisions.

With Ramadan being an annual festival, how can brands avoid becoming repetitive?
The core of Ramadan remains the same, but people’s behaviors are changing with time. Therefore, it is imperative for brands to understand timely trends to adapt their communication and engage with people in a meaningful way.

It is critical for brands to leverage their first-party data in a privacy-centric way to help them adjust their media strategy, as well as guide their narrative and creative approach.

It is also important for brands to explore new formats and be present where their consumers are. As an example, YouTube Shorts hit more than 5 trillion views in its first year. With this new offering, brands are reviewing their content strategy to take part in this new online experience by creating video content and ads that are adapted for a vertical viewing experience.


More security for UK-based Iran International after threats

Updated 25 November 2022

More security for UK-based Iran International after threats

  • Concrete barriers have been erected
  • Last week, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that armed police vehicles had been deployed outside the TV studios

LONDON: The Iran International TV channel on Friday said that further security measures have been put in place around its London offices after threats from the regime in Tehran.
Concrete barriers have been erected similar to those at key government buildings and tourist spots in the British capital, to prevent vehicle attacks.
The barriers were “guaranteed to stop a 7.5 ton truck at 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour,” a spokesman for the Persian-language channel said.
Vehicle access in and around the site would also be controlled and checks carried out, he added.
The threats were an escalation of years of intimidation because of its broadcasting of protests in Iran, the spokesman told AFP.
“We’re the only channel running 24/7 coverage of the protests,” he said.
But he added: “We’re not the voice of the protests. We’re the only means that people in Iran can see them.”
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, stressed that Iran International was not an opposition channel and its staff were not activists.
“We were set up as a service for people in Iran and the diaspora,” he said.
Last week, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that armed police vehicles had been deployed outside the TV studios.
That followed “severe and credible” death threats against two of its UK-based journalists from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The UK government promptly hauled in Iran’s highest-ranking diplomat to the country for a dressing-down.
MI5, the UK domestic intelligence agency, has uncovered at least 10 plots by Iran to kill UK-based individuals deemed to be “enemies of the regime” so far this year, its boss said last week.
The channel employs about 100 staff in London, whose coverage of the protests largely involves sifting through and verifying social media content of the demonstrations.
Iranian staff were “more anxious” than panicked about the threats and more worried about the safety of their families back home, as well as the wider impact of the protests, said the spokesman for the channel.
“We all don’t know what the hell is going to happen. That’s stressful,” he said.

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Musk announces gold, gray and blue badges for Twitter accounts

Updated 25 November 2022

Musk announces gold, gray and blue badges for Twitter accounts

  • CEO apologized for the delay and said users verification coming back next week

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter’s billionaire owner Elon Musk announced Friday that the platform would be launching differently colored badges to distinguish between accounts.
“Sorry for the delay, we’re tentatively launching Verified on Friday next week,” he tweeted.
“Gold check for companies, grey check for government, blue for individuals (celebrity or not) and all verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates.”
In another tweet, Musk said that all verified individual accounts would have the same blue check, but some would eventually be able to display a “secondary tiny logo showing they belong to an org(anization) if verified as such by that org(anization).”
The Tesla and SpaceX boss’ proposal for users to be able to pay to be “verified” and obtain a blue badge on their profiles has caused confusion since he acquired the social media giant last month.
Musk proposed a subscription fee of $8 a month to allow users to obtain the blue check — which was previously free but reserved for organizations and public figures in an attempt to avoid impersonation and misinformation.
The first rollout of Musk’s subscription plan in early November quickly went south, with many accounts paying for the blue check and then impersonating world leaders, celebrities or companies.
Responding to the backlash, Musk initially postponed the launch date to November 29, before delaying it once more. It now appears the feature will launch on December 2.
Musk has said that he wants to charge users for subscriptions to the social media platform to diversify its income stream. Twitter currently depends on advertising for 90 percent of its revenue.
Several major brands have withdrawn from advertising on the platform since Musk bought it, fearing that his promised relaxation of content moderation could open their companies up to being associated with objectionable content.
According to the NGO Media Matters, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have announced that they are suspending or “have apparently suspended” their spending on the social network.


Elon Musk says Twitter to provide ‘amnesty’ to some suspended accounts starting next week

Updated 25 November 2022

Elon Musk says Twitter to provide ‘amnesty’ to some suspended accounts starting next week

Elon Musk said on Thursday that Twitter will provide a “general amnesty” to suspended accounts starting next week after running a poll on whether to do so for users who had not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.
In a poll Musk posted on Twitter on Wednesday, 72.4 percent of the more than 3.16 million users who took part voted in favor of bringing back those who had been suspended by the social media platform.
“The people have spoken,” Musk, who acquired Twitter last month, tweeted on Thursday. “Amnesty begins next week.”
Last week, Musk, the world’s richest person, reinstated some previously suspended accounts, including former US President Donald Trump, satirical website Babylon Bee and comedian Kathy Griffin.
He tweeted in October that Twitter would form a content moderation council “with widely diverse viewpoints.” Musk said no major content decisions or account reinstatements would happen before the council convened.
Change and chaos have marked the billionaire’s first few weeks as Twitter’s owner. He has fired top managers, including former Chief Executive Parag Agarwal, and it was announced that senior officials in charge of security and privacy had quit.
Those resignations drew scrutiny from the US Federal Trade Commission, whose mandate includes protecting consumers and which said it was watching Twitter with “deep concern.”
Earlier Thursday, Musk tweeted that Twitter users might notice small, sometimes major improvements in the platform’s speed, which would be significant in countries far away from the United States.


Virtual reality tools offer escape to blockaded Gaza youth

Updated 24 November 2022

Virtual reality tools offer escape to blockaded Gaza youth

  • Young people enjoy immerse experiences in Gaza's first VR cafe

GAZA: The owner of Gaza’s first virtual reality gaming cafe is offering a fantasy world of action, music, and sports to young people who have grown up under the blockade.
“Often many of the youth who come here to play they look for an escape from the reality they live in,” Firas Al-Khodary, the owner of VR Station in Gaza city, said.
With opportunities for travel ruled out for most people by the years-long border closure imposed by Israel and Egypt, the online realm is an outlet for young people hungry for entertainment and distraction.
“I move into cities, different places, mountains, and oceans, cities that are impossible for us to visit,” said 22 year-old Youssef Al-Qudairi.
According to Al-Khodary, virtual action and combat games are the most popular among young men, while young women tend to favor sports, music and travel.
“Since we are blockaded and it is difficult to travel and move from one place to another, we come to VR and make up for all these things and we live it in the virtual reality,” said 16 year-old Nisreen Shamalakh as she put on her headset.


Journalists have much to lose if Twitter dies

Updated 24 November 2022

Journalists have much to lose if Twitter dies

  • Platform has been source of contact and instant updates
  • Talks about Twitter uncertain future has exposed media dependency on the platform

PARIS: Few will lose as much as journalists if Twitter dies, having grown reliant on its endless sources and instant updates despite the dangers and distortions that come with it.
There has been fevered talk of the platform’s imminent demise since billionaire Elon Musk took over last month and began firing vast numbers of staff.
But most journalists “can’t leave,” said Nic Newman, of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “It’s actually a really important part of their work.”
Newman was working at the BBC when Twitter started making waves in 2008 and 2009.
“It was a new Rolodex, a new way of contacting people — fantastic for case studies and... experts,” he said.
But Twitter also became a competitor, replacing newsrooms as the source of breaking news for the public when terrorist attacks, natural disasters or any fast-moving story struck.
“Journalists realized they wouldn’t always be the ones breaking the news and that their role was going to be different — more about contextualising and verifying that news,” said Newman.
It also meant journalists were tied to the platform for announcements by politicians and celebrities — most famously the dreaded late-night and early-morning tweets from Donald Trump that left hundreds of journalists sleep-deprived throughout his presidency.


The dependency has bred many problems.
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo spoke for many in 2019 when he wrote that “Twitter is ruining American journalism” with the way it “tugs journalists deeper into the rip currents of tribal melodrama, short-circuiting our better instincts in favor of mob- and bot-driven groupthink.”
By rewarding the most vehement voices, the platform tends to drown out the majority of the population — both moderates and non-elites.
“The debates that happen on Twitter are very much the debates of the elite,” said Newman. “It has definitely been a problem in newsrooms.”
“Paying attention only to Twitter tends to distort the way that many people, including journalists, see the world,” agreed Mathew Ingram, digital media specialist at the Columbia Journalism Review.
Though he hopes they have grown savvy enough to deal with the distortions, journalists have been subjected to a “huge tide of disinformation and harassment.”
But for all the frantic talk over Musk’s volatile tenure, many believe the site will survive.
“For the record, I don’t think it’s all that likely that Twitter will shut down anytime soon,” said Stephen Barnard, a sociologist at Butler University in the United States.
But he said journalists have good reason to fear its disappearance.
“They would lose access to what is for many a very large, powerful and diverse social network... (and) also a positive source of prestige and professional identity,” Barnard said.
“There is no real heir apparent in that space, so I’m not sure where they would go,” he added.
On the plus side, Ingram said, it could spur a return to “more traditional ways of researching and reporting.”
“Perhaps that would be a good thing,” he added.