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Arab youth survey confirms digital shift.

Summary: The region's youth are abandoning traditional media faster than ever, but how should brands react?

It may not come as any great surprise, but the latest Asda'a Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey points to a significant shift away from traditional media in the wake of recent political upheaval.

This year's version of the annual survey was conducted by polling firm Penn Schoen Berland between December last year and January this year, and included 2,500 face-to- face interviews with Arab men and women aged 18 to 24. Cov- ering Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and, for the first time, Libya and Tunisia, it is the most com- prehensive survey of its kind in the region.

More than anything else, it confirms what most within the industry already know - that Arab youth are embracing the online world faster than ever and have developed a passion for the blogosphere. For exam- ple, according to the survey, although TV remains the most important source of news for Arab youth, with 62 per cent saying they turn on the TV to get their news, that number has declined from 79 per cent in 2011.TV remains,however,the most trusted news source.

Over the same period, daily newspapers witnessed a huge decline in popularity, with just 32 per cent saying they get their news from newspapers, com- pared with 62 per cent last year. More worrying for traditional publishers is the fact that mag- azines faired even worse, with just 6 per cent saying they get news from magazines, com- pared with 17 per cent in 2011. Magazines, however, are not usually news led, especially those that are monthly.

Meanwhile, more young people than ever before find the news they need online, with 51 per cent saying they get their news on the internet, up from 42 per cent in 2011.Trust in on- line news sources, however, re- mains low, at just 18 per cent, up from 11 per cent last year.

The move towards the online world is in line with increased internet usage among Arab youth, 82 per cent of whom say

they now use the internet on a daily basis, up slightly from 80 per cent last year. Daily inter- net usage is highest amongst those in Saudi Arabia (91 per cent), the UAE (87 per cent) and Libya (86 per cent).

As for what they're doing on- line, reading or writing blogs appears to be the top activity, with 61 per cent saying they en- gage with blogs, up from only 29 per cent in 2011. Twitter is also making strong inroads, with 16 per cent of regional youth saying they regularly tweet or follow the micro-blog- ging site,double that of 2011.

But what does all this mean for brands, agencies and media owners, and how should they react? The shift towards the digital sphere is no secret, al- though the speed of change may catch many off guard.

Ramzy Abouchacra, region- al managing director at Initia- tive GCC, says that, whether Arab youth watch the news on TV, read about it on a blog, or watch it in an online video, what matters is that they are consuming it more than ever. "Media owners now need to find new ways to connect with the youth and distribute their content to them," he says. "The fundamental change for news today is if consumers can't find the news through search, news finds consumers through social media.

"Our own research shows that although social media in the region is growing, it is slow- ing down. What is growing ex- ponentially though is the num- ber of social media platforms used, the number of online activities (consuming video, news, loading content) and the average time spent online. Consumers are increasingly engaging with brands on social media and less on brand pages.

"Although challenging, this opens up opportunities for ad- vertisers to provide a brand and social experience with their consumers provided they spend enough time under- standing their consumers, their level of involvement, their cat- egory specific expectations and how they would wanttointeractwith

their brands before jumping on the band wagon. This means that brands need to identifytheexperienc- esthatbestmeettheir marketing objectives. They need to identify whatcontentisbestsuited for their brands and en-gage in the right activities with their consumers, balancing the right dosage of search, display, content and social media that would deliver the best business results. There is no one-size- fits-all model anymore."

Nareena Mehra, regional di- rector of strategy, analytics and insight at MEC MENA, adds that the upsurge in news con- sumption reflects the fact that Arab youth are empowering themselves by staying in- formed. "Issues such as unem- ployment and freedom are real and affect them directly. As a result, there's an evolu- tion in the youth's attitudes - they are even more confident, vocal about their opinions, am- bitious, and seek fairness and credibility. Brands will need to connect with these attitudes.

"The internet, blogo- sphere and social media empowers them by pro- viding a space where they can openly connect, discuss and share.This will demand for brands to be more open and comfortable with the fact that they will be talked about- good and bad. Brands particularly target- ing the youth will need to embrace these conversa- tions versus ignoring them or shying away." For Bechara Mouzannar,chief creative officer at Leo Burnett MENA, the growth of an 'instant culture' among young Arabs (news,culture,entertainment), means the re- gional online population could be on the eve of an exponential boom."Most of the iCitizens in the Arab world believe they can become an online media mogul,"says Mouzannar."The spreading of the Arab Spring has shown the limitless power of the bloggerhero, a totally new breed of superhero among the Arab youth. Not all blog- gers focus on spreading revo- lution. There are millions of young influencers, some who are truly engaged in bringing changes to so many different fields, and others who just free- ly express a point of view on so many different topics.

"Since young Arabs are now actively turning into millions and millions of media moguls, they are constantly growing their collective voice. And since they are literally living online through their multiple devices, they can interact at anytime with another major media player - the brand. In this dialogue between the two media players, the brand and the iCitizen, the communica- tion industry is supposed to act as a facilitator and as a content provider to nurture and grow the direct - individual or social - engagement of iCustomers with the brand."

Although a few instances of this facilitator role being un- dertaken exist, they are not sufficient to take the industry to the next level of communica- tion, argues Mouzannar."If the communications industry still wants to be relevant it should ride the wave of this golden op- portunity," says Mouzannar. "Failing to do so in a substantial way will lead to a growing num- ber of creative fan producers, bloggers, vloggers, and innova- tive iCitizens creating their own campaigns for the differ- ent brands. So we cannot ignore this dialogue or simply act as a go-between, we have to be in- spiring and make a difference in the quality of the dialogue."

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Publication:Campaign Middle East
Date:May 13, 2012
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