While Saudi Arabia may be late to the diversification game in comparison to its smaller Gulf neighbors, it may still have the upper hand with its exceptionally high population demographic of technologically savvy millennials, all of whom are optimistic about their nation’s future and willingness to continue living there. In fact, a study by OMD, the business performance company that is part of Omnicom Group, revealed that cheaper Internet access scored highest on the list of drivers for happiness among Saudi nationals. Well ahead of freedom of choice, safety and security and even free healthcare – key factors that ranked first in other countries where the study has been conducted, including the UAE and Ireland. The demand for Internet by Saudis is not surprising, given the lack of other entertainment outlets in the Kingdom. It’s also no surprise that over 65% of its citizens spend the majority of their time on social networks, comprising 33% of the world’s tweets – and that their medium of choice is mobile, making them home to one of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. On average, the study’s respondents claimed to spend just shy of eight hours of their day with technology and just over six-and-a-half hours with media.
Furthermore, events such as Comic Con and the Rashed Al Majed concert that took place in the beginning of 2017 have also been heralded as the government’s steps towards softening conservative attitudes while its General Authority for Entertainment forges ahead at developing its own local industry. In fact, “culture and entertainment” is a key component of Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s strategy for economic transformation. These are in line with the population’s sentiments, as 69% of the study’s respondents feel that there should be more recreational activities available in the Kingdom. Meetings have already taken place between government officials and Image Nation, the Abu Dhabi film and TV production company, on building up a local sector. More comprehensive plans call for the development of cinemas and even a Six Flags theme park in the imminent future.
What was once a taboo in a conservative society is quickly becoming an insatiable appetite for local content, which are filled by the likes of comedian Hisham Fageeh’s YouTube sensation, “No Woman No Drive”, as well as 2017’s “Hwages”, which was professionally produced and collected two million views in its first week. It was even picked up by international news outlets such as the BBC, The New York Times, the Washington Post and Elle magazine. Therefore, the nation is making swift movements towards breaking the barriers for Saudi expression and this has opened the gateway for brands as well, providing them with fresh opportunities to be first movers into this space and engage consumers in a richer and more profound way than ever before.
For a brand to be successful in this space, they need to be well-informed of the transformation that is taking place and become an integral part of it, adding utility to their consumers’ lives in novel ways that reflect the evolving needs of the Saudi population. STC has already leveraged this development to emerge as one of the best content producers in the region, with views reaching upwards of 7 million for their YouTube videos. Another example is Nike, whose “what will they say about you” Arabic-language ad challenged the conservative views on female participation in recreational sports to garner 400,000 YouTube views and 75,000 shares on Twitter in just 48 hours. Therefore, the value of entertainment as a channel cannot be underestimated. The digital transformation has long been underway in Saudi Arabia and with it has come a change in the perceptions and attitudes of consumers. Understanding these will be invaluable to brands looking to create lasting presence and relationships in the new consumer landscape that is unraveling within the Kingdom.