For Arabic Marketers Christmas Comes Twice a Year

09 October 2006

CAIRO: Cynics charge that Christmas across much of the western world is more concerned with spending than spirituality; gifts rather than God! How different in the Muslim milieu, some believe.

The holy month of Ramadan, currently being honored across the Muslim world, is seen as a time for spiritual cleansing and contemplation, when the indulgences of the consumer culture and material world are eschewed.

Er ... well, not quite, according to Cairo media analyst Mohsen Zein.

In fact the holy month triggers an advertising avalanche throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf, generating more income for media outlets than any other time of the year.

Especially prized (and concomitantly expensive) are the TV ad slots immediately following Iftar - the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, after which many families convene around the TV for an evening of special Ramadan programming, which includes such uplifting fare as ... soap operas and gameshows.

This is especially marked in Egypt, which boasts the Middle East's highest number of TV-owning households and which originated Ramadan TV specials. Post-Iftar, a 30-second TV spot costs up to 60,000 Egyptian pounds ($10,455; €8240; £5571) - all but double the normal rate.

Observes Zein: "Ramadan is ironically as much about consumption as it is about abstinence. You know that after Iftar you are reaching [via TV] at least 80% of the entire population of the Arab world."

It is estimated that sixty million Egyptians watch TV in the hours after Iftar, generating big business for food manufacturers - to say nothing of ad agencies and the media outlets that devise and carry the deluge of seasonal promotions.

Nor is Egypt an isolated case. Advertising markets in the cash-awash Persian Gulf countries have expanded this year.

According to Bahrain-based agency Gulf Marcom Group, H1 adspend in the Gulf during rose year-on-year by 16%. While in the same period total spending on media advertising across the Pan-Arabic nations hit $2.49 billion.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff