This year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy shortlist reinforces the power of strong, local insights for both global and local brands, writes WARC’s Chiara Manco.

Strong local insights have been a red thread among some of the highest-performing papers in the WARC Prize for MENA Strategy throughout the years. The 2017 Grand Prix winner showed a culturally relevant insight in action: Murr Television’s Ensa Joura resonated with its Lebanese audience by filling potholes on the country’s hazardous roads. The following year, Nissan earned a Silver and the Brand Rebel Special Award with its mindful work around the Saudi decree allowing women to drive. 

Global brands are becoming particularly adept at building local relevance. Last year, Nescafé Dolce Gusto connected with Middle Eastern audiences by showing a deep understanding of the importance they place on hospitality and rituals around coffee drinking. Similarly, on this year’s shortlist, two global QSR giants proved that the right local insight can touch consumers.

KFC: Amping up local credentials

Fast-food chain KFC was seen as ‘too American’ by proud Saudis who prefer their chicken fix to come from home-grown brands. The irony was that, while in 2019 KFC had started serving Saudi chicken sourced from local farms, most beloved local brands sourced their meat from overseas suppliers. To communicate its commitment to fresh and local produce, KFC turned all of its brand assets ‘Saudi green’ – from its advertising through to buckets and staff’s uniforms. Ads on TV and social media exposed the reality of local brands’ misleading communications, and leading influencers also spread the news. 

Through TBWA\RAAD, this led to a 39% increase in sales compared with previous months, cementing KFC’s local credentials in Saudi. When discussing this year’s shortlist, judge Islam ElDessouky, Head of Integrated Marketing Communications and Content Marketing at Coca-Cola Middle East, praised KFC for being bold, recognising that changing a global brand’s trademark colour is no easy feat. He added: “Saudi is a proud nation with roots and tradition. For KFC to detach from the red and sow the seed of doubt about the local competition – kudos to them.”

Burger King: Fuelling a cultural debate

Burger King faced hostility in Saudi too: a surge in new QSR joints made the American fast-food brand seem outdated and irrelevant. Launching an enhanced version of the Whopper, Burger King was faced with a linguistic challenge: Arabic lacks the ‘g’ and ‘p’ sounds, making the pronunciation and spelling of ‘burger’ and ‘Whopper’ controversial. Leveraging the serendipitous finding, the brand released content that promoted the new Whopper while fuelling debate on the correct way to say ‘burger’. To end the controversy, it released a new letter which would stand for the correct ‘g’ sound, and featured it across in-store merchandise.

By shifting the focus away from the product and joining a cultural debate, the campaign, through Wunderman Thompson KSA, led Burger King restaurants to achieve an average 4.2% sales increase per store and a 5:1 ROI. 

Local heroes

It’s not just global brands that see the value in keeping it local. In the first-ever MENA Strategy Report, TBWA\RAAD’s former Chief Strategy Officer Rafic Kamaleddine wrote that to succeed in local markets, brands have to “do versus say when a problem presents itself and make people part of the solution rather than just spectators.” This is precisely what Lebanese NGO Beit Al Baraka did with its initiative through FP7 Beirut and FP7 Dubai. Wanting to help the country’s underprivileged elderly, it was faced with their pride and unwillingness to receive charity. To support them in a way that would respect their dignity, Beit Al Baraka created an ecosystem designed to give them back agency: supermarkets, cafes, home renovations and medical help – which would all be accessible through a card charged with donations from partner brands and wealthy individuals. 

The initiatives helped 277 elderly families and continued to enroll 100 additional families every month. Judge Faysal Abdul Malak, General Manager at Wunderman Dubai, praised its sensibility: “They showed a deep understanding of the situation and challenges through doing a lot of groundwork.”

And in Tunisia, local telecoms provider Tunisie Telco devised a programme to offer social coverage to female farmers, a vulnerable target whom the government had failed to cover. Through Wunderman Thompson Tunis, the telco reached farmers through their feature phones, allowing them to open a plan via a simple call and set up daily micro-payments. Workshops met the farmer in their towns, educating them on the benefits of social coverage. The initiative reached 27,000 women and achieved 10,000 registrations. It took a Gold in the Effective Use of Brand Purpose category of the WARC Awards earlier this year.

Understanding a culture also entails knowing its sense of humour, and this year’s shortlist features telcos that have been using witty comms to appeal to a younger audience. In Egypt, in a campaign that entered popular culture, Etisalat Misr promoted its new family plan by imagining a world where every word you speak costs money, while in Saudi, STC advertised the fairness of its plans using a comedian influencer as its mouthpiece.

Whether by local or global brands, geared towards driving social change or connecting through humour, this year’s shortlisted papers are a treasure trove of local insight. And, as previous winners of the Prize show, time invested upfront to unearth strong local insights tend to pay dividends in terms of a robust strategy that leads to effectiveness.