What is Influencer Marketing?
The strategy of influencer marketing uses a personality or celebrity to promote your brand to a larger audience, some well-known examples include Serena Williams for Gatorade and Jennifer Aniston for Emirates Airline. Hiring celebrities as brand ambassadors has been a successful marketing strategy for some time but as social media gains popularity, companies are choosing alternative ambassadors over the significant cost of A-list celebrities.
Across several channels, countless social media profiles have gained loyal followings. With thousands, sometimes millions of viewers, these profiles have significant power and influence, making them an attractive investment for companies looking to increase brand awareness and product sales. This practice is beginning to take off in the Middle East in particular, as social media usage is skyrocketing in the past five years. For the purpose of this article, we will look at YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat and identify what makes these platforms opportunistic as well as looking at specific examples of users who are promoting brands on their accounts.
The world’s most popular video content site was one of the first sources for influencer marketing. Video content is almost always viewed in full-screen mode, a selling point for many brands as their product is more likely to be seen without other on-screen distractions. YouTube is particularly popular in countries that have strict censorship laws because YouTube is one of the only uncensored entertainment sources. YouTube’s popularity in the region is so significant that the website launched Mosalsalat, a channel featuring iconic Arab television series. Shows and episodes are searchable by country of origin, title, and genre and date back to the 1960s. Saudi Arabia has the highest YouTube penetration per capita than any other country in the world and is home to some of the most popular channels in the Middle East.
Two of the most popular channels in KSA are EyshElly and Sa7i. Both are centered around social commentary with a comedic twist and both use influencer marketing. Appearing at the beginning of several EyshElly videos, Honor Arabia, a smartphone e-commerce company has gained significant brand awareness thanks to the millions of views on the popular Saudi channel. Host Badr Saleh also shot an episode at a Nissan dealer, asking people about a particular model and mentioning several of its appealing features. Sa7i features several different brands at the beginning of their videos, promoting Mountain Dew, Honor Arabia, Pepsi, Huawei Mobile, Myrkott Animation Studio, and more.
YouTube has been a popular platform for beauty vloggers, such as Maya Ahmad from Lebanon and Huda Kattan from UAE, though she is originally Iraqi. Both use their channels to give makeup tutorials and general beauty advice. Because this is the basis for her videos, Ahmad’s channel features hundreds of products, including a Perfume of the Month which has become one of her most loyally-followed series of videos. She also noticeably promotes Smashbox Cosmetics with several videos featuring their various products with both her opinion, results, and clear messaging. Kattan’s channel Huda Beauty similarly promotes products in depth, including R&Co Thickening Hairspray and Embryolisse Lait Creme. Huda also runs some of the most popular Instagram and Snapchat accounts in the region, where she also features products.
Noon Al Niswa, wildly popular in its home country of Saudi Arabia and other surrounding nations, uses YouTube as a place to discuss social issues from a woman’s perspective. One of the only female-run comedy shows in the conservative Kingdom, Hatoon Kadi has made a name for herself and others by making her audience laugh while being critical of the social expectations of women and political situations in her home country. The show’s success is evident not only in its more than 25 million views but also in gaining big-name sponsors such as Orange Bed and Bath and Goody Kitchen. With women as the overwhelming majority audience, Noon Al Niswa offers brands an opportunity to advertise to a very specific audience.
As of 2015, there were 25 million Instagram users in the Middle East, a number that has likely increased by millions since then. Again, Saudi Arabia has the most users in the region per capita. Growth in the region was 14% from 2014 to 2015 and likely increasing at a similar rate in the next year. Instagram’s various features allow influencers to promote products both by posting a photo to their page permanently and also by posting a “story,” which is viewable to users for 24 hours.
Latifa Lshamsi from Dubai is a fashion, food and travel blogger, gaining popularity in a short period of time. Because of the diversity of her profile, Latifa is able to promote several different types of brands including hotels, airlines, restaurants, clothing, and more. Some of her notable endorsements include the popular brand Dior and Fairy Dishwashing Soap, for which she has promoted on several platforms. Taim Al Falasi, also native to Dubai, runs a popular (2.3 million followers) profile featuring food, travel, and lifestyle posts. Her diverse profile has also allowed her to promote several products, with some of her favorite being Volt restaurant and Downy Unstoppables scent booster.
Sherif Fayed, an Egyptian-American actor, television host, and model has become an Instagram and Snapchat icon in the Arab world. The nature of his lifestyle has allowed him to feature various products including GoPro cameras and Magic Star Karaoke game as well as several restaurants including Stuffed Burger Co and Origami Sushi. Fayed’s popularity among several different audiences makes him an appealing choice for a brand ambassador.
Dana Al Khalifa from Bahrain has made a name for herself in the fashion/beauty world with her Instagram handle @theoverdressed. Widely followed across the Arab world and beyond, Dana tends to feature smaller name brands such as Purple Patchouli boutique and nail salon, Green Bar beauty oils, and Suzanne Kalan Jewelry to her 58,000 followers. Nadya Hasan, style blogger native to Dubai, has become a household name in the Arab fashion realm through her social media popularity. Notably promoting handbags such as Prada and Dior’s latest lines, Nadya has also featured Bliss Flowers, Sephora products, and Stuart Weitzman shoes to name a few. With nearly 150,000 followers and significant credibility in the style world, Nadya has earned multiple brand contracts thanks to her loyal following.
Snapchat is on the rise in the Middle East, predominantly among younger generations. By using influencer marketing with this platform, companies are able to reach users in their own environment. Many users will follow influencer accounts long before they take note of the products they are promoting, building a “relationship” with the personality they are following. This “relationship” grows in strength with time, gaining the influencer power and notoriety and therefore they are perceived as credible. With Snapchat usage tripling in just two years in UAE and KSA, brands should consider using influencer marketing to reach this sizable audience.
Yalda Golsharifi from Kuwait, who also has 826,000 Instagram followers, has gained a loyal Snapchat following. A former fashion editor, Golsharifi continues to use her credibility to promote clothing and beauty products as well as her own clothing brand, Madame Bijouxx. While her Instagram features mostly fashion products, she uses her Snapchat to also feature smaller businesses and restaurants such as Miss Selfridge Middle East clothes, Vigonovo Restaurant, and Cereal Killer Cafe.
Diala Makki is a Persian-Lebanese producer, journalist and TV host living in Dubai. As a popular public figure, she has gained significant attention and has begun to promote products on both Instagram and Snapchat. Because of her many public appearances, Makki often shows her followers what she is wearing or products she is using to prepare for such events, such as Roger Dubuis watches, Akillis jewelry, and beauty products like Obagi’s Clarifying Serum.
Saudi-Lebanese stylist Alanoud Badr has gained popularity on Snapchat and Instagram, posting style advice and lifestyle recommendations such as healthy food options and workout routines. As well as promoting her gym and trainer, Badr uses Snapchat to endorse Ouai beauty products, Breaky To Go smoothies, and Narsissist makeup brand. Badr has managed to use multiple social media profiles to promote her own brand while also taking on new big-name endorsements and becoming well-known in her home city of Dubai and beyond.
The current host of Project Runway Middle East, Jessica Kahawaty, has used her television popularity to gain an online following. The Lebanese-Australian host now resides in Dubai. Fairly popular before her latest job due to her time competing in beauty pageants, Kahawaty has a sizable and diverse following with 259,000 Instagram followers. Though she has endorsed several beauty products and clothing brands, her most notable partnership that is often displayed on her Snapchat is IWC Schaffhausen watches. Kahawaty consistently show various pieces from their collection, offering narration on a particular piece’s features as well as her own opinions and favorite pieces, making the endorsement more personal and legitimate than a simple product placement.
Mahmoud Sidani, known more commonly as “Mr. Moudz,” is a fashion icon in the Arab world. Sidani is arguably the most influential male fashion voice in the Middle East. Though fashion is his expertise, he promotes various brands and companies on his Snapchat, which is more informal than his Instagram. One such promotion is Belle Enfance, a kids hair salon in addition to more well-known brand such as Armani watches and Qatar Airways.
Each of these social media options offer valuable features that makes investing in influencer marketing a profitable marketing strategy. The inarguable popularity of YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat in the Arab world is evident and each is continuing to gain popularity. Popular personalities on social media are followed very closely with loyal, devoted audiences. These strong relationships formed between a follower and the profile owner give the latter a power to influence their audience. An influencer is particularly credible if they are seen as an expert in the field of the product they are promoting, hence the frequency of beauty products endorsed by fashion and style professionals. This type of endorsement also promotes authenticity in endorsements, as it is believable that the influencer honestly uses and enjoys the product. As these social media outlets gain unprecedented popularity in the Middle East, influencer marketing has the potential to be an extremely profitable and opportunistic way to build brand awareness and generate sales in this largely unpenetrated market.
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