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How to engage the Arab consumers: interview with Digital Republic

02 Apr 2014

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Digital Republic is a “Digitally inspired ad agency” based in Cairo and Dubai. Started in 2009 as a mobile advertising agency, Digital Republic works now with several consumer clients all across Middle East, and won several international awards.

One of the most important campaigns run by the agency was the launch of Molto Cheese in Egypt in 2011, with the multimedia campaign Akbar Khabar (in collaboration with agency Fortune Promoseven). The power of the campaign resided in the strong tie-ins with Egyptian culture and society.

References to the post-Arab Spring context – when social media and real time news were exploding in Egypt – were matched with a clever usage of irony in the communication tone. Here’s the campaign:

 

 

The campaign was a huge success, and that’s what we’ll be talking about today: how to reach and engage the online Arab consumers. We interviewed Karim Khalifa, CEO & founder of Digital Republic, to understand how they became one of the most interesting creative agencies in Egypt and in the whole Middle East.

Here’s what he told us. 

 

– Hi Karim, when did you decide to start Digital Republic, and why?

Hi! We opened in June 2009, primarily focused as a Mobile advertising agency. We soon realised that we were too early for the market on that (apps barely existed!) so the agency morphed into an online, total digital solutions provider – driven by market demand.

My background was in mobile internet, mobile advertising and technology product management in general, and I had already created some “industry firsts” in Egypt through previous roles, so I decided it was time to go it alone and see how it pans out!

 

– What kind of clients do you work with, and what are the main markets?

We work with all industry segments: retail, automotive, real estate… but with a major focus on FMCG, with brands like Knorr and Nestlé properties. Our main markets are Egypt, GCC (Gulf Cooperation Countries, editor’s note) countries, the overall MENA region. In order of focus, we cover Egypt, Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Morocco.

 

Facebook Middle East

 

 

– How big is the Arabic-speaking market at the global level, and what’s the impact of Internet in this area?

The impact is very big globally, there are a lot of Arabic speakers online in the Middle East, as well as resident all over the world. There are 300 million Arabic speakers worldwide; to put that into perspective, English speakers are 360 million worldwide.

 

– What’s the best way to engage the online audiences in Egypt and North Africa today, and where?

Social media and mobile are the two “killer” platforms to reach users in MENA, no doubt. And of course content websites are extremely important too. It is always crucial to make your message locally, culturally relevant.

 

– Can you give us an example of a campaign that worked particularly good in the MENA digital context? 

Sure: we created the Axe Wingman campaign for Valentine’s day last year. In the Arab world it’s generally taboo to talk about hooking up. On the other hand, women love Valentine’s Day, and for guys it’s an opportunity to prove to the special one that they love her.

So before Valentine’s Day we asked the Axe Middle East Facebook fans to write us about the one they love. We chose the best fan’s comment each day, and wrote, recorded and shot a personalised song for him – all of it in just 4 hours! – to help them asking the classic question: “Will you be my Valentine?” in an unforgettable way.

To get a better idea, check out the presentation video:

 

 

The campaign has been a huge success, especially considering it was only active in the Gulf area, with 150,000 hits in the first two weeks and a record engagement on Facebook. You can check out all the videos of Axe Wingman on the Axe Middle East Youtube channel (the Axe Wingman campaign run in 2013 and also in February 2014, editor’s note).

 

– Last question: the numbers of social media in Egypt are skyrocketing. In your opinion, what will be the main digital trends in 2014?

Trends going into 2014 will be social on mobile, particularly including Instagram and Twitter, as smartphone penetration continues to rocket in this region. M-commerce and e-commerce will also continue to grow fast in the MENA region.

 

– Thanks Karim!

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.

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