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Present and Future of Digital Marketing in Middle East

April 21, 2015
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Digital marketing/New Age marketing has removed the elitism from marketing. Marketing is more egalitarian now. In the pre-digital marketing era, it was the brand with the larger stick which held sway. The power equations have changed today. Brands/ companies can now invest in digital marketing campaigns regardless of their budget, pay per user action/ intent, tweak targeting matrices & measure responses in real time. Pull based marketing has scored over traditional push marketing. Marketing is now a level playing field.

Let us have a look at some staggering facts about growth of digital in Middle East


According to eMarketer’s latest Global Media Intelligence report, Mobile phone usage is skyrocketing in the Middle East and Africa, and the region is expected to account for the second-largest mobile phone population of any region in the world.

Smartphone have become ubiquitous in the region accounting for 65% of the mobiles in the top 3 markets (KSA with a 63% penetration of smartphones, Qatar with a 70% penetration, and UAE with a 74% penetration), and almost 40% across the region.

This gives a huge opportunity for the marketers to reach their consumers on the go as the availability of information becomes handy with the consumers.

Digital Advertising Market

As the population in Middle East is becoming more and more internet savvy, the ad market continues to grow in the region.

A global report from consultants PwC on the state of the media and entertainment industry forecasts the spend on internet advertising in the Arab world to grow from roughly $707 million in 2013 to $2.46 billion in 2018 as the number of Arabs using smart phones continues to increase and more & more advertisers buy space next to online videos.

advertising spend in Middle east predictions

The spending on the mobile, display, search and video ads are driven by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf.

Mobile advertising revenue is expected to reach $494 million in U.A.E which is four times more than the display advertising.

The share of ad expenditure in the Middle East within the global ad expenditure

ad expenditure in Middle east compared to world spend

Search Engines

Google- 90% of the market share when it comes to search engines.

Yahoo Maktoob - Yahoo acquired Maktoob in 2009(a popular web portal) and has a strong market presence after Google.

Bing - Bing has also been in the consideration list owing to Microsoft reputation and Arabs special affection to Hotmail.

Recently China’s Baidu and Russia’s Yandex, the largest search engines in their countries, are taking their first tentative steps towards penetrating the Middle East market.

Amidst the popular search engines, there are few transliteration platforms allowing users to type Arabic without an Arabic keyboard converting words typed with Latin characters to their closest Arabic equivalent, Yamli, Eiktub and Yoolki.

Social Media

Social Media boom in ME has catered a lot to the overall digital growth in the region. Apart from the normal users and companies, the governments have also shown a huge opportunity in this medium to connect to the people.

The lead was taken by UAE government who launched a unified Instagram account promising behind-the-scenes footage of government work, including "on-the-spot information" from Cabinet meetings.

Below is the quick fact sheet about social media explosion in the region

– 40.2% of the total Middle East population accesses the web.

– 88% of this online population uses social networking daily.

– In the Middle East, 65% of users are men, 35% are women.

– 36% of them are aged between 18 and 24 years.

– Facebook is the most popular social network with 94% of the Middle East’s social media users who are on Facebook.

– LinkedIn counts over 5.8 million users from the Middle East.

– There are 258 million daily views on YouTube. 90 million of them from KSA.

– 6.5 million Users from the Middle East are on Twitter: 3.7 million are active users.

– Arabs produce around 10 million tweets every day.

– UAE has the highest penetration rate for Facebook 44%.

– KSA has a penetration rate of 33% for Twitter. It is the highest penetration of Twitter in the whole world.

– Jordan has the highest penetration rate of social networks across Internet users: 88%.

– UAE has the highest LinkedIn penetration with 1.6 million users: A number that has increased by 45% in only 1 year.

Fuelled by smartphones and a love for visual communication, the photo sharing website will see a faster adoption curve in many sub-markets. In some markets like Lebanon, it will overtake Twitter for the first time to become the second most popular social network. Apart from the major social media players, personal messaging apps are seeing a sharp rise in numbers. WhatsApp and Snapchat account for 10% of mobile data traffic in the region and this percentage is expected to increase in the coming year.


Middle East has one of the world’s fastest growing internet population and e-commerce markets.

The PayPal Insights: e-commerce in the Middle East report conducted in conjunction with Ipsos shows that the Middle East’s online commerce market grew 29% from $7 billion in 2011 to $9 billion in 2012. The online commerce market is predicted to reach $15 billion in 2015 and YOY growth proves that the market is on track to meet the projected growth figures. The growth was driven by a massive jump in the Middle East’s online commerce population, as well as a flood of local retailers coming online and offering local consumers what they could only have found outside of the region before.

According to the report in 2012, there were over 30 million people shopping online in the Middle East, an increase of 20% from 2011. Given that there were over 110 million internet users in 2012 (and over 120 million in 2013), almost 30% of these internet users are now active buyers online.

In KSA, e-commerce is projected to increase from 1.00Bn USD (3.8Bn SAR) in 2012 to 2.70Bn USD (9.9Bn SAR) in 2015. M-commerce in KSA is projected to increase from just under 0.10Bn USD (0.4Bn SAR) to over 0.70Bn USD (2.6Bn SAR) in the same time period, driven by a rise in sales through tablets. Smartphone users constituted 26% of KSA mobile shoppers while Tablet users constituted 13%. 66% of KSA online users purchased online in 2012.

In Qatar, e-commerce is forecast to increase from 0.70Bn USD (2.6Bn QAR) in 2012 to 1.25Bn USD (4.6Bn QAR) in 2015. M-commerce is forecast to increase from a little bit less than 0.1Bn USD (0.4Bn QAR) to over 0.45Bn USD (1.7Bn QAR) in the same time period, driven by a rise in sales through smartphones. Smartphone users constituted 4% of mobile purchase behavior while Tablet users constituted 6%. 28% of Qatari online users purchased online in 2012.

In UAE, e-commerce currently stands at 2.90Bn USD (10.7BnAED), and is expected to grow to 5.10Bn (USD 18.7Bn AED) in 2015. From its current base supported by high smartphone penetration, m-commerce is predicted to grow to nearly 1.50Bn USD (5.5BnAED) by 2015 and will be driven up by a rise in Tablet penetration and purchases.

The top segments in which people are doing the purchase online are Travel, Consumer electronics, Computers, Jewelry / watches, fashion, food & drink etc.

Source: PayPal

The Middle East market has been slow in adopting the changes sweeping across the digital marketing spectrum as compared to the other regions growth. However the inflection point has come and the market tends to give more opportunities to the consumers as well as marketers to grow.


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