In particular a burgeoning youth population is seeking the means of self-expression and challenging long held beliefs. The outcome of this uncertainty is a changing face to the Middle East, striving to hold on to a distinct identity of its own whilst taking up the opportunity to be part of the global community that the new media freedoms and frankness presents.
“We must define the future for ourselves… we have to look beyond trendy clothes and focus on the future that technology and new ways of thinking can bring us….… the world is changing and so must we.”
- Saudi female, 18-24
Although such a quote could be expected from adolescent youth in the West, this is more surprising perhaps, and even more so from a female teenager in Saudi, in summarising the role that youth in the Middle East nowadays expect to play in shaping their own future and hence the future for the region.
While the exact proportion of the youth population varies slightly country by country, everywhere they are a very significant segment – e.g. in Saudi Arabia 67% are under 25 years of age – the result of a baby boom beginning in the 1970s and continuing through into the 1990s triggered by a dramatic drop in infant mortalities coupled with high fertility.
The symbols of modern life – satellite TV, internet, cell phones, and higher education – are connecting them to a world their parents never knew. However, on the downside, unemployment in some countries is as high as 30% and there has also often been a drop in real incomes in the past few years.
Therefore some of the youth today laments how their parents missed out on opportunities to create a better life when they had the means to do so, as they were the first generation to live through an ‘era of oil money’. These youth therefore strongly believe it is time for them to move on and learn from their global counterparts. They are aware that the world is changing and they want to change their societies to be more in line with some aspects of it.
Such an attitude has created quite dramatic changes in the way youth think and behave, and they are searching both inwardly and outwardly for a new direction and a voice. In the process they are redefining what expectations they should have from life and the way they think. Many are looking for a modern lifestyle which merges aspects of the West but with a distinct flavour from their own country, still respecting the essence of their own culture and traditions.
The complexity posed by the largest country in the Arabian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, makes the task of identifying these changing trends particularly challenging. Saudis in particular, and the more conservative of the Gulf Arabs elsewhere, often have two parallel words – the public outside world and their private in-home world. Macro socio-cultural trends are more apparent today as the private world has become more accessible than in the past. However, micro-trends at the individual consumer level still tend to be internalised and not so apparent, since the overall attitudinal norms in the more devout segment of society remains insular.
We believe we have been able to penetrate these complexities through an ongoing interface programme with young consumers, identifying trends in their behaviour. The Al Taqqarub (Connecting with Consumers) programme over the last few years has helped bring marketers closer to the youth of both sexes and to understand their private worlds better.
Various innovative methodologies and activities were used in this interface programme to reveal changing attitudes and values.
Unabashed consumerism, a passion for technology, a need to have fun, hope and trust in what the future might hold, self-confidence and a sense of identity, wanting to make the world a better place to live, and an awareness and respect for global icons make the “New World’’ Arab youth very much part of a global youth culture. They share the universal dream of a good life with a rewarding career (not just jobs), having satisfying family and personal relationships, enjoying rich experiences, a sense of personal freedom and self-expression, and, of course, like teenagers everywhere, the want for lots of consumer goods.
But in the journey towards being a global consumer, this New World young Gulf Arab consumer generally has not lost sight of his/her roots. They have their feet firmly on the ground, a reassuring sense of reality and cultural identification. Modernism without “Westoxification” symbolises this fast developing consumer segment. They want to indulge in behaviour that displays self-confidence, which might make them an approved role model with their peers. Largely they are steering the change they aspire to in a moderate and non-rebellious way.
“We want the kind of freedoms that the Americans enjoy i.e. freedom of speech, democracy and progress, but rooted in Islamic values.
- Saudi male, 18-24
“It is about striking the right balance between Islam and a modern way of life.”
- Saudi female,18-24
The new values and attitude systems they are adopting makes the Gulf Arab youth market ideal torchbearers for many brands. Brands provide a badge of identity and are a passport to global culture, especially significant during times of change with all the uncertainty and difficulties that brings. Managing brands such that they resonate these changes in consumer values and attitudes, especially those of the huge young populations in the region, can enable multinational marketers to ride the crest of this particular consumer wave.
“Brand names are important because in an age of information overload, consumers want assurance that they are making the right judgements that will enhance their identity. A brand says a lot about who they are and where they stand in life.”
- Elissa Moses
Wednesday, April 20- 2005 @ 9:12 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.