Con­nect­ing with the Maghreb’s Gen­er­a­tion Z

Teenagers and young adults in Tu­nisia, Al­ge­ria and Morocco are as dig­i­tally savvy and so­cially ac­tive as any­where, yet the re­gion re­mains at the bot­tom of re­gional ad­spend. Eleanor Dickinson asks what op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­ist for brands

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The re­gion’s youth are dig­i­tally savvy and so­cially ac­tive yet North Africa re­mains near the bot­tom of MENA ad­spend.

The iden­tity of the Maghreb re­gion is one that is of­ten called into ques­tion. Viewed as nei­ther truly ‘African’ nor ‘Arab’, the former French colonies of Morocco, Tu­nisia and Al­ge­ria may ex­ist ge­o­graph­i­cally in the ‘North Africa’ of MENA, but are still re­garded as some­what ‘other’ – both lin­guis­ti­cally and cul­tur­ally – by the Mid­dle East, de­spite their shared lan­guage and re­li­gion. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the re­gion re­mains a low pri­or­ity for ad­spend and in­vest­ment. How­ever, signs sug­gest the in­dus­try may fi­nally be tak­ing no­tice.

Dentsu Aegis Network re­cently con­ducted a ma­jor re­search pro­ject look­ing at the re­gion’s youth – specif­i­cally those aged be­tween 15 and 19. Of the Maghreb’s swelling pop­u­la­tion of 87 mil­lion peo­ple, youth form an enor­mous portion; roughly a quar­ter are aged un­der 30, and about 7.5 per cent are in Dentsu Aegis’ cho­sen de­mo­graphic. “The rea­son we fo­cused on the par­tic­u­lar age bracket of 15-19 years old is to cap­ture cer­tain fac­tors that in­flu­ence this tran­si­tional phase of life,” says the re­search re­port.

“It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand what these teens are think­ing, what they like and what their lives are like so we can bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with them and ap­peal to the game chang­ers of mod­ern Maghreb.”

Raed Omar, head of re­search at Dentsu Aegis Network MENA, says: “De­spite, or per­haps be­cause of, the im­mense dis­rup­tion that has taken place in these mar­kets over re­cent years, there is a sig­nif­i­cant data gap when it comes to me­dia con­sump­tion and dig­i­tal be­hav­iour of con­sumers. Un­like main MENA mar­kets, Maghreb does not en­joy the same at­ten­tion from a me­dia and mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive. De­spite their large pop­u­la­tion sizes and strong con­nec­tions in both trade and cul­ture with Euro­pean coun­tries, there is still a per­cep­tion of these states be­ing less de­vel­oped. Nat­u­rally, this af­fects the amount and ac­cu­racy of data avail­able, es­pe­cially for the teenage and young adult de­mo­graphic.”

Mounir Chk­ouri, deputy man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at FP7 Casablanca, agrees: “Maghreb is usu­ally not the first pri­or­ity when it comes to in­vest­ment in me­dia, es­pe­cially in case of bud­get cuts.”

“Global wins over re­gional, and over the po­ten­tial of coun­tries and their pos­si­ble ex­pected out­come. While there is a huge po­ten­tial, brands are only scratch­ing the sur­face of it," he says. “Many op­por­tu­ni­ties are avail­able in the Maghreb, as many fac­tors co­in­cide to pro­vide a breed­ing ground for dig­i­tal ex­po­sure and fur­ther ex­po­nen­tial growth. The younger gen­er­a­tion is more prom­i­nent in the age struc­ture of the Maghreb re­gion, which is a good sign re­gard­ing the con­sump­tion of dig­i­tal con­tent in the re­gion.”

There is good rea­son mar­ket­ing in the re­gion is un­der­de­vel­oped. Eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial in­sta­bil­ity across the re­gion pose an un­cer­tain fu­ture for the re­gion’s teenagers – and per­haps con­trib­ute to the in­dus­try’s ap­par­ent lack of in­ter­est. Tu­nisia, for ex­am­ple, has never truly re­cov­ered from the tur­moil of the 2011 Arab Spring, and the mas­sacre of 38 Euro­peans in a beach re­sort near Sousse in June last year has crip­pled the country’s vi­tal tourism in­dus­try. Al­ge­ria has suf­fered heav­ily from the ef­fects of the global oil price plunge.

In both coun­tries, youth un­em­ploy­ment is high and grad­u­ate prospects are low. Though largely un­scathed by the tur­bu­lence of 2011, Morocco’s eco­nomic progress re­mains tied to its largely rain-fed agri­cul­tural in­dus­try, and is sub­ject

“It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand what these teens are think­ing, what they like and what their lives are like so we can bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with them and ap­peal to the game-chang­ers.”

to sud­den surges fol­lowed by deep dips. But things are chang­ing.

“The Arab Spring just five years ago af­fected con­sumer con­fi­dence and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, with high un­em­ploy­ment and ris­ing costs of liv­ing cre­ated frus­tra­tion and a wave of anger in Tu­nisia, but with po­lit­i­cal and so­cial reper­cus­sions else­where,” says Omar. “This, com­bined with a global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and wide­spread rev­o­lu­tions, has led to un­prece­dented change across North Africa.

“The growth of mo­bile net­works, adop­tion of smart­phones, the pen­e­tra­tion of high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess and the rise of so­cial me­dia – and with it an abil­ity for pre­vi­ously iso­lated groups to pro­duce their own con­tent and share it with the masses – paved the way for the his­toric and rev­o­lu­tion­ary events that took place trig­gered by a youth-based cit­i­zen awak­en­ing. The youth were –

and still are – at the heart of these move­ments, driv­ing for­ward po­lit­i­cal and so­cial trans­for­ma­tions as they call for so­cial jus­tice and free­dom.

“Not only is the Gen­er­a­tion Z of the Maghreb dig­i­tally savvy, they are also used to tech­nol­ogy, dig­i­tal and so­cial me­dia be­ing a lib­er­a­tor for them and giv­ing them a voice. Ar­guably they have been and will con­tinue to be more in­flu­en­tial on the world around them com­pared with Gen­er­a­tion Y (mil­len­ni­als). As mar­keters, it is vi­tal for us to un­der­stand this group of in­di­vid­u­als whose in­flu­ence will con­tinue to shape a key part of the MENA re­gion.”

Across the whole Mid­dle East, the big­gest dig­i­tal game changer has been the smart­phone. This year’s Arab Youth Sur­vey, in which PR agency Asda’a Bur­son Marsteller ex­am­ined the be­hav­iour of 18- to 24-year-olds, found smart­phone own­er­ship is 85 per cent in Al­ge­ria, 90 per cent in Tu­nisia and 97 per cent in Morocco. Smart­phone us­age in these coun­tries also falls in line with other Arab youth; so­cial networking, par­tic­u­larly on Face­book, is a pop­u­lar pas­time, with roughly 80 per cent check­ing their ac­counts on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

YouTube watch time across all mar­kets is grow­ing, and gam­ing has be­come the most pop­u­lar hobby among the teenage mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Dentsu Aegis.

“There is more of a ‘lean-back’ at­ti­tude to so­cial me­dia as most of their vir­tual ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude watch­ing con­tent, lik­ing posts, or shar­ing con­tent, com­pared with a more ‘lean-in’ ap­proach: cre­at­ing, cus­tomis­ing or up­load­ing con­tent,” says Omar. “Pic­tures, funny videos and images, sta­tus up­dates and news are the most com­monly shared con­tent across Maghreb teens. It is also no sur­prise that they em­brace the ex­pres­sive side of so­cial me­dia with nearly half in Morocco and Al­ge­ria agree­ing with the premise ‘you are what you share’. This rises to two-thirds in Tu­nisia, per­haps ow­ing to how deeply con­nected to the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cli­mate Tu­nisian teenagers are.”

As in the rest of the world, tele­vi­sion also plays a vi­tal role in Maghreb youths’ lives. It is their main source of news, ac­cord­ing to the Arab Youth Sur­vey, and a key form of in-home en­ter­tain­ment, es­pe­cially pan-Arab chan­nels such as MBC2 and MBC Ac­tion.

How­ever, Omar says: “As ex­pected, their smart­phones of­fer a far more re­ward­ing and rel­e­vant en­gage­ment ex­pe­ri­ence than TV. They have be­come the new pri­or­ity and new ad­dic­tion as is the case with the ma­jor­ity of 15-19 year olds in de­vel­oped or de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Many feel that the in­ter­net gives them the op­por­tu­nity to freely ex­press their opin­ion and makes them feel in con­trol.”

At the core of these youths’ so­cial spheres is mu­sic; Omar calls it the “Num­ber 1 pas­sion across all mar­kets”. On av­er­age , he says, 72 per cent of teenagers down­load new mu­sic ei­ther daily or weekly.

“For decades, mu­sic has been a com­fort­able ally in mar­ket­ing, whether we think about a TV ad sound­track, con­tent or in­flu­encer part­ner­ship or prize in­cen­tive,” he adds. “What makes the typ­i­cal and ob­vi­ous task of ‘en­sur­ing mu­sic is part of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions DNA’ a bit trick­ier in Maghreb is the uni­ver­sal pref­er­ence of rap and hip-hop – whether it’s English, US, French or even lo­cally pro­duced. Rap mu­sic wired the re­gion’s po­lit­i­cal pulse dur­ing the Arab Spring as un­der­ground artists blasted beats to the streets dur­ing protests and made tracks that soon be­came protest an­thems.

“How­ever, the back­ground from which this genre gained trac­tion, as well as the raw, pow­er­ful and emo­tion­ally in­spired ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the artists them­selves, means that it’s hard to match them in a cre­ative sense.

“Brands at­tempt­ing to form a closer as­so­ci­a­tion with the cul­ture of mu­sic will strug­gle to feel au­then­tic and cred­i­ble.”

Ad­ver­tis­ers seek­ing to con­nect with Maghreb youth will need to tai­lor their mes­sag­ing to a com­plex and sub­tle au­di­ence. “With ac­cess to the right re­search and data,” he adds, “brands have a much bet­ter chance of stand­ing out from the clus­ter of tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing, which these kids have be­come im­mune to, and res­onate with an in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial tar­get au­di­ence.”

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