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Saudi Advertising Agencies: Struggling to Find the Right Look - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Advertising agencies in Saudi Arabia targeting local consumers are suffering a lack of suitable Saudi models or aspiring actors and actresses to advertise the various products. Advertisements that appear on television screens only come about after overcoming great difficulties.

The limited number of Saudi actors and actresses in television commercials has compelled advertising agencies to resort to Arab actors and actresses who have Saudi features and who can speak in fluent Saudi dialect to deliver the advertising message. Moreover, most shooting takes place outside of the kingdom where the studios and required technologies are available, in addition to directors, directors of photography (DOP) and producers working in these countries.

According to Najib Horreibi, the marketing director of one of Saudi’s largest advertising agencies, al Montagat al Haditha (Modern Products), “Usually the shooting takes place abroad in other countries such as Dubai, Beirut and Egypt, and recently in South Africa. This is because these countries have extensive experience in the advertising field, in addition to the availability of all the required factors starting from directors and models and at reasonable prices,” he said.

The search for Saudi models is a difficult feat; the advertiser and the advertising expert have to travel abroad to make sure that the models are suitable and that they match the Saudi specifications and features. They usually travel with a bag that includes the traditional Saudi attire and headdress to fit the size specifications of the model.

Horreibi added, “We must create a link between the advertisement and the viewer, which is why both should merge. This only occurs when the viewer accepts the advertisement as a whole, as well as being convinced by the inherent details. The viewer places a lot of emphasis on the models accent and appearance, even more so than on the actual advertisement itself, especially because it is frequently broadcast. We must not forget that the viewer is intelligent.”

“Along with the advertising agency we visit various casting agencies, which offer a large range of potential actors and actresses. These agencies are on the lookout for models with Saudi physical features and can mimic the Saudi dialect. This is the case in the Abu Fawaz family advertisement; it’s a Syrian family,” explained Horreibi.

In terms of the tests required for qualification, Horreibi said, “Usually they are professional models who are acting academy graduates, as opposed to Saudi models who have only just recently appeared on the scene.” This latter group can best be exemplified through the Saudi woman who appears in the ‘Bonex’ washing detergent advertisement. “Zakia acted competently in this advertisement, which is why we cast her in more of the agency’s advertisements. This is also the reason behind her higher rates in comparison with others,” he added.

After shooting the advertisement, a Saudi voice is dubbed over the speech content. This process takes place in Saudi sound institutions, according to Youssef Talib the creative director of ‘Wid’ Company for artistic production. He said, “ Because of the absence of casting agencies to provide actors and actresses in Saudi Arabia, we are at least required to provide Saudi voices [to dub over]. Through their friends and acquaintances, employees at the agency try to encourage young Saudi men and women or others who know the Saudi dialect to record advertisements in their own voices.”

In terms of the prices for these voices, Talib explained, “A first job ranges from 500-1,000 Saudi Riyals (SAR) but if they are professionals, such as broadcasters, then their pay could go up to SAR 3,000 or more.” The main problem they face according to Talib is that “the majority of people who record their voices professionally do not commit to working hours, as they consider the job to be a form of entertainment.”

Talib says he is sometimes obliged to provide Saudi male or female models for an advertising company, “If the advertisers doesn’t find the right person who has Saudi features and a good grasp of the accent then they are forced to search for a young Saudi citizen, or a resident with a fluent accent. We try to search for them and encourage them. To be quite honest, we are getting a positive response from the young men and women alike,” he said

He attributes that positive response to the financial rewards, which can amount to SAR 5,000, in addition to the fact that some youth are after fame and want to see their pictures displayed everywhere. However, Talib confirms, “It is obligatory that we receive the parents’ approval before we work with a model and we have no problems if they chose to accompany us while shooting on location – even if it is abroad. This costs advertisers a lot, which is why they prefer to simplify the process by using non-Saudi models.”

Iman Bakr Younis, the director of Moon Production Company, agrees with Talib regarding the fact that Saudi models do not commit to working hours, she says, “They do not have sufficient awareness or knowledge about the details of advertisements; they agree to act for the sake of entertainment and nothing else.”

Younis expanded her company, which first was only a production house, into becoming an advertising agency. Her objective was, “to create a 100 percent Saudi advertisement,” she said.

As for the prices of Saudi models, she said, “This varies in accordance with the acting abilities and the advertisements requirements. In radio broadcast, the range is usually SAR 300-1,000, while in television the rates are SAR 3,000-7,000, and in photography it can reach up to SAR 1,000.

Qaswara al-Khatib, the director of Full Stop Advertising and Promotion Agency, agrees with Younis as to the importance of creating a purely Saudi advertisement regardless of the potential obstacles. “Achieving that objective would mean success but achieving such objectives means one will be faced by difficulties. However, there are many young men and women who are not against acting in advertisements. The great thing is that I can now shoot the complete advertisement in Saudi Arabia and with a complete Saudi crew,” he said.

Many advertising companies are encouraging employees to participate in these advertisements and are offering them increased salaries.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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