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Saudi Advertisements: Which Dialect Dominates? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- In Saudi Arabia, one can convey the same meaning by using the differing dialects of the Hijaz or Najd. Saudi advertisers usually run into trouble with copyeditors regarding the dialect of choice to be used in commercials and for promotional phrases as the product is intended for consumers all over Saudi Arabia.

However, according to some marketing directors from Saudi companies and advertising agents, dialect remains one of the obstacles for Saudi commercials and causes some adverts to be produced twice; once using the Hijaz dialect and another using that of the Najd because a consumer in the western region of Saudi Arabia may not accept commercials that use a dialect that differs to their own and vice versa. Moreover, an advertiser of a local product or a product of a Gulf state who is using print media is often compelled to use the same promotional slogan using the respective dialects of the countries, which means advertising by using the Kuwaiti, Omani and Saudi dialects. This is what Hosam Abdul Qader, the director general of marketing at Saudi Arabia’s Al Marai believes, stressing that the problem with choosing the dialect for published advertisements or television commercials has recently prompted advertisers to come up with an advertisement that pleases everyone, using symbols and figures to advertise their “strawberry juice” product.

Hosam told Asharq Al Awsat, “Choosing the dialect is not a problem if we opt for a simple and common phrase that is intelligible to the Saudi consumer and Arab residents in Saudi Arabia. But the same consumer may or may not accept the advertisement because he/she feels that the advertisement is not directed at them.”

According to Hosam, it is not advisable to use modern standard Arabic in marketing advertisements because “an important goal of advertising is to create a direct connection between the producer and consumer and because we speak to each other using colloquial Arabic, this is the language that ought to be used [in advertisements].”

With regards to advertising international brands and why the Saudi dialects, particularly that of the Hijaz is used, Hosam states, “Before advertising, international companies conduct research into the relation between the Arab consumer market and the product and according to the information gained, the advertisement is produced and directed at this market, for example at the Saudi market. The choice of dialect to be used is included in the information, and at times, the dialect of the Hijaz is used because it is easily understood by the Arab consumers in general in the same way that the Egyptian dialect is.”

Najeeb Huraibi, the marketing director of the company that produces ‘Fairy’ [washing-up liquid] shares this opinion. He states that as it is easily understood in all Saudi regions and in GCC and Arab states, the Hijaz dialect is dominant in Saudi commercials, adding that the main offices of the producing and advertising companies as well as advertising agents are based in Jeddah.

The commercial that advertises Fairy that uses the characters of the Abu Fawwaz family, which has been showing for four years using the Jeddah dialect, is one Saudi commercial that enjoys widespread popularity. “Response to the commercial by the consumer is on the rise, especially in the central region despite the use of the Jeddah dialect in the script,” al Huraibi asserted.

Concerning the slogans that are used in published advertisements, al Huraibi says, “We try to use a simple phrase that would not die out quickly. The success of a promotional phrase is measured by its popularity amongst the people. For example, when the word “superpower” comes up in a conversation, the slogan “A superpower that lasts,” instantly comes to mind. The same applies to the phrase “sweetheart,” which brings to mind a commercial that advertises a brand of cooking oil and so on.”

According to Khalil al Minawi, the director-general of Impact BBDO advertising, using common phrases in commercials can often cause problems. “There are sensitive issues that are difficult to broadcast directly; therefore, we propose an indirect idea that addresses the targeted audience. In these cases, we would use a popular phrase that has a double-meaning,” he added.

Al Minawi agrees that the success of a slogan is measured by the extent to which it sticks in the audience’s mind, such as, “My bank… Riyadh bank.”

Al Minawi does not consider dialect a problem. “Throughout my fifteen years of experience, I have never come across an advertiser who has specified a certain dialect to be used in a commercial. Rather, what is important is for simple terms to be used, which is easier said than done.”

Concerning the use of modern standard Arabic as the solution to satisfy all consumers from various Arabic-speaking regions, al Minawi states that “Standard Arabic is usually used in serious commercials such as those advertising banks and hospitals and is more suited to reporting than for [conveying] a normal conversation.”

With regards to the use of the Egyptian dialect in commercials that target a Saudi market advertising international products such as 7Up and M&M’s, Tariq Abdullah from Master Foods says, “The Egyptian dialect is light and has a comical spirit to it. It is the lingua franca of the Arab world from the Maghreb region to the Gulf.”