Cash for Tash

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Published journalism, Television on November 22, 2010 at 11:15 pm

In the crowded Ramadan TV market, sponsorship can cut through the clutter

Originally published in Communicate, October 2007

As the barrage of 30-second spots battering Arab eyes builds up during Ramadan, canny advertisers are turning to sponsorship as a way to penetrate the barricade.

“The main arsenal of an advertiser remains a 30-second slot,” says Mazen Hayek, group director of marketing, PR and commercial at MBC, the Arab world’s leading broadcasting group. “Having said that, sponsorships are becoming increasingly important, and we have around 40 sponsors on our grid during Ramadan.”

Media agency Starcom Mediavest Group started Ramadan sponsorship with brands like Masterfoods’ Galaxy Jewels back in 2000. Buying packages that include TVCs, “brought to you” credits, mention in trailers, logo shots going in and out of breaks and more, Jewels has positioned itself as a seasonal staple and a standard gift to offer hospitable family, friends and neighbors.

“Ramadan is the month of giving, when you visit lots of people,” says Alex Saber, Starcom’s group commercial director in the region. “And when you visit people you have to take something with you.”

Television viewership more than doubles during Ramadan. “And it’s a concentrated viewership,” says Saber. “At 6 p.m. you have to be at home, behind the dinner table, with the TV on, whether you’re watching it or not. … TV is part of the culture.” After breaking their fast, people rest and pray. Then the visiting begins. “After 10 p.m. people visit each other. And they keep eating and snacking with the TV on,” says Saber.

This year, while food and beverage brands are still hungry for airtime, telecom advertisers are also saturating screens, according to Saber. “STC [Saudi Telecom Company] has been sponsoring Tash ma Tash for the last two or three years,” he says, referring to MBC’s long-running smash-hit Ramadan comedy starring Abdullah Al Sadan and Nasser Al Qasbi. “And the way sponsorship agreements happen, next Ramadan STC will have the first right of refusal.” Tash ma Tash, which has been running for 15 years, always directly after iftar, commands in excess of 50 percent audience share.

Historically, Arab broadcasters have kept Ramadan programming under their hats until the last minute, releasing details of their shows as late as the week before. But last year, spurred by heavy competition in the pan-Arab market, major stations began releasing their synopses eight weeks earlier. This year, says Saber, information started coming out in late June.

Last year, Lebanon’s LBC tried to make a dent in MBC’s dominance, going head to head with a competing version of Tash ma Tash, made by the man who directed the show’s first series. LBC’s “original” Tash ma Tash flopped. “Ramadan last year was a first experience for us,” says Sana Iskandar, LBC’s media relations manager. “This year we were more prepared and we were able to release the grid to advertisers much sooner, several months in advance, as soon as we had decided on the programming.”

This year LBC is pinning its hopes on another fake ’tache: the one worn by a Saudi woman forced to impersonate a male taxi driver in the comedy Aamsha Bint Aamash. It might not come close to MBC’s ratings, but it offers a cheaper alternative for potential sponsors looking for an ally and a captive audience.


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