What are the differences between marketing in the Middle East vs. the Western World?

Created: Sep 27, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

When it comes to business expansion, 90% of the companies focus on Western Europe or North America (USA, Canada) in order to grow. However, there is one huge market that is worthy of exploring: the Middle East. Let’s look at the differences between the marketing in Middle East and western markets.

The Middle East has a population of almost 400 million people. It expands from Morocco in Western Africa to Saudi Arabia in the Arabian peninsula. Most of the population is Muslim and speak Arabic; however, in a city-state such as Dubai, you can find people from all over the world.

The Middle East is a region with unique marketing. Below are the key market specifics.

Marketing in the Middle East

A recent report by McKinsey & Company found that for every dollar spent in the Middle East, a company can reach out to over 4 people. The Middle East is generally seen as an attractive market for marketers who are looking to increase their brand awareness. The Middle East is an attractive market for marketers. It has a growing middle class, a large population and high rates of internet usage. It is also a region with many different cultures and religions, which makes it particularly interesting to study.

The growth of mobile technology in the region has also helped with the increased use of advertising in this area. One example of this is Dubai’s use of digital billboards to promote tourism in their city.

Advertising in the Middle East is a complicated task. It requires a lot of research and understanding of the people and their culture. The Middle East has changed over time, so it's important to understand what's happening in this region as well as how to adapt to it. There are many factors that affect the advertising industry in this region.

Middle East Market Size

The market in Arab countries is growing fast. During recent years, market and marketing in the Middle East has become attractive thanks to several reasons.

First is demographics. Almost 50% of the population in the area is around the age of 25. Thus, they spend much more time online, specifically on social media than older generations. This can be a benefit for consumer-oriented industries with entertainment, food, beverage, fashion or electronic products.

Fun fact: The gulf area has the highest spending on cosmetic products per capita in the world and the market is still growing. 

Also, many of them have high-income jobs or are affluent entrepreneurs, making them an ideal consumer group for luxury brands and electronics. This translates to higher revenue per customer and higher customer value.

Corporations own the largest market share

Competition in the Middle East is not very high; it’s just dominated by a small number of big brands. Everything, from electronics, media, beauty or even restaurants is owned by big brands, supported by local investors. On other hands, small local companies tend to fail, as Arab consumers are used to buying products from same brands.

Seemingly, big brands are becoming a symbol of status. Since the market opened in the 80s, massive investments have flown into region focused on advertising and it's not stopping. Budget plays a key role here.

Take a look at the table below for most popular brands in UAE.. The only local brand is Emaar, an real estate developer. That speaks for it self. 

Top 10 most popular brands in UAE in 2019

Rank Brand Score
1 Emirates 57,5
2 WhatsApp 45,1
3 Samsung 44,6
4 Carrefour 43,3
5 Samsung Galaxy 42,4
6 YouTube 42,0
7 iPhone 41,2
8 Apple 40,7
9 Emaar 40,7
10 Google 39.7


Source: Gulf Business 

Not ideal for startups

Have you ever thought about the fact that all new technologies have come from the West, especially the USA? Computers, internet, smartphones, social media, electric cars, all of it came from California, mainly Silicon Valley. 

But there is no similar place in Middle East. Dubai is the best place to do business, but it's not known to be a birthplace of new ideas and technologies. As mentioned above, new products and services are not easy to market, as they face competition from big established markets that own most of the market share.

Fewer customer personas

Arab consumers, in comparison to Europeans and Americans, are easier to segment and you will spend less time creating your ideal customer personas. Unlike in the West, however, traditional surveys are not an ideal way to do so. Consumers in the Middle East do not share their honest opinion and are more conservative. It's better to use social media engagement or monitor trends in order to define key motivations of potential customers.

It's also important to localize your marketing strategies for the goal market such as user experience, creatives and channels. In order to do that, you will need locals to create your marketing message. Alternatively, you could find an expert for local culture.

Common marketing tactics are the way to go

There are many big brands that use the same marketing tactics in local regions for many years for a simple reason - it's working. If it's not broken, don't fix it. Locals are still influenced by media and general marketing campaigns instead of personal experiences.

You need to think about social impact

Most of Arab consumers tend to buy the same brands within their social circle. They are afraid to choose something based on their personal need because it can lead to friends and relatives judging them. The whole idea is to appease people in order to boost their social appearance.

Different standards for quality and service

In many Western markets, you have comparison websites which focus on product reviews. Many consumers buy products based on these reviews and they play a major role in buying decisions.

In comparison for marketing in the Middle East, there is nothing like this. People buy things because they enjoy it. They don't look at products as a long term investment or plan; it’s solely entertainment for them.

Final thoughts

Marketing in the Middle East is not better or worse than the West; it's just different. In order to begin, you first need to understand the market. To do that, you either need time and budget to try, fail and repeat. Or, as most of the companies do, you will find a local marketing agency to help you with your advertising efforts. Let us help you with a marketing strategy in Middle East. Contact us today, and let’s make something happen together.


  • https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2015/jan/middle-east-business-culture.html%23sthash.YL77dcMQ.dpuf
  • https://www.undp.org/content/dam/rbas/report/Population%20Levels,Trends.pdf 
  • https://gulfbusiness.com/revealed-top-10-most-popular-brands-in-uae-in-2019/

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