In his last post on the Econsultancy blog, Tariq Seksek touched upon the importance of competitions, contest and sweepstakes when running a social media campaign in the Middle East.

While some brands may have found success in running such contests, others are of the opinion that competitions equate to buying fans, as the interest of the fans lies in the prize rather than the brand and its offerings.

I remember speaking to Mohamed Parham of Wild Peeta (Dubai’s social media darling brand) about two years ago, who emphasised the brand’s organic growth of its fan and follower counts.

Whatever camp you belong to – growth by competitions or growth by content – it is important to consider the characteristics of the local market including demographics, usage habits and cultural sensitivities. 

In an industry where technology and learning takes heavy inspiration from the West, it is not too difficult to create a campaign strategy that may have been perfectly fine in a different part of the world, but falls flat on its face in the MENA region. Or worse, it may offend your audience and tarnish the reputation of the brand. 

While adapting your message to the local audience is critical to the success of the campaign, the ramifications of not doing so in the region can be far worse than just an unsuccessful campaign. 

Durex has done a good job in this regard (note: this paragraph includes links to adult content that some may find offensive). What is otherwise a rather provocative brand has toned down its local messaging. While Durex UK  has conversations using fairly provocative language and content, its strategy in MENA has been a little more subtle

One competition strategy popular among brands is to ask users to upload photos of themselves. This seemingly innocent strategy may not always work. In a region where many wear the veil in their avatars instead of profile pictures, brands may be better off using alternate competition mechanics.

This holds especially true for brands targeting housewives, who are actually a key target in the region. One execution that comes to mind was L’oreal’s Facebook competition where they invited women to submit ‘text’ that would be appended to earlier submissions to create a bunch of running stories about hair troubles.

Other brands such as Rainbow Milk and AXE Middle East have used quizzes and personality tests. 

Nokia is another example of a brand that has effectively adapted its marketing for the Middle East. As part of Ramadan this year, Nokia developed a downloadable Ramadan calendar, which includes trivia, daily fasting tips, images and prizes.

For each download of the app, Nokia will donate 5 AED to one of three selected charities during the month, including UAE Red Crescent, Dubai Autism Center and the Children with Cancer Support Organization.

A quick resource for brands beginning to market in this region is Jeremy Williams’ Don’t They Know It’s Friday”, which explores cross-cultural considerations in the Gulf states.

As well as adapting content to a local flavour, it is also worth noting that some channels in the Middle East will perform better than others. Direct mail campaigns, for example, are less effective since few people have a mail box. 

It is highly important to adapt your marketing in this region using a deep understanding of the local culture. And, as Lucy Miller notes on Forbes.com, effective marketing in this region goes far beyond simply adding some Arabian flavour to a campaign, or adding some camels and sand dunes to the creative. 

It may seem common knowledge that communication needs to be adapted to local tastes, regardless of what country or region you are in, but this holds especially true for the Middle East and its importance cannot be overstated

For here, customisation is not just the difference between a successful campaign and an unsuccessful one. Rather, it’s the line between a brand that has been embraced by the consumers and one that has been exiled from their minds. 

Image credits: (1) Adapted from Sarah_Jones on Flickr, (2) Nokia UAE on Facebook.