One small step for MENA: How Gen-Z is shaping the future of a region
As Generation Z's influence continues, Zoha Zoya, Head of Experience Design at R/GA London, examines how brands in the MENA region - especially fashion brands - are using that demographic's penchant for social media platforms to unlock a new approach to advertising.
Every brand wants to get closer to Gen-Z. This generation has long been social pioneers and cultural tastemakers but now they are maturing into a powerful economic force, shaping economies all over the world.
[Gen-Z] has long been social pioneers and cultural tastemakers but now they are maturing into a powerful economic force.
Last month, myself and the team at R/GA London attended the Dubai Lynx Awards, which recognises creative excellence in the Middle East and North Africa [MENA], and it was fascinating to see the innovations UK brands and agencies can apply back home.
The Gulf has one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, with the vast majority being under the age of 25. Youth constitute more than half (55%) of the population across the region with some of the world's most successful startup ecosystems. These young consumers have high spending power and are driving waves of innovative change with their behaviours and beliefs.
Every market has its own nuances but there are some common themes which characterise Gen-Z as a collective demographic. In particular is their use of social media. Gen-Z are digital natives, heavy users of social media platforms like Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. They fluidly embrace trends as they rise and fall and they follow influencers like North Stars. In both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, influencers are hugely... well... influential, with research showing that, in these markets, 90% of purchases are influenced by online content, which is where social media and digital entertainment platforms such as TikTok play a key role.
Above: Adidas and Ravi, a famed restaurant in Al Satwa, teamed up to collaborate with a local influencer, tapping into their audience to promote the brand and product.
New luxury expectations
The world is changing quickly, and generational expectations are shifting alongside this. Young consumers expect brands to play an active role in solving the meaningful issues facing humanity. Brands need to understand how these issues are playing out in each market. In MENA, there are two major themes:
1. International to local: Thinking like a local brand, but behaving like a global player
2. Female empowerment and changing perceptions of the roles women play in society
These cultural drivers allow brands to expand beyond their category. For example, fashion brands are looking beyond collaborating with big, internationally famous celebrities and instead are searching for more authentic partnerships with relevant designers on a local level. Adidas x Ravi, teamed up to collaborate with a local influencer, tapping into their audience to promote the brand and product. Always X Nasiba Hafiz also teamed up to launch a heat-resistant fashion collection in Jeddah, where temperatures often soar above 45°C (113°F) in summer.
Fashion brands are looking beyond collaborating with big, internationally famous celebrities and instead are searching for more authentic partnerships.
I’ve also come to learn about Raneem Shaban, a young Saudi fashion designer who encourages change in the Kingdom’s fashion industry through creations that transform used clothing into something new. Also, e-commerce portal Ethikal only curates clothes and accessories that are manufactured using natural fabrics. Driven by the emergence of young eco-focussed brands in the region, and the popularity of their products - 75% of Middle East consumers say they buy from companies that are environmentally conscious - sustainable fashion has also found its place in the heart of shoppers. We’re entering an era where opportunities arise when brands think about impact.
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Above: Always X Nasiba Hafiz teamed up to launch a heat-resistant fashion collection in Jeddah.
When worlds collide
Governments in the MENA region are continuously investing in next-generation luxury experiences and, increasingly, this includes high-end digital experiences in the metaverse. The global metaverse market is set to reach $1.35bn by 2025 and a recent report highlighted that the metaverse could contribute close to $15 billion to Gulf Cooperation Council economies by 2030. In response to this predicted growth, the GCC region is investing heavily in building up web3 and metaverse capabilities across industries.
Big, luxury brands like Chalhoub Group are looking into ways to attract those audiences through NFTs, 'phygital' and limited edition launches.
As digital natives and all-round cultural trailblazers, Gen-Z is shaping this emerging universe. Much like their generational counterparts in the East and West, Gen-Z audiences in MENA are massive gamers. The gaming markets in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are expected to be worth $3.14bn by 2025. Big, luxury brands like Chalhoub Group are looking into ways to attract those audiences through NFTs, 'phygital' (the integration of physical and digital) and limited edition launches while nurturing loyalty through endless metaverse experiences.
The UAE recently hosted the first Digital Fashion Week (DFW). Hosted across both virtual and physical spaces, the DFW showcased the latest developments in fashion technology and digital art, highlighting the potential of phygital experiences in the fashion industry, including a metaverse hub which merges commerce, virtual reality and gaming. These innovations are effective vehicles for brands to naturally stick their flag in the metaverse, using phygital experiences as a way to build brand loyalty with customers.
Above: Last month Dubai played host to the 2023 Digital Fashion Week.
Change is here to stay
The world continues to turn but, increasingly, it is Gen-Z that makes it spin. There are common traits shared by Gen-Z across the world: they are digital natives immersed in social media; they are passionate about making positive change; they want brands to think globally but act locally.
The world continues to turn but, increasingly, it is Gen-Z that makes it spin.
Dubai Lynx showcased how brands are shifting perceptions in the MENA region, delivering best-in-class experiences in luxury fashion. But there are lessons which brands can take into any market. Specifically, how this generation expects brands to meet them exactly where they are.