Digital marketing in Israel has largely overlooked the country's Arab population, even though a recent survey found that Israeli Arabs are more than twice as likely to read blogs as are Israeli Jews and that both participate in social media at about the same rate.
A new company called Sharq Media intends to rectify this by becoming the first Israeli media company to specialize in digital advertising in the Arab market.
Its goal is "bringing the Israeli and international market branding experience into the daily life of Israel's Arab sector," says Fadoul Mazzawi, the company's CEO.
"We'll pass this experience along to everyone speaking Arabic too – in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world."
The company came into being when Mazzawi Advertising, which provides marketing and communication services targeting Israeli Arabs and is owned by husband-and-wife team Fadoul and Suzan Mazzawi, teamed up with Web3, an online media group.
Web3 CEO Shahaf Bar-Geffen, who founded the media group and its subsidiary Maple, which focuses on online advertising, says his company was looking for new market segments to expand into. The media group had previously worked with Mazzawi Advertising, which represents such large Israeli corporate clients as food manufacturer Strauss and supermarket chain Super-Sol, and was impressed with the results of its ad campaigns.
Sharq Media estimates that just NIS 100 million in advertising money is earmarked for Israel's Arab community, out of a total of NIS 3.4 billion a year. If the money were allocated proportionate to population, it would be more than six times higher.
"The reason for this is lack of attention from marketers," says Fadoul Mazzawi. "They haven't internalized the potential. There is also a sort of dissonance between the populations. Sharq Media is the natural sphere for bridging this gap.
I can't ignore the fact that one of the problems leading to low advertising budgets is the lack of ability to measure the sector and examine the effectiveness of advertising. Today we have the tools to focus advertising through more precise segmentation of the Arab sector and understand what ad budget has worked."
Sharq Media will be managed by Suzan Mazzawi, CEO of the Mazzawi group company SQM, which promotes business development in the Israeli Arab community, and Meir Moalem of Web3.
Though Israel's high rate of Internet usage is generally attributed to its Jewish urban residents, a recent survey called Israel in the Digital Age 2012 shows that 58% of Israeli Arabs read blogs, as opposed to 26.5% of the country's Jewish population. And although there is a disparity in the Internet connection rates -- 59% of Israeli Arabs have an Internet connection, as compared with 72% of Israeli Jews -- the study, conducted by the School of Media Studies at Rishon Letzion's College of Management Academic Studies, found that just under 65% of both groups participated in social media.
The time is ripe for successful digital marketing among Israel's Arab population, says Fadoul Mazzawi.
"We aren't stating anything new here: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has already said the Arab sector could contribute to the growth of the Israeli economy," he says. "There is growth in consumption in the Arab sector due to the transformation from a market of commodities to a market of brand names and, on the flip side, it's important for Israeli companies to grow."
Alon Shemesh, a marketing consultant and founding partner in Sharq Media, says one of the reasons for low advertising budgets in the Arab market is its narrow mix of advertising platforms, especially since a television station meant to serve the market didn't live up to expectations.
"The Arab sector is beneath the radar of many marketing companies, but this could change in the coming years," says Shemesh. "Most companies mark the Arab sector as having potential that is far from being exhausted. And while the Jewish sector, following decades of unbridled consumption, is showing a trend of rationality and cynicism, the Arab sector is now displaying a trend of brand-name consumption."
Sharq Media won’t be dealing with the creative side of the business or with managing advertising budgets, but will mainly help digital advertisers identify the Arab audience in the nooks and crannies of the Internet, including on Facebook and mobile applications. Israelis who surf the Web in Arabic can expect to see banner ads in Arabic, even on Hebrew-language sites.
The group's technology allows it to identify Web users as belonging to the Arab sector and show them targeted advertisements.
Another underdeveloped area is the purchase of advertising in Google search results.
"Google has 450,000 searches a month for 'Bank Leumi' in Hebrew, for example, and 350,000 identical searches in Arabic," says Bar-Geffen.
Mazzawi says his advertising company has already been dealing with the Internet, but that the new venture was launched because what existed was insufficient.
"We have an excellent digital department, but we've recently come to understand that this isn't enough," he says. "The Arab sector is undergoing a chaotic process between Arabization, Israelization and Westernization. This is a young sector with 80% under the age of 35, and it's drawn Westward."
Suzan Mazzawi says Arab women are going out into the workforce and want to buy name-brand products with the money they make.
"I'm raising three children and having a wonderful time, and I love my work," she says. "The sector has undergone an evolution and we see more and more women going out to work. You can see more and more cases now of an Arab woman who is a businesswoman, a career woman, and at center stage. These women want to compensate their children by buying them brand-name products."
Bar-Geffen says the new venture is hoping to segment the Arab market to achieve good results. But Fadoul Mazzawi says that even with segmented advertising, a consistent strategy and advertising language that respects traditional Arab culture must be maintained.
"Every Arab who passes by Carmiel and sees a billboard is exposed to media language in Hebrew," he says. "It's a different planet. Therefore, the way needs to be found to take the correct approach, in a professional manner, and uphold the Arab sector's codes and culture."
Sharq Media isn't looking to create a buzz on the Web by overturning cultural norms. "We won't do anything contradicting the sector's values or tradition," says Suzan Mazzawi. "We want to respect them. Therefore we won't be advertising alcoholic beverages."
"But," she adds, " we know how to be most daring and bold where necessary."