Amateur films unearth unique insights into the Desert Kingdom

You could be excused for thinking that Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world! With a GDP per capita in the Top 50s and estimated cash reserves of over $500 billion at the end of 2010 prove this! Add to that the news of Qatar being the richest nation in the world on the basis of GDP per capita, the image of this regions riches is further perpetuated. What if I were to tell you that this is only half the story? And the other half is a complete paradox of what most would expect about Saudi Arabia.

Did you know that in a nation of 27 million only 10% of the population is making more than $4000 per month? With people in a government job making less than $1000 a month and those in a private company making about $2000 a month. This shows the great divide between the rich and the poor. The situation gets even worse when one looks at the impending real estate crisis prevailing today. On one hand we have some families who own more land than anyone can imagine and on the other there are thousands if not millions struggling to own a home. For perspective the Kindgom needs about 2 million new housing units over the next 10 years but the government is unable to do anything about it apparently because there is no vacant land available. There has been a royal decree to build 500,000 housing units with no project end date in sight. Why? The land owners have no incentive to sell. For a city like Riyadh, 50% of the land is vacant and unused. We are talking about 800 sq. km. of prime real estate laid to waste. With more demand and an artificially created shortage of land the average Saudi is forced to not only forget about ever owning a home (with a basic apartment costing about $150,000) but pay about $8,000 to $10,000 in annual rent on an income of about $24,000 per annum.

Add to this a bustling youth population of 5 million in the age bracket 18-30 with about 10% unemployed. We can expect one half of this segment – the men looking to marry and hoping to save about $20,000 as dowry. When you look at the complete picture the equation simply does not add up. Either they are going to be homeless or single! This is one aspect of the paradoxes that prevail in Saudi Arabia. A paradox that has been captured on film and recently exposed through social media. One is the short film “Monopoly” – an inspiring dark comedy made to raise awareness about the impending real estate crisis . The film was produced and directed by Bader Al-Hamoud. So far it had received over 1 million views (1.46 million to be exact!). You can check out the film with English subtitles as below:

The other is a series of short films titled “”Mal3ob3lena”by Firas Bakna, a Saudi Blogger who went out to the poor districts of Riyadh to give the “have’s” a true picture of the “have not’s”. The total views on his YouTube channel for all “Mal3ob3lena” related videos exceeds 3 million. You can check out the film with English subtitles here (the video is blocked in Saudi Arabia).

What is the key learning? The paradoxes that exist across all aspects of Saudi life are not as apparent and this is something we as marketers often tend to overlook. If these paradoxes are real and deeply rooted then FMCG companies, for example might have to rethink all the key elements of their Marketing Mix. We have seen Hindustan Lever in India realizing this fact and customizing their SKU’s to meet the needs of the rural customer. They started using sachets as a big volume driver and at the same time have been engaging poor rural women as a network of saleswomen to not only drive product sales but be a source of employment for them as well. Similar kind of approaches might be be needed for Saudi Arabia as well that reflect these prevailing paradoxes. It could prove to be a win-win for both parties.

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