Old Spice used to be a brand synonymous with ageing dads and regarded as a men's cosmetics line that often sat, dusty, on the supermarket shelves. But this year, after some tongue-in-cheek YouTube video clips, Procter & Gamble's 71-year-old fragrance and soap brand has witnessed a rebirth.
The campaign, which featured a shirtless former football player talking to his audience while performing random and bizarre acts of manliness, such as riding a horse backwards, drew more than 102 million views. The company solicited questions from consumers through Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo e-mail, and "Old Spice Guy" responded in nearly 200 short online videos, just hours after the questions were posed.
It boosted Old Spice's body wash sales in the first six months of the campaign by 27 per cent. For the four weeks that ended on July 11, when the campaign was in full force, sales doubled from the same period last year. It is a clear example of the boost retailers can get by interacting online with potential customers using social media, says Chris Johnstone, the managing director of SevDotCom. "All brands and companies should have some online video presence, whether you are a global company or a small agency in Abu Dhabi," Mr Johnstone said at an industry conference last week. "It's a growing market and a very important one."
And retailers in the UAE are starting to follow suit, hoping to use social media technologies with similar success. The consumer electronics retailer Jacky's Electronics, the halal food brand Al Islami and the online retailer Souq.com are among local merchants reaching out by tweeting the latest deals or organising contests on their Facebook accounts. Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer of Jacky's Electronics, says the company launched its Twitter feed and Facebook group about a year ago in a bid to spark interest in their stores and keep it.
"There is nothing called customer loyalty today in terms of retail," Mr Panjabi says. "The one thing you want to do is increase the so-called 'stickiness' factor." It is difficult to measure how many new Jacky's Electronics customers were drawn in by social networking but new faces have been popping into their shops, Mr Panjabi says. "We have seen some people in the stores who would have never come in and they have actually told us that, face to face," he says. "[With social media] there is a little more value that they see in you."
Souq.com, the top-ranked e-commerce site in the region, uses Twitter to promote its "Deal of the Day", a discount promotion. Ronaldo Mouchawar, the chief executive and managing partner of Souq.com, says the company has created country-specific Twitter accounts for its major markets, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Mr Mouchawar says retailers should take advantage of social media networks because of their wide reach.
Facebook had 15 million users across the MENA region as of May this year, data from Effective Measures and Spot On PR show. On Twitter, there are between 35,000 and 40,000 users in the region, Spot On estimates. "You should be on social media because you have so many users on that platform," says Mr Mouchawar. The opinions of friends and family have the biggest impact on what UAE shoppers buy, but social media sites, online product reviews, discussion forums and bloggers do play a role, data from Nielsen, a research company, show.
Recommendations from friends was the biggest deciding factor, according to 74 per cent of online users surveyed by Nielsen in the UAE. This was followed by advice from family, at 72 per cent. Social media swayed the decision for 8 per cent of internet users, while online product reviews were important for 25 per cent of those surveyed, Nielsen data show. Akanksha Goel, the founder of the social media agency and training house Socialize in Dubai, says UAE retailers have just started stepping into the social media sphere.
Hotels such as InterContinental Dubai Festival City and the Westin Mina Seyahi were the first in the UAE to catch on. "Retailers are jumping on. Jacky's is a great example this year," Ms Goel says. "But it's recent. I would think that over the last six months is when the action has really started." It may be a natural progression from the boom in regional online retail. At least nine new retailers based in the region have set up shop on the internet, from independent merchants such as Emirates Avenue to Carrefour, the second-largest retailer in the world.
Boutique1, a fashion retailer in Dubai, on Monday launched an Arabic e-commerce website, a year after the launch of its English site. The popular mass-market fashion retailer Zara announced last week it was making a big online push. After launching Zara online in Spain, France, Germany, the UK, Italy and Portugal, it planned to add five more European countries to the list in the coming months. Next year it will launch an e-commerce website in the US, Canada, Japan and South Korea.
Mr Mouchawar says the conversations consumers have on social media help drive traffic to online retailers, but not necessarily to make the sale. "When you search and then you have results and you see an ad, it's not the same as when you have people talking about it … but still that drives just traffic," he says. "You've got traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, where a video about something brought someone to Souq. But still, our job is to convert them into buyers."