Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

FNC candidates plough finances into influencers and social media campaigns

Election hopefuls are spending tens of thousands of dirhams online as traditional advertising is shunned

Hazza Abu Al Reesh says a single billbord on a building would cost Dh30,000. He paid a social media company the same amount to produce videos and a campaign for him
Hazza Abu Al Reesh says a single billbord on a building would cost Dh30,000. He paid a social media company the same amount to produce videos and a campaign for him

Federal National Council candidates are ploughing their campaign budgets to social media companies to manage campaigns in a move away from traditional advertising.

But what was once considered a cheaper form of advertising is quickly becoming a way for PR firms and influencers to charge tens or even hundreds of thousands for package deals.

From this week to polling day October 5, almost 500 candidates are running for just 20 seats in the consultative body, which debates and passes legislation and advises the government. More than 330,000 Emiratis, roughly a quarter of the population, are eligible to vote in the largest election to date.

Some influencers asked for Dh200,000 to advertise the candidate’s programme on their social media accounts

Khalifa Al Salami, social media expert

Hazza Abu Al Reesh, 30, paid a social media company Dh30,000 to produce content for him in a bid to win one of Abu Dhabi’s six seats.

That money would have bought him just one poster on a street sign and online posts are likely to reach more of his target market.

“My slogan is ‘support for youth’ so I want to appear where the youth are mostly present," he told The National.

“Nowadays, young people mostly follow social media as opposed to reading adverts in the paper or on the street,” said Mr Abu Al Reesh, a writer.

A video he posted to Instagram last week - in which he spoke about the need to add a subject on Sheikh Zayed to school curriculums – has been viewed more than 6,800 times.

Despite the online success, Mr Abu Al Reesh said he hoped the elections do not become commercialised and people continue to support the candidates whose ideas they believe in – rather than whoever is able to spend the most money on their campaign.

“We don’t want it to turn into a process where whoever spends more money on advertising wins,” he said.

Engr.Mohamed Al Ketbi on Instagram:
Mohamed Al Ketbi said he found traditional advertising to be very expensive

Mohammed Al Ketbi, another Abu Dhabi candidate, initially budgeted Dh35,000 on advertising – well below the Dh2 million limit placed by the National Election Committee.

“When I went to register with the municipality, to place my poster flags and stands across the emirate, they said they don’t allow those anymore," he said.

Previously, a flag or stand would cost between Dh300 and Dh500.

“The cheapest option now is to post on street lamps, which cost around Dh5,000 each.”

The more expensive option is to rent a billboard sign above a building or along a motorway which costs between Dh35,000 and Dh80,000 depending on the size and location.

“For instance, the sign on Abu Dhabi Mall, which is 9x53m, costs Dh60,000,” Mr Al Ketbi, 40.

A poster of FNC candidate, Hazza Abu Al Reesh, displayed on a building in Abu Dhabi. Mr Abu Al Reesh was contacted by the owner of the building who said he believed in his message and offered to put up the sign for free. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
FNC candidate Hazza Abu Al Reesh on a building in Abu Dhabi. Traditional campaign ads are still seen across the country. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

After learning how expensive renting physical advertising space was, Mr Al Ketbi chose to campaign on Instagram and Twitter instead.

The mechanical engineer plans to attend majlises to meet voters and has also launched a toll free number to hear queries from the public.

Asharf Hatem, a social media expert and visual effects director, said candidates stand a better chance of reaching their target audience on social media.

“This term, we have seen many candidates opt for social media, compared to previous elections. People are aware now that it is more effective.”

Mr Hatem is currently producing social media campaigns for three candidates. His advertising packages range between Dh35,000 and Dh100,000.

“We use a technology that chooses who the video should appear to, so we can target potential voters," he said.

We use a technology that chooses who the video should appear to, so we can target potential voters

Asharf Hatem, social media campaign manager

He also organises live online interviews and lectures for the candidates.

“Face-to-face interaction is essential between a candidate and their audience, but more people can attend online lectures,” he said.

By moving their campaigns online, candidates also save on renting physical spaces to host lectures or majlises.

“We don’t have a fixed price because the requirements of each candidate vary.

“A candidate who is proposing only one idea won’t need as much content as one proposing seven ideas.”

Khalifa Al Salami, a social media expert who works at an online news agency, said some candidates were offering influencers up to Dh450,000 for exclusive advertising deals.

“Some influencers asked for Dh200,000 to advertise the candidate’s programme on their social media accounts.”

He said social media news channels were offering candidates packages between Dh2,500 and Dh80,000, depending on the number of posts and followers they had.

“These prices increase tremendously 10 days before the official election day,” he said.

“60 per cent of the campaigns are from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah for now, but these statistics will change as we are still at the beginning of the campaigning process.”

He said social media is a great tool because it allows voters to interact with the candidates and share their opinions online.

“Many candidates are interacting with the people on social media, replying to their comments and explaining their electoral programmes which didn’t happen as much during the last FNC election cycle,” said Mr Al Salami.

He said candidates are also becoming increasingly aware of the way they want to ‎represent themselves online.‎

"Most of the candidates have created high quality videos and eye catching posters that will represent them better.”

Shurooq Al Sharhan, Ras Al Khaimah’s youngest candidate, plans to only use social media to promote her election programme.

“Everybody has a social media account and this is the language of the century so I decided not to put posters or billboards on the streets but instead post photos and videos online to interact better with the people,” she said.

Ms Al Sharhan, 27, said she received many offers to promote her campaign on social media - with one influencer asking for Dh25,000 for a single post.

“The prices are so high but there are many ways to reach voters, such as using the advertising tools offered on many social media platforms, which don’t cost as much,” she said.

Updated: September 11, 2019 11:19 AM

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