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Keeping you in the loo

Keeping you in the loo

It’s the one place in Saudi Arabia you can place ads showing unveiled women. Its proponents say washroom advertising is more than a flash in the pan.

September 11, 2008 9:04 by

Mansi Shah

They provide respite from the heat, make for a great hangout, provide a place to fleece the spouse and some people are touting them as the next big thing in therapy. Whatever the reasons, malls seem to dominate our way of life in the Gulf. Asim Naseer, brand manager for Olay, says, “Malls are an inherent part of people’s lives. This is where people end up on the weekends.”

And a lot of mall time (some would argue it’s way too much) is dedicated to the confines of the washroom, recuperating from the spending spree or fixing the runaway lipstick. It is here, in this very private time, that brands intend to catch you now, with your pants – and possibly your guard – down. Craig Wight is the managing director of TLC media, a supplier of media for washroom advertising. He says, “Research in Australia shows that 60 percent of people go to the washroom on a mall visit. In a month, 12 million people walk through the nine malls in our network in the UAE. Even if we assume that 50 percent of these people go to the washroom, it’s a huge number.”

The statistics get more specific. “On average, a man spends 55 seconds in the loo and a girl spends 105 seconds,” says Wight. That should be a compelling figure for brands reaching out to women. “In the washroom, it’s more targeted in terms of the message and how long you can talk to her. She has the time to read about the brand,” says Naseer.

Gender-specific ads work especially well for a market like Saudi Arabia where there are constraints on what you can show in public. Katrin Rosenbichler, brand manager of Veet, says, “The female hair removal market in Saudi is about $20m. It is the largest market for Veet in the region.” And for a hair removal brand, showing some skin seems imperative. “Because only females see the ad, you can stretch the creative level a lot more,” says Wight. “In Saudi washrooms, Veet was able to show skin, hair, face, legs etc. which you can’t do in print. So, in washrooms you can stretch the creative boundaries.”

Rosenbichler is enthusiastic about the medium. “Advertising in washrooms helps extend our reach in our target group as television has limited reach,” she says. “The communication is more focused on our target, as these areas are restricted only to women. And since almost every mall has a big hypermarket, the message can quickly translate into purchase. You can also communicate promotions or new product news.”

It’s not about plastering print ads to the walls either; you can choose your place in the washroom. Wight says, “The washroom is made up of two areas – the wash-up area and the area with the cabins and urinals. In the wash-up areas, you have frames next to the mirrors, and actual mirrors themselves.”

This just might be the tricky part. Being seen in the wrong place may result in branding efforts going down the drain. “You may have the inclination to own the whole washroom, but that might not be the right thing for your brand. While it might be okay for Always [sanitary towels] ad to go on the cubicle doors, Olay [moisturizer] will always stay on the mirrors,” says Naseer.

How much would a brand have to pay up to be here? “A washroom campaign for an entire year would cost you about $300,000. A one-month campaign costs $15,000 in a mall – that’s [the cost of] three print ads versus a reach of six million people,” says Wight. “We have 82 washrooms and 1,600 frames for each gender. So you get almost five frames in every single washroom in the UAE.”

The good news: Washroom advertising has a captive audience. The bad news: Not every marketer would want their brand hanging out in the loo. “We do a lot of research to find the right balance between communicating the brand benefit and making sure we do this in a way that does not seem offensive,” says Rosenbichler.

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