Know Your Audience: Top 5 reasons MENA foodies engage with YouTube

Sara Hamdan, Lynn Hazim, Angela Hundal / May 2019

Google Trends reveals that ‘foodie’ is now one of the highest trending words of 2019. Once associated with high culture, today the term is far more inclusive, reaching the masses thanks to broader internet access. Our research shows that ‘foodie’ is so widely used, in fact, that 50% of millennials identify themselves as such. In 2017, YouTube saw over 7 billion food video views in the Middle East, with this figure growing by 138% year-on-year. This growth rate is one of the highest we’ve seen on YouTube – higher than mature markets like the US and the UK, as well as emerging markets like Mexico and Brazil. Millennials are largely responsible for this drive, consuming not only vast amounts of food content but also engaging with content through YouTube channel subscriptions and the active following of food creators. This audience has already grown YouTube’s food channel subscriptions by 280%.

After analysing 10,000 YouTube videos, we’ve discovered that millennial foodies engage with YouTube food content for five main reasons:

1. Foodies want to travel the world without leaving home

Our analysis shows that cultural awareness is important to millennials, with foodies viewing food as a form of social currency. YouTube acts as a passport that allows people from different countries to discover the rest of the world through food exploration. Insights reveal that foodie audiences are increasingly open to trying new tastes, discovering new flavours, and embracing adventurous appetites. This curiosity is particularly prevalent in the Middle East, with foodies moving past a focus on solely regional recipes. In fact, some local channels are now creating Western cuisine in Arabic, with Alia Adi’s Basmaty Recipes (243K subscribers) being an example. Just as YouTube allows people to explore their world through food, the platform is also used to make them feel at home. We’re seeing more Syrian and Iraqi people, for example, posting content as a way to stay connected with life back in their home countries. Mama Soaad (438K subscribers), an Iraqi woman living in the US, is a great example. She introduces Americans to Iraqi cuisine through taste-test challenges while also creating local dishes to connect with the Iraqi community

2. Foodies want food content that entertains them

Foodies find YouTube to be a great escape, with the platform’s entertainment category being one of the fastest growing within food content. The food entertainment category serves an assortment of videos, from experiments to cooking shows, oddly satisfying content to taste tests, pranks and more. While experiments cover science-based tests, Middle Eastern audiences love more playful investigations: think baking pizzas or frying eggs under the scorching Saudi Arabian sun to consuming Mentos and Pepsi to produce a chemical reaction. ‘Oddly satisfying’ content has shot up the ranks over the past year, too. This content features people or machines doing repetitive tasks with amazing precision and skill, showcasing everything from cake decorating to paint mixing, pressure washing to manufacturing, with entire channels devoted to it. Overeating challenges (where people dig into unusual or enormous amounts of food) are also on the rise in the Middle East, with Jelly Belly’s BeanBoozled challenge becoming increasingly popular. Challenges are far more than just a side dish in YouTube’s universe, representing 21% of total food views.

3. Foodies want to satisfy their curiosity

Insights reveal that YouTube helps spark people’s creativity, encouraging foodies to learn how to whip up delicious meals themselves. The platform’s exploratory food videos form something of a buffet showcasing an array of topics, from cooking a barbecue for friends to planning a menu, recreating restaurant desserts to making spaghetti for the kids. The exploration phase goes well beyond recipes and tutorials to also include reviews, travel content, and grocery hauls.

4. Foodies want to become experts

Millennials regularly turn to YouTube to learn practical life skills, from playing music to parking a car, with 83% believing they can find a YouTube video on anything they want to learn. The same goes for food and cooking, with the platform being a go-to link for help-me-cook-better content. Foodies use the platform to up their food game, regularly digesting recipes and DIY videos. Tips and tricks (like basic knife skills) and hacks are also popular, representing 9% of YouTube’s food content. Informational videos that offer foodies a chance to learn more about ingredients, or hear the stories behind the food they're eating, are also trending.

5. Foodies want to make meal prep easier

Insights reveal that YouTube plays something of a sous chef role, helping people with their daily meal prep. These people include mums looking to cook nutritious dishes for their families, and busy working millennials who want healthy home-cooked meals. YouTube’s increasing mobility (80% of views are direct to mobile) offers audiences an important real-time benefit: more foodies are taking YouTube into the kitchen to learn and cook in real-time. Viewership peaks at lunch and dinner times reflect this trend. However, increased mobile usage doesn’t mean people are watching only snackable content (videos that people can consume quickly). Users are also seeking out long-form content, with more than half of YouTube’s top-viewed videos being ten minutes or longer in KSA.


Key takeaway for brands

Brands across industries, not just limited to food, can boost digital reach by creating captivating content that taps into what this millennial audience enjoys on YouTube. Dolce Gusto is a great example of the power of appealing to specific audiences: the brand developed custom creatives that spoke directly to foodies, travel lovers and fashionistas in this insightful case study. The focus on audiences is relevant across industries: take a look at this fascinating web series campaign by Emirates that shows how their chefs prepare gourmet in-flight food that appeals directly to foodies. Understanding viewers who consume foodie content on YouTube - when, why and the type of content they enjoy - will allow you to develop a strategic creative approach that is also useful to target the audience. Here are 3 quick guidelines for brands:


  • Create tailored content: Understanding this audience well will help you create content to appeal specifically to them. Unilever’s Jif ads had a clever approach of customized ads of cleaning a guitar case for music lovers, cleaning pots and pans for cooking enthusiasts and cleaning sports equipment for athletes. All for the same product. Many millennial food fans also look to YouTube to help them in the kitchen. Brands can fill this gap with recipe creations and product placements featured in collaborations with food influencers like Chef Ahmad Tawil(640K subscribers).
  • Target on affinities: A more detailed understanding of your audience will allow you to target them based on their interests, passions and needs in the right way at the right time. This shift in mindset from generic demographic targeting is powerful when you have insights on foodie lover’s behavior online.  Invite your customers to watch you manufacturing processes or create partnerships with more playful influencers. This can offer entertainment and satisfy curious viewers’ cultural appetites. Twenty-one-year-old Dubai-based influencer Hayla TV (over six million subscribers), for example, loves trying international food, tucking into exotic dishes right here in the Middle East, or travelling the world and sharing her finds with us.
  • Keep up with trends: It helps to keep a finger on the pulse of what is trending and to leverage that to connect deeply with your target audience. Within the foodie community, different types of content can cater to different interests. Going into this level of detail can pay off; for example, East Coast Wings picked up on the ‘challenges’ trend and worked with a content creator in Saudi Arabia on a campaign that’s all about devouring the largest burger.

Essentially, by serving a smorgasbord of food content that satisfies audiences’ YouTube appetites, brands can ensure people come back for seconds (and maybe even thirds).

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