Saudi prince appears in first ever TV ad

Analysts say commercial may be sign that kingdom's notoriously private royal family is opening up.

April 22, 2010 18:46
3 minute read.
Saudi prince in ad

Saudi prince in ad 311. (photo credit: YouTube )


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A seemingly innocent television advertisement featuring a Saudi Prince endorsing Saudi Arabia's second largest mobile phone operator has caused extensive debate in the kingdom.

Prince Abdullah bin Meteb, grandson of Saudi King Abdullah, played a leading role in an advertisement for Etihad Etisalat (Mobily). This marks the first time a Saudi prince has appeared in a television commercial, which some Saudi analysts see as a sign that the notoriously reclusive royal family is slowly engaging more publicly with Saudi society.

"This is the first time this has ever happened," a Saudi business executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of royal matters in the kingdom, told The Media Line. "Even though they are very active in business, the royal family doesn't like to highlight it."

"For generations the royal family has always kept an extremely low profile in terms of publicity and certainly anything to do with advertisement," he said. "They consider themselves above such things. They are very conscious of their image, and they rarely put themselves in the public eye beyond what is required as leaders. So it's certainly controversial."

The businessman said he did not see the advertisement as a conflict of interest.

"The unspoken position of the business community is that this may be a conflict of interest, especially if it becomes a general practice," he said. "But in my opinion the fact that Prince Abdullah is involved with this company is no big deal. It's not an endorsement like it is in the West, like Michael Jordan endorses Nike and all the little kids go buy Nikes. It doesn't work that way here because the royal family members are not celebrities. They are rulers. In the West little kids aspire to be Michael Jordan. Here little kids don't aspire to be princes because that's something given by birth."

All royalty are descendants of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. There are tens of thousands of Saudi princes and princesses. 

The national budget awards most Saudi princes regular stipends, and many end up in senior positions of power within the kingdom's government or army. While it is common for member's of Saudi Arabia's large royal family to have extensive business interests, their dealings are largely kept out of the public eye.

An avid horseman, HRH Prince Abdullah is understood to have signed a sponsorship deal with Mobily, the principal competitor with the government run Saudi Telecom. Details of the sponsorship deal between Mobily and Prince Abdullah have not been released.

Analysts saw the presence of the prince in the Mobily advertisement as a positive sign.

"We've never seen princes do something like that but it's good," Eman Al Nafjan, an influential Saudi blogger told The Media Line. "I liked it. I thought it was well done and it’s not controversial."

"If he had done something deemed inappropriate that would have been controversial, as they probably don't want to be in the public eye in that way," she said. "But this is a relatively young prince, so he doesn't have any affiliations with the Ministry of Communications or something like that."

These sentiments were echoed by Dr Khalil Al-Khalil, a former Saudi parliamentarian who sat on the committee of Islamic affairs.

"The prince is not in any official capacity at all," he told The Media Line. "He's young, he's a sports person and outside of horse races he's not really known to people. So to me this is like any member of Saudi society."

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