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FOCUS ON ISSUES Israeli advertisers target fervently Orthodox market

JERUSALEM, Dec. 18 (JTA) — When Pisga, an Israeli manufacturer of laundry products, wanted to expand its customer base, it turned to one of the country’s leading advertising agencies. Researching the market, the advertising firm, Gitam/BBDO, learned that Pisga was not a household name among some of Israel’s largest households — those of haredim, or fervently Orthodox Jews. While those families, which often include a dozen or more children, are great consumers of laundry products, a large percentage had never tried Pisga. The reason: The company had never taken the trouble to market its products to the Orthodox community. As a growing number of Israeli companies are beginning to realize, reaching out to religious consumers is very good business. “With haredim [making up] about 15 percent of the overall population, it’s worthwhile for advertisers to market to the community,” says an employee of the haredi newspaper Yated Ne’eman, who asked that her name not be published for “reasons of modesty.” “We have tremendous buying power, and that power, like the community itself, is growing all the time,” she adds. Although many businesses have gotten the message, marketing their products to this insular community requires a great deal of sensitivity to its norms. According to Shifra Krimalovsky, advertising director of Gitam/BBDO’s religious division, it is not enough to know what products appeal to haredim. “Research has shown that food, clothing, jewelry, silver and gold items — and anything for the home — sell in this sector, and that tourism and entertainment activities like concerts and the theater do not.” Krimalovsky, an Orthodox mother of 11 children, says, “This community has a lot of unique needs. It is very conscious of the messages being sent out via advertising. For an ad to be acceptable, it must be consistent with haredi religious values.” While there is no “haredi handbook” for advertisers, those who want their products featured in the haredi press or the haredi Yellow Pages are careful not to feature women in their advertisements. In addition, any product, service or event that might be construed as immodest or a waste of time — especially if it could detract from Torah study or the performance of Jewish rituals — is shied away from. “Defining what is considered objectionable isn’t so clear cut,” says the employee at Yated Ne’eman. “We don’t use ads with women, but this has nothing to do with advertising. We don’t carry pictures of women anywhere in the paper, and we stay away from violence, so we never show pictures of bomb or accident victims.” Rivkah Shifren, publisher of Bat Kol, a magazine for religious, — though not necessarily fervently Orthodox — women, says a well-known haredi newspaper rejected her bid to place an ad offering female readers an introductory copy of her magazine. The paper found Bat Kol unacceptable, she says, “even though I accept ads only if they are modest.” “I don’t take things that show a woman in a miniskirt or a sleeveless top, and I won’t advertise a non-kosher restaurant,” she says. “I do have an ad from a safehouse for religious women, and they might have found that objectionable in some way.” As stringent as the haredi advertising world is, many companies say the rewards outweigh the headaches. Recognizing the potential gains, business giants such as Elite Chocolate, Osem food products and the Bezek telephone company have created in-house haredi marketing departments or have farmed their religious marketing needs out to advertising agencies. Smaller companies, which often design their own ads, tend to boast that their staff members observe the Sabbath, or that their foods are produced with the approval of a certain rabbi or kashrut authority. “The most important thing for any company,” says Krimalovsky, “is knowing your target group. You have to speak their language.” Krimalovsky demonstrated her knowledge of the haredi world when she helped create an ad for Time cigarettes. Instead of the ads published in the secular press, which include photos of couples sitting by the seashore, the advertising executive took a page from Jewish law when designing the “kosher” ad. Under the heading “Shavuah Tov,” the words Orthodox Jews say after performing the Havdalah ceremony at the end of Shabbat, the ad features a Havdalah set and a pack of cigarettes. “According to Jewish law, you can’t smoke on the Sabbath, and people build up a real craving for a cigarette,” she says. “This ad acknowledges this.” In the case of Pisga’s laundry products, the company opted to go with a single ad campaign, albeit with two different photographs. In the regular ad, two T-shirts graced with Marilyn Monroe’s likeness hang side-by-side on a clothesline. One is gray and dingy, the other is as white as new snow. The haredi ad also features a clothesline, but this time the things hanging out in the sun are two tallitot, or prayer shawls, their fringes dancing in the breeze. Thanks to the ad’s dual successes — both inside and outside the haredi community — Pisga’s revenues “rose substantially,” Krimalovsky says.

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