The Haredi Digital Sector in COVID-19 Times

Lately, it seems the Coronavirus has managed to make the internet a legitimate thing in the Haredi society, which up to not long ago was very split about its legitimacy. How did things turn out this way, and is it going to stay like that even after the crisis? David Galperin sets things straight, regarding the Haredi digital industry after COVID-19.

If there’s something that can definitely be said about what COVID 19 did to us, it is that it caused us all to leave our comfort zone and to discover how we can run our lives differently. Some might say it is for the better, while others would define it as more challenging – but there is no doubt that we have all undergone a change as a result of the health crisis, which turned into a social-economic crisis as well, with no end in sight.

This crisis has raised, and will continue to raise, many challenges: the need to work from home during lockdowns, the need to communicate with the world and to stay updated on the latest restrictions, the need to keep in touch with friends and family without being able to meet them due to isolation or sickness, and even the need to buy products and services without leaving home. While for most of us this sounds complex but achievable, try to imagine how these challenges can be overcome without the internet. And now, after you’ve reached the conclusion that this seems almost impossible, you’ll be able to understand the following data we bring.

David Galperin has been in the marketing and advertising business for many years now and follows the changes in the industry closely. Lately he discovered that after a few decades in which the Haredis treated the internet as malicious and even publicly stated that the internet is a form of a cancer, numbers show that the COVID-19 crisis has this society swarming the internet. If in the past it was considered a taboo, reserved only for “modern Haredis”, the Coronavirus turned the internet into a popular product even in the more conservative homes.

Research: no longer afraid of the internet

According to data published by Bezeq, internet usage in the Haredi society during COVID-19 grew by 40% and many families and institutions are looking to install it in their homes and offices. Whether it is for Torah lessons through Zoom, activities for kids, video chats with family members and even catching up on the news, the internet has slowly turned into a legitimate matter. In fact, this existential need leads to one of the fastest internet adoption processes in the history of Israel, in all sectors of society.

All of that is nice, but the skeptics will roll their eyes and claim that this is temporary. In other words, the internet’s popularity in the Haredi sector is time- and circumstance-dependent, and that if it weren’t for COVID-19, we would have probably not been witnessing this phenomenon. The internet has been around for a few decades now, and just like the Haredis have spared no effort at keeping themselves isolated from the rest of society, they will do the same when this matter calms down.

This approach can be answered on two different levels. The first is projections made by sociologists that the influence of the internet and its advantages on the Haredi sector is irreversible. In fact, many assume that even if many Haredi families decide after COVID-19 to remove the internet from their homes, they will still not be able to erase the digital orientation experience. Research conducted shows that Haredis will continue using digital tools even after the crisis, so eventually it is a meaningful change for the way of life of the Haredi population as we know it, and even a trigger to encourage its absorption into Isareli society and economy.

The second level for treating these skeptic claims is the fact that they ignore a significant and essential process of rise in usage of digital platforms among the Haredi sector, under the radar of the mainstream Haredi media. According to a survey conducted a year ago by the “Askaria” institute, over half of the Haredis polled said they use the internet. For those of you who are quick to conclude that this is the “outskirts” of the Haredi society and the less conservative streams of it, the survey also found that a significant percentage of Yeshiva students surf online – and that was before the virus entered our lives. 

Love the written word, but also the video clip

In fact, despite the fact that a little over ten years ago the internet was the Rabbis’ biggest enemy, in recent years it has turned more legitimate. In time, websites targeting the Haredi sector were set up, the volume of usage rose and with it the percentage of Haredi users of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. This fact turned the Haredis to a potential and vibrant target audience for digital media, and has even assisted in their absorption into the Israeli society, culture and workforce. In addition to WhatsApp, which is considered a trending advertising venue and its users take advantage of its groups and ‘status’ options in that sense, today you can find Haredi personas in the network who are opinion leaders with a number of followers equal to those of A-list celebrities.

And with the rise in the number of followers, the amount of online purchases rises naturally. It is not uncommon to see that post offices in Haredi neighborhoods are swamped with deliveries from shopping websites. Whether it is international sites like ASOS and NEXT, or local ones, there is no doubt that the Haredis have discovered the advantages of shopping on the internet. In fact, only 5% of those asked had stated that the COVID-19 crisis was the first time they shopped online.

Maybe this is the reason that even the online Haredi businesses, which have already discovered the wonders of the web and used it to target the general public (especially for raising funds and donations for organizations), have understood that it can also be used for targeting within the Haredi population as well. The most popular sectors marketing online to Haredis these days are real estate, donation raising for organizations and digital stores of different businesses.

Another characteristic of internet usage in the Haredi sector is the format of the content they consume. If in the past, an emphasis was put on the written word, the digital age proves that the Haredi sector has a soft spot for video content as well. And indeed, many of the video clips created in this sector, organic or not, become viral and generate unique viewers in volumes similar to those of content for the general public.

They know how to spot opportunities

Those wise enough to spot the trend in its beginnings are the sectorial advertising firms, especially those that opened up special digital departments.

“Gil Group”, run and owned by David Galperin, is the largest of these firms in Israel, working among the Haredi sector in fields like advertising, marketing and advanced media solutions. The company was founded in 1999 and, just like the Haredi sector itself, it has developed throughout the years according to the trends in real time. Under this umbrella, you can find brands like “Gil Advertising” which provides marketing, branding, strategic and advertising services to businesses, “Gil Street” which specializes in street ads, mailing campaigns and banners, “Gil Print” which is in the printed ad industry, and “Gil Gift” for branded presents. The newest addition is “Gil Digital”, specializing in creation and development of digital campaigns for Haredi businesses or for brands targeting Haredi audiences.

“Today, it is clear to all that the Haredi sector is a significant buying power and big companies put a lot of money into this sector, in numbers which are just growing,” remarks Galperin. “The Haredis of 2020 are nothing like the vision we have in our minds when we think of the average Haredi. They are more educated, work more, consume more, fly more and generally enjoy life more. With that in mind, it is still a mistake to treat them similar to the general public. Since they come from a more conservative background, the Haredis are different in their digital usage when compared to the general lsraeli population, so in order to properly target them, one needs to know the sector in depth, as well as its culture and social norms. That is exactly the service we provide, as a company stemming from that sector and very familiar with it – from the campaign managers to the content people and graphic designers – so the results are authentic.”

Today, everyone knows that the secret to a winning digital campaign is the adjusting of the message and proper targeting – the kind that will lead you to the right person, at the right time and with the right words. This matter, which usually requires thorough research of the target audience and its internet usage habits, becomes especially important when discussing the Haredi sector – not only digital-wise. In this sector, the traditional print media is also very diversified and targeting different internal streams, so the digital efforts become especially complex and require knowledge of the internal dynamics. However, as opposed to print advertising, which requires matriculate supervision of visibility and messages, digital advertising allows you, as a business owner, to enter through the back door to almost every home in the sector, especially these days.

“You can say that the COVID-19 crisis brought with it many challenges to the Haredi people, but many opportunities as well,” summarizes David Galperin. “Now all you need to do is identify them in time and succeed in leveraging the success, which we have been reaping for years, to a wide-scale revolution.”