Blogs & Comment

Are regional brands willing to take a risk?

Ian Haworth is global chief creative officer at RAPP. He is president of the direct, promo & activation, interactive and mobile jury at the Dubai Lynx

“Firstly, I’d like to say what an honour and a privilege it is to be a jury president at the Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity.The Middle East and North Africa are phenomenal cradles of wonderfully diverse, innovative and creative cultures, so to be involved in judging the very best in creativity that this region has to offer is incredibly exciting. This is going to be a voyage of discovery. I’m curious about how the expression in this region compares to that in other regions of the world.

What are the emotional landscapes explored? How are pathos, humour and wit employed in the storytelling that brands create? Equally, what are the common human and emotional truths that are truly global and relevant everywhere?

I’m also interested in the level of risk that brands and agencies are prepared to take. It’s a common problem in the West, where many mature markets seem paralysed with fear (particularly in the UK and the US) while others, like Latin America and Australia and New Zealand are roaming free and creating amazing pieces of work such as ‘Driving Dogs’ for the SPCA in New Zealand, which are bonkers but brilliant. I couldn’t see that happening in the US.

With the incredible diversity of cultures in the Middle East and North Africa, I wonder what the ‘riskometer’ looks like across each country?

In the social space, are there still echoes of the Arab Spring, and are we seeing organisations encouraging ordinary people to share their voice? How does this vary country by country? How political are some of the brands, and are politics part of self-expression? Or does self-expression manifest itself through labels and consumption? Is there a Benetton equivalent here that is overtly political?

Remember the recent ‘Curators of Sweden’ campaign, when the Svenska Institute and VisitSweden handed over their Twitter feed to the public. Is that kind of bravery starting to bubble here?

Again, I’m fascinated about how, or indeed whether, that differs by country. How is racial and sexual equality expressed, and who is the marketing mainly aimed at?

In many more mature markets, for example, it’s so overt in its ‘minority’ or ‘equality’ targeting that it’s almost patronising. Is that a challenge in this region?

With the explosion of digital channels, platforms and devices, we have seen the evolution of genuine multi-platform narrative delivering a truly connected experience. Couple that with data taking centre stage, the fully connected digital and data experience is now happening in many markets. How is that evolving across MENA, is the digital explosion mainly in the domain of social platforms, or is it far more connected? Are we getting brilliant utility experiences and platforms like Nike+ and Fuel Band, that are the creation of digital and data working in perfect harmony?

With the economic decline in many markets, coupled with hyper competition, we are seeing huge innovations born out of real need. And this is happening on a regular basis. Is that happening here, or are the markets in high growth, meaning that innovation isn’t needed to gain market share?

Look at American Express’ ‘Small Business Saturday’ initiative from last year; it was driven from the need created by economic decline. It was an incredible social and ground-roots out campaign that was so successful. Will we see ideas of that ilk, or is the market in a totally different place?

I understand that mobile is a huge channel here. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how that is being employed, as I still think it’s grossly underutilised in so many markets. This is incredible when you consider that most web usage is now accessed on a hand held device.”