As this year’s Dubai Lynx gets under way, Shahir Zag, chief creative officer at Y&R Middle East & North Africa, looks at the evolution of advertising in the region
“Evolution is a subtle thing. It’s imperceptible as it happens, but it does happen. It’s amazing how much advertising in this region has evolved over the past few years. The industry here now acts less and less like the hormonal adolescent it used to. And more and more like the civilised adult it is destined to become. For instance, in a recent pitch all of the participating agencies got paid pitch fees upfront, and just last week, 15 executive creative directors casually met for dinner and discussed, of all things, advertising. Considering how things were just a few years ago, this is freaking epic. And Dubai Lynx has had a lot to do with this change.
Before Lynx, we used to have an awards show night that simply handed out trophies for creativity. It was an extremely contentious and subjective affair, with agency networks peacocking for attention. There were en masse walkouts during the show which were clearly staged, rehearsed boos and jeering, and even boycotts. It was testosterone-fuelled childishness,encapsulated so perfectly by its iconic trophy. A near life-sized hand holding a phallic object.
Dubai Lynx, on the other hand, is hardly one night. Weeks before it even begins, there’s water cooler chatter about who the most interesting speakers will be, the workshops that you can’t afford to miss, and most pertinently, what work will win. And once the festival kicks off the industry galvanises into action. You’ll see agency folk, clients, suppliers and students jostling amiably through the crowd trying to get a good seat, or discussing the work, or taking a smoke break and bitching about the economy. The posturing has been replaced by genuine interest; the suspicion by curiosity. The message is clear: if we act as one, we all win. Well, mostly.
And winning at Dubai Lynx really matters. I’ve met people from Singapore and São Paulo who keep tabs on the winning work. Especially since our local work has been winning big worldwide. There’s real talent in the region and the Dubai Lynx is the perfect showcase for it. Creatives from the region have been on worldwide top rankings consistently for four years. Heck, the Agency of the Year at Lynx was the sixth-best agency at Cannes. And will you take a minute and just salute the kind of work coming out of Tunisia? Sorry, just shut up and salute it.
Every year the work keeps getting better. Not just in terms of storytelling, but also craft. A few years ago the new media categories at Dubai Lynx were pretty thin and the standard of work was pretty diabolical. Today, those categories are now very rich in ideas and content. This is great news for students who can now find inspir-ation right here at home. And even better news for clients because agencies are now constantly pushing for better ideas.
Who do I think will win ‘Agency of the Year’ at this year’s Dubai Lynx? I wouldn’t mind seeing Leo Burnett Beirut take it. And I’m not just saying that. We’ve evolved, remember?”