More walks, more talks, more connections

The advertising industry in this region has plenty to shout about when it comes to gender diversity. We recently interviewed a number of female executives for our annual Women in Advertising issue and there were lots of positive comments about the progress being made.

But no-one will deny there is a lot more work to do in leveling the playing field. We will be publishing these interviews online at Campaign Middle East and in our September issue.

Manal Khater, Head of Strategy, Leo Burnett

I’m guilty of changing shoes often, falling for them, staring at them, coveting them, buying them full price, half price, gifting them, and packing more of them than the days of a trip.

Sneakers, sandals, high tops, low tops, stilettos, kitten heels, mary janes, sling backs, slides, wrong shoe, right shoe. You get it. It feels vain. But I’m not.

I love walking in my shoes, and I love walking in yours. It’s at the heart of what I do.

I believe that the core of communication is empathy. And even though we’ve thrown empathy around like confetti, I’m a firm believer that we do better work, and become better at work, when we’re empathetic. And it starts with a stroll.

To understand and influence people, we need to do more than just read about them or monitor their online behaviour. We need to walk in their different shoes.

It’s not desktop research, it’s actual conversation and connection. It’s an art form that has been diluted or lost. Blame strained budgets, Covid, or our attachment to screens, but our sedentary lifestyles are not conducive to connection.

Consumer understanding happens outside the office. I’m not saying social listening won’t cut it, but I am advocating for more strolls, more walking and talking.

Our best campaigns have been the result of walks, hangouts and living room conversations with our target audience. It’s real, raw research.

On a 6am walk to school with girls in Lagos, through mud and mice, I learned that missing class is missing out on life.

Within a group chat, the ‘IRL’ kind, in Sao Paolo, I saw sisterhood as survival, and power as feminine. In a tiny living room in Moscow, I felt the essentialism of heels, and indoor plants.

Under a broken roof in Mexico City, I made the unlikely link between machismo and period products.

At a home-grown café in Riyadh, with a brownie and an almond mocha, I understood that women are driven by, but also driving, Vision 2030.

With tea and biscuits in London, a group of fathers explained why they outsource critical conversation to mothers, and how brands can help.

In a communal living space next to an indoor chicken-shed in rural Egypt, with big smiles and bare feet, I understood why optimism is the best coping mechanism. Brand content can deliver that.

There is nothing like a mix of body language, emotional undertones, natural settings, a sidewalk and a beverage to give you insights. That’s real connection.

From Beirut to the world, I’ve become an accidental anthropologist designing campaigns for Brazil, Mexico, Germany, UK, Spain, France, Russia, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India and more.

It’s not foreign, it’s a lived and shared experience. It’s knowing that social listening must get social, and practicing extroversion and empathy is key for strategy work.

Consumers are people, and people are social first. Once we get in their shoes, we get to their guts, hearts and heads.

So go out there. Move. It isn’t always pretty or comfortable; I’ve caught all the viruses, sinus infections, and stomach bugs. But dirt is good.

Pedicures are great. Being barefoot is grounding. Strolls are mind altering. And of all the shoes that I’ve walked in, my favorites haven’t been mine.

It’s not fashion, it’s empathy and consumer understanding.