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Word on the street: FP7’s Tahaab Rais tells what he learned from McCann Worldgroup’s Truth About Street initiative

By Tahaab Rais, regional head of strategic planning and MENA director of Truth Central at FP7/MENA (A part of McCann Worldgroup)

In a world where brands use thousands of channels, every day, to share millions of messages with millions of people (wow, that’s a lot of numbers), what often gets lost in this massive sea of content is meaning. And without people seeing what meaningful role a brand plays in their lives, the time, effort and money don’t end up being effective. When brands are more meaningful, more people accept them in their lives. This makes knowing what people really want imperative. And, truth be told, we don’t get that with strangers sitting in a closed-door conference room (akin to an interrogation room), answering questions asked of them over coffee and cookies. We get that by going where people are.

On October 10, 2017, for Truth About Street, a global research initiative by McCann Worldgroup, roughly 20,000 of us, in more than 100 countries worldwide, left our desks and headed to the streets. In teams of five, we met people, across a cross-section of society, on the streets. Through face-to-face conversations (following a defined guide), we collected truths about culture, shopping behaviour and topical sentiments. All learnings will feed the next wave of McCann Worldgroup’s Truth about Global Brands.

In MENA, to make meaningful work in a constantly evolving region, we need to be in tune with this constantly evolving region. So, while VR, AR, AI and MI may surround us, what we’ve aimed to uncover with Truth About Street is a bit of good ol’ HI – Human Intelligence. Artificial intelligence and machines (while they enable us to analyse data), won’t uncover real human truths (yet). People will. And we’re listening.

With Truth About Street, we’re engineering ourselves to consciously and constantly hear people. Uncovering their unbridled hopes, joys, perspectives, aspirations, needs and anxieties. And developing creative products, content and experiences around them; instead of simply pushing content and campaigns, based on generic insights in our briefs, that we’ve conjured up sitting at our desks, looking just at desktop research.

Now, I’m a complete geek when it comes to data and technology, and a big proponent of its integral importance to creativity and communications. But one must remember that technology is a result of human intelligence and empathy – not a replacement for it. Data can inspire creativity and measure it. But to fashion arresting ideas, consistently, we need the traits of empathy, persuasion, instinct and self-understanding.

FP7/MENA’s CEO Tarek Miknas says, “As the voice of the MENA region, we’ve launched initiatives such as the Taxi Driver Diaries in 2012, which is an ongoing program for us. And we’re constantly focused on knowing our part of the world better than others. And we take pride in our global network for doing the exact same thing across the world. Knowing our region and its people better than others enables us to remain at the forefront of our industry when it comes to work that makes a meaningful difference for our brands.”

He adds: “What’s fantastic is that our entire employee base from countries across MENA (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon, Turkey, Bahrain) has participated. Truth About Street is enabling every employee to understand behaviours, anxieties and trends on the streets, in the real world, and it’s helping them apply these insights to impact our client’s brands and businesses, along with contributing to a very switched-on and curious agency culture.”

Beyond being a proprietary study, unlike anything done by any company in MENA – or, for that matter, anywhere in the world – Truth About Street is an intelligence programme involving employees across disciplines (strategy, business management, creative, technology, finance, admin and HR), in mining all that embodies the essence of each city and its people.

We’ve heard our people talk about how when we observe the city like a tourist, the city and its people seem much more interesting. To learn the truth about street, I went off it for a couple of hours, taking eight abra rides in Dubai. One team in Dubai met a tourist from Saudi Arabia, whom they hesitated to make contact with. But upon approaching him, they uncovered their favourite and most insightful conversation; he even treated them to coffee and refreshments.

The programme is helping us be more in sync with people in the real world, which will help us create more meaningful work in a constantly evolving world. And have a whole lot of fun and create new friendships while at it.