With swelling ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets and projects such as the Dubai De­sign Dis­trict, the emi­rate is pitch­ing its cre­ative cre­den­tials.


Why should a cre­ative per­son come to Dubai?” Simon Attwa­ter, the group cre­ative di­rec­tor of global ad agency Dig­i­tas LBi Simon Attwa­ter, who has just re­cently moved to Dubai from Lon­don, asked a packed hall dur­ing this year’s Dubai Lynx.

“This is Sun­day, my Mon­day, so we are al­ready a day ahead of my col­leagues back in Lon­don, al­ready liv­ing four hours in the fu­ture. This place feels young, it is en­er­getic and vi­brant and that is why I am here,“he fin­ished to a healthy round of ap­plause.

Attwa­ter is among the many cre­ative pro­fes­sion­als who are up­beat about Dubai’s cre­ative in­dus­try, specif­i­cally, ad­ver­tis­ing and de­sign. These pro­fes­sion­als see Dubai as the new hub to tap into op­por­tu­ni­ties in emerg­ing Mid­dle Eastern and African mar­kets, re­plac­ing Lon­don, the erst­while hub.

Dubai, for its part, is work­ing hard to at­tract global de­sign tal­ent to the re­gion with ini­tia­tives such as Dubai De­sign Dis­trict (d3), a sprawl­ing precinct, cur­rently tak­ing shape, which will house ma­jor de­sign names. New re­tail projects such as Mer­aas’ BoxPark, which in­cor­po­rates var­i­ous de­sign con­cepts, have also led cre­ative pro­fes­sion­als to look at the re­gion dif­fer­ently.

“The busi­ness (in the re­gion) has al­ways been around lux­ury but we are re­ally happy with the open­ing of BoxPark be­cause it em­braces a kind of trendy cul­ture and val­ues a new gen­er­a­tion of shop­pers who are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous cat­e­gory,” said Shaghig Anser­lian, as­so­ci­ate de­sign di­rec­tor at UK-based agency Fitch.

Oth­ers point to the di­ver­sity of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion in the Mid­dle East which makes it an in­ter­est­ing mar­ket for cre­ative pro­fes­sion­als. “There are dif­fer­ent creeds and tribes of peo­ple here and they bring with them dif­fer­ent habits, ways of do­ing busi­ness and lan­guages and make sure it is an eclec­tic bub­bling hot melt­ing pot,” said Attwa­ter.

“Dubai is new while Lon­don is 2,000 years old and crum­bling in cor­ners and damp…while we come here and it feels like the city is built for the fu­ture,” he said.


The Mid­dle East’s buzzing cre­ative in­dus­try has in­creased in size through larger ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets.

“Roughly speaking, bud­gets have in­creased three­fold over the last seven or eight years, which is quite a big in­crease,” said Lau­rent Ezekiel, global client ser­vices di­rec­tor at Dig­i­tas LBi.

“Our clients are re­ally push­ing us in terms of in­no­va­tion. They are ob­sessed with do­ing work on one of the most im­por­tant de­vices – that is mo­bile hand­sets. They re­ally have pushed us and there has been some real change here.”

Ac­cord­ing to tech­nol­ogy re­search firm Gart­ner, the MENA re­gion spent al­most $5 bil­lion on ad­ver­tis­ing last year but less than 10 per cent was on dig­i­tal. Dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing spend in the re­gion is ex­pected to climb steadily to reach $2.8 bil­lion by 2016, how­ever, Gart­ner said.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of so­cial me­dia and the ‘al­ways-con­nected’ na­ture of the pop­u­la­tion here are lead­ing fac­tors in fu­elling this dig­i­tal ad spend in­crease, ac­cord­ing to Ezekiel.

“The growth in dig­i­tal is phe­nom­e­nal. Around 88 per cent of peo­ple in the re­gion are so­cial me­dia users…most of them use their mo­bile phones as the pri­mary way to ac­cess the in­ter­net, more than a desk­top or a lap­top.

“Kuwait Is the sin­gle big­gest mar­ket per user for In­sta­gram and in terms of YouTube con­sump­tion, Saudi Ara­bia is the sec­ond big­gest mar­ket. Be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE, we have the two of the top three mar­kets for the con­sump­tion of YouTube videos on mo­bile phones.”

Even as dig­i­tal op­por­tu­ni­ties gain strength, agen­cies are also keen on tap­ping into event op­por­tu­ni­ties events like Expo 2020.

“It (Dubai) is a city where there are events and op­por­tu­ni­ties, they are host­ing the Expo and they re­ally ad­ver­tise the city very well,” said Anser­lian.

“This an emerg­ing mar­ket and it is be­com­ing more com­pet­i­tive. Dubai is at the be­gin­ning of em­brac­ing new ways. We def­i­nitely see lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties here.”

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