ABDULWAHED JUMA, head of brand at Du, on having faith in agency partners.
As the UAE telco picks up Dubai Lynx’s Advertiser of the Year title, brand and communications chief Abdulwahed Juma tells Austyn Allison that creativity needs to get more agile, while staying human
“From time to time you have to stretch the boundaries and let your creative agency practise their creativity.”
UAE telecommunications provider Du was this year’s Dubai Lynx Advertiser of the Year. While CEO Osman Sultan went on stage to pick up the prize, it is executive vice-president of brand & corporate communications Abdulwahed Juma who runs the marketing side of the business.
He took on the role just under a year ago, having served as chief commercial officer of Abu Dhabi Media since 2014, but it has already been an interesting run. Two months into the job, Du had to pull an ad for its Du Tuesdays cinema promotion. Since then, it has shifted its media buying from Starcom to new Omnicom shop Hearts & Science, and its creative brief – which has been held by Leo Burnett for the 12 years since Du launched – is currently out for pitch. An announcement is due within the next month.
Awards such as the Dubai Lynx reflect well on all involved, says Juma. “The award is not only for the agencies; the award is for the combined work between the team on board and the agencies,” he says. “Of course, it emphasises that there is synchronisation between the two. There is an understanding.”
He adds: “We cannot deny that Leo has been with us since inception. For a creative agency to be with you for the past 12 years, that means a lot. They are part of the team, they understand you.”
Awards are a way to take the pulse of your work, he says: “The philosophy of awards for me is they are just a checkpoint. You don’t work for awards, you don’t create your campaign for awards. You create your campaign on different platforms, for different messages. If those messages are delivered, they create an impact, they change behaviour, then by default they will win some awards.”
The partnership between agencies and clients is based around the agency understanding what the client stands for, says Juma. And Du is clear on its positioning.
“We are a challenger brand, we are much younger in the market [than the UAE’s other telco, Etisalat],” says Juma. “We are dynamic and we are youthful and we are fast. We want to position ourselves as a reliable, fast, dynamic, friendly brand. Once you have those criteria, the pillars of your brand character, then you take them to all of your creative work. That’s where the agency has to challenge you sometimes, and come up with something out of the box. But that out-of-the-box should fit those main criteria.”
Although he won’t be drawn on how the creative pitch is going, other than to say it is “very close,” Juma says that no matter who wins he’d like them to help speed up the creative process. “It’s a common responsibility,” he says. “But we are a bit slow sometimes in time-to-market. Some mindsets would say don’t go to market unless you are perfectly there, but that is against any market dynamics. You have to go to market as quickly as possible and then fix the wheel while you are driving it. I would love to see – from both the new agencies and our team – quicker go-to-market tactics when it comes to campaigns.”
Leo Burnett is still in the running to retain the account. “Surprisingly, Leo who pitched was a younger, more dynamic and more active Leo than we see every day. I think it is about flexibility,” he says. However, he is quick to clarify that this isn’t a dig at the incumbent, as much as a recognition that agencies need room to breathe: “However much the brands are rigid, you hinder productivity of the agency.
“We are dynamic and we are youthful and we are fast. We want to position ourselves as a reliable, fast, dynamic, friendly brand. Once you have those criteria, the pillars of your brand character, then you take them to all of your creative work. That’s where the agency has to challenge you sometimes, and come up with something out of the box. But that out-ofthe-box should fit those main criteria.”