Has the storytelling aspect of advertising stood the test of time?
Good advertising will always be tied to good storytelling. But what has changed is the frequency and the context in which we tell these stories. If I were to describe advertising, sometimes it can be a slow moving ship at a big network or big agency, and then you’ve got these smaller agencies that recognize the change of tide and how technology and how people use that technology has changed and then they adopt new ways of telling stories much faster. Now we need to train ourselves to be more like publishers and less like traditional advertisers. So it’s not enough to just communicate once a quarter with a big campaign, we need to make an effort to tell big, small, medium sized stories that all lead to the same brand essence.
Should video be at the forefront of campaigns regionally because of its popularity?
There’s been this push to integrate offline and online but video is really the proof of the success of offline [connecting with online] because how else can we share that story with a wider audience. I think video is here to stay, the numbers don’t lie; the amount of video that is consumed in this region daily leading globally. I’m a big proponent of video but there’s a stigma around it, clients think that video is expensive. New platforms are emerging that are democratizing video, you can broadcast at the push of a button and people all around the world can tune in to the story you’re telling. Brands are at the periphery of that, wondering how they can get involved. However, for brands this medium is immediate and they’re used to having a brief, and a plan, and a script. Regional brands are looking at new technology and thinking: let’s let everybody else try it first and make mistakes. But agencies want them to actually plant a flag and say, “we want to be leaders we want to be part of this group that is really taking this to market,” and that, to me, is the dream client that agencies want to work with.
Should brands always focus on developing a good story?
Good stories will find a way, the platforms will come and go, and some of them are here to stay, but at the end of the day, if there’s no story based on a real human insight that makes people laugh, or cry, or smile, then the platforms don’t matter. You start with people, you find out what their behaviors are, what is the behavior that we want to change, what is the thing that we want them to think at the end of watching this, and then we come up with the creative story and we tell it in a way that no one’s seen before, and then with the right media placement the right seeding strategy, we hope that it will do well and be seen by the right people. If the story is great and the message is great than the content will find a way, and the platforms become secondary at that point.
What does the modern consumer want from their content?
Advertising hit a wall, for so long it was about disruption: how can we take somebody who has been living their life up until now and they see our commercial and their whole life changes? And now, if you look at millennials, they don’t want to be witnesses anymore. They don’t want to just watch and not have a say; they want to be participants. That is the ultimate goal, if you can create a content experience that people can take and do their own thing with, or use to connect with each other, that is the coolest thing. And it gives me goose bumps to think of creating these types of experiences where you’re connecting people who never otherwise would have hung out or chatted or shared their opinion.
How does the storytelling strategy need to change to be relevant on a digital platform?
We are trying to make headway in the region with this idea. Brands need to open it [the concept] up and realize there might not be a big budget, but they could tell smaller and more bite-size stories throughout the year, that are also more immediate. Immediacy is something that we still really haven’t seen in the region. For example, the Oreo Super Bowl Dunk-in the Dark or Snickers’ World Cup Louis Suarez tweets; these events happened and brands capitalized on them. We haven’t seen this here because there’s still a disconnect and mistrust between brand and agency. And it’s only when an agency and a brand have that close relationship, where the agency doesn’t need to get 10 levels of approval from the CEO, the secretary and the CEO’s kid, but brands can just recognize a perfect opportunity and push something out. There are a lot of agencies and clients in the region that are trying to get together to do this type of work.
What steps should the industry take to help digital grow?
Regionally, brands need to open themselves up to communicating in rich ways through non-campaign periods, even if some of them are lower budget, lower tech but just great stories.
This market is supposedly one of the leaders in terms of Smartphone adoption. So how can we have people that love technology but then when you look at the ads or the communications stories that are coming out of that space, where is the amazing content, where are the groundbreaking ways of telling stories in this region? It’s both a shame but a challenge and I look at is as a massive opportunity. Who’s going to be that first agency to really champion digital for the region and take it to a global stage?
Here, there’s a willingness to learn about digital and social and how they are tied to the consumer, but there is a talent gap. Dubai is ahead of the game, but there are some talented people in Riyadh and Jeddah, and everyone is fighting and clawing to ramp up their digital capabilities. The more people recognize that we owe it to ourselves to help the region move forward. Talent should put on that teacher hat every once and awhile, whether it’s for our own agencies or clients to help take them to that next level. And I think that’s really fun, and I think that’s a part of my job that I really love; there’s something nice about going in to have lunch with a client and have something click when they’ve learned something new.
Are there any regional campaigns come to mind that got digital right?
I think on digital we’re not there yet, but we need to look at it as an opportunity. We need to be supportive of each other. If we can get that first digital campaign then we’ll really start to see that recognition. The talent will come, people will start to look at the Middle East as a region that is not just strong in print, or outdoor, but also strong in digital and mobile.