Yet often the communication that emerges is anything but creative, insightful or incisive.
It is an old chestnut that refuses to go away – a situation that was only compounded by the region’s inability to win any major international advertising awards last year.
Now another year of awards ceremonies is under way and the region’s advertising industry will be under the spotlight again for the work it produced during the past 12 months.
The first regional gauge of creativity was held last week in Lebanon, where the MENA Cristal Awards attracted industry professionals from across the Gulf, Levant and North Africa.
Leo Burnett, JWT and Impact BBDO were the most awarded agencies, showcasing work that was of fine quality.
However, the majority of advertising that consumers come face-to-face with on a daily basis – from a wide selection of agencies – is not of such a high quality.
Within a boom economy, real estate, retail and banking sector advertising predominates, with companies spending huge amounts of money on marketing in order to stand out.
Figures for the UAE alone point to an annual increase in total ad spend of 22 per cent.
The end result is clutter on an industrial scale and identikit advertising for malls, real estate developments and bank loans.
Although believing some great advertising work is being carried out in the region, Kamal Dimachkie, managing director of Leo Burnett Dubai and Kuwait, said it is only part of a much wider range of quality.
“You have some work that is not particularly good. You can see quite a few examples of work that has been developed and produced quickly.
But on the other hand you are also seeing the spectrum pull further north from where it used to be as far as quality is concerned.
We are seeing some examples of very good quality work, so personally I would not be of the view that the quality of the total communication product in the region has regressed.
But I would say that it’s sitting on a broader spectrum of quality.”
As with other issues facing the advertising industry, the problems associated with creativity come in different shapes and sizes and don’t only relate to ad agencies themselves, but to media agencies and clients as well.
There is also the added complexity that the lack of talent impacts on creative output.
While great ads and great ideas do exist in this region, Jennie Morris, executive creative director at Impact BBDO Dubai, believes the real challenge is to create great work for regional or local clients.
Impact BBDO won a Cristal last week for its ‘Don’t Stop’ TV commercial for Snickers – the ad has also won international awards – but Masterfoods is a multinational client more receptive to creative thinking.
“The challenge is getting regional business and doing really good work on regional business,” admitted Morris.
“It’s always going to be much easier to do that on our multinational clients.
The nature of a lot of the local work is quite real estate based at the moment so it has its creative limitations.
But as long as agencies go through really good phases of pitching and then being able to bed down accounts and get stuck into doing some good creative on them, then there’s always opportunities.”
Still, Morris believes that, creatively, the region has come on over the past few years.
“In the two years I’ve been here I’ve definitely seen the level of the work increase and I think every year it’s going to get a bit better,” she said.
“We’re at the point now where there are people knocking on the doors of Dubai agencies from other good established advertising markets and wanting jobs, so that’s a good sign.”
Chafic Haddad, executive creative director at JWT Dubai, which snapped up an award for its work for Nestle at the MENA Cristal Awards, believes creativity need not suffer from a booming market and increased workloads if an agency concentrates on its regular work.
“We’re concentrating on our day-to-day work,” admitted Haddad.
“And if you have some good day-to-day work creativity shouldn’t really be an issue.
We’re doing well and there’s some good work from other agencies – really good work. So we’re heading in the right direction.”
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