Region’s ad firms ‘lack creativity’

The Middle East's poor showing at global D&AD Awards has cast a shadow over region’s ability to deliver exceptional creative work.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  June 5, 2005

The Middle East is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to advertising creativity, according to many of the region’s leading creatives. The depressing warning came after the Middle East failed to lift a single prize at the D&AD Awards, one of the world’s best known celebrations of design, art direction and advertising creativity. On the night, a total of 131 winners were announced — picked from more than 14,000 entrants from around the world — but none came from the Middle East. “We as an industry are looking at our neighbours and competing against ourselves, rather than competing internationally. The world is moving ahead outside and we are still looking at what the world was doing ten years ago,” said Marc Chalhoub, regional executive creative director for Leo Burnett. Alain Khouri, one of the Middle East’s most powerful admen, agreed, adding that boosting creativity is the biggest challenge the industry faces. “We are not able to quite crack it,” the Impact BBDO chairman told Campaign Middle East. Ed Jones, regional creative director for Saatchi & Saatchi in the Middle East, said part of the problem was the restrictions placed on advertising by governments in the region. “You’re in a culture not famed for welcoming a disorderly approach to authority. Yet a lot of advertising in the west is best when it uses a provocative approach,” he said. Jones added that client experience exacerbated this issue, as many simply have no idea what is appropriate and end up censoring themselves. “A lot of clients are not hugely experienced, and they reflect their audience to that extent. You can present good ideas that might have a chance of winning awards but you cannot always get them sold to clients,” he explained. “A lot of people making decisions about advertising cannot be members of all the social and ethnic groups in the market, so a lot of second-guessing goes on. The pressure is to make it very simple and obvious.” Fortune Promoseven boss Phil Lynagh said it was down to agencies to win clients’ trust to let them do interesting things. “Often it’s about taking international work and Arabising it. People have even won local awards for just doing that,” said the regional vice president. “But as an industry we don’t seem able to win clients’ confidence to trust us to do more than that. What we should be doing is taking a brand’s global position and making it work in the Middle East.” However, the Middle East advertising industry does have at least one success story. Last month, Tonic, a Dubai-based ad and PR agency, lifted a gold in the US-based One Show. It was the first time in the 30-year-old event that an agency from the GCC won an award. It got the accolade for “paperclip”, a print ad for Sony flatscreen TVs featuring a sign paper-clipped to a television to demonstrate just how thin it is. Vincent Raffray, Tonic’s executive creative director told Campaign Middle East: “You can either take the prevailing attitude and come here [the Middle East] and do average work, or you can take it up as a challenge. We want to represent Dubai on a global scale.” The next test for the region’s worldwide standing comes at the end of this month with the Cannes Lions — seen as the world’s most high profile advertising awards. No ad agency from the Middle East has won there before.

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