Next week Mounir Harfouche, CEO of Lowe MENA will take part in the ‘Creating Change – How Brave Are You’ discussion at Dubai Lynx. We caught up with him to find out more about the trends and challenges facing the region and pick his brains about what 2013 holds.
LBB> What are the most exciting creative trends making waves in Mena’s ad industry right now?
MH> No more statements! Conversation.
Gone are the days when statements moved consumers to buy. Today, it’s all about the conversations and how these conversations happen between brands and digital tribes. It is in these conversations where brands either succeed or fail. This is the reason why the digital universe is the anchor point that ties an eco-system of traditional and non-traditional channels together – greatly influencing creativity.
Information is seeking us, rather than us seeking information.
As Google, Apple, Samsung, Nokia and a host of other technological giants continue to invent and re-invent the way we consume information, we are rapidly moving to a point where information seeks us rather than us seeking information. This will greatly impact creativity and how creativity is delivered to people.
LBB> You’re taking part in a discussion entitled ‘Creating Change – How Brave Are You’. In terms of advertising in MENA are you seeing examples of bravery and what kind of ‘change’ are you creating in Lowe Mena?
MH> By default, the MENA region’s core characteristic is bravery and it demands bravery. If you look at the cultural context and the political environment, it is evident that bravery is the cornerstone of much of the change we see today. For example: the slow empowerment of the Saudi women, the demand for an honest Arab leadership, the rise of youth influence. At Lowe Mena, we understand that these variables are not only about today but also have a ripple effect into tomorrow– that is why bravery is at the core of our agency. We need to maintain the right balance between what we can do today and what can be done tomorrow, to ensure that the brands we handle live a bright future. We’re building the 21st century agency and this is bravery, which, therefore, requires a brave approach.
LBB> Are there any particular projects that you’ve been involved in over the last year that have really excited you?
MH> Many projects in fact. One of them would have to be our latest campaign for “The Lebanese green Party “. The mission was to make people more sensitive towards the lives of trees in Lebanon, right before the cutting season. The campaign showed trees being cut while hearing screams of people being tortured, before they die. The campaign was meant to be very violent to touch people and it did the job… some people claimed to have muted their TV!
LBB> To say that the last few years have been turbulent in some areas of MENA is an understatement – most recently with the situation in Syria. What effect do political situations like these have on creativity – does it foster bravery or caution?
MH> It is a double-edged sword and it’s very dependent on the brands we handle. While the political landscape does change the attitude and behavior of the populace, many brands in the region shy away from political connections. Without a doubt, most brands will try and leverage the current movement through more optimistic creativity.
LBB> During the Arab Spring uprising and subsequent events, social media played a fairly prominent role, particularly in Egypt. How do you think this has affected brand’s relationships with social media? For example has it affected their willingness to have a social media presence in throughout the MENA region? Do consumers see social media as a place to connect with brands, or does it carry more political connotations?
MH> Social media like anywhere else in the world is the largest democratic state. It’s in this environment where social constraints are lifted and the freedom to voice and choose is paramount. Yes, social media did play a role in the Arab Spring, but contrary to popular belief, it was not the instigator – it was the people’s frustration towards the current leadership. And yes, social media is a place to connect, whether for politics, love, invention, creativity or just with your favorite brands.
LBB> Economically it looks like Dubai is getting back on track – what role has advertising played in this and do you see changes in consumer confidence?
MH> Dubai has always been on track. Yes there was a drop in the economy during the crisis, but never in the power and the potential of this ambitious city. In my opinion, Dubai’s position today and thanks to its great advanced infrastructure, makes it a power hub for the region and beyond, for many years to come. The confidence of Dubai inspires the way we think.
This city is a great example of bravery and that has influenced advertising agencies as well helped both the economy and our industry to quickly overcome the crisis. Where advertising does play a role is in how agencies can maintain a brand’s existence through a leaner form of creativity. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and during an economic crisis advertising invents new models to keep the bottom-line healthy – for the agency and the client. Yes consumer’s confidence is much stronger.
LBB> What does 2013 hold for the ad industry in MENA?
MH> I believe that “Intelligent” is back. There will be room only to those that have a clear added value. This year will separate the old generation agencies from the new generation ones. 2013 will show that 21st century models will make the unconventional; conventional - Creativity will rise and digital will be less of a commercial hype and more of an integrated practice. Strategy will rule and advertising agencies will move from being communication experts to being communication consultants and business partners. 2013 is cool, if we are as well.