Dubai is a city that’s leaning hard into the future. The people are highly connected as are the physical spaces – which makes it the perfect spot for work that blends experience, technology, creativity and activation. TBWA/RAAD’s head of digital explains why our eyes should be on Dubai.
LBB> Why do you think that the UAE is so strong when it comes to activation and digital work?
Emad> The UAE is a nation of achievements that has marked its global presence on the world map, in just shy of 49 years. A country where leaders have crossed-out the word impossible from their dictionary. This ambitious persistent mindset manifests across multiple sectors, including business.
The UAE is a very attractive business hub for brands to establish their presence and conduct business in the region and a highly competitive business scene in which activation work is deemed as an appealing marketing tactic that drives impact and fame-driven results to businesses and leaders. Activations are a recurring topic in the media, highly celebrated in award shows and therefore constitute a perfect area for professionals to attain recognition.
LBB> Do you think there’s anything unique about UAE (the industry or the people and infrastructure generally) that makes it such a conducive environment for this creative, tech-driven interactive work?
Emad> The UAE is one of the most connected countries in the world with an average of two smartphones per person. This connectivity is a huge opportunity for brands to communicate to their audiences. However, the competition landscape is one of the toughest in the world- with more than 600,000 brands between homegrown vs. regional vs. global brands in a country of only 10 million people. There is therefore greater pressure on marketers and advertisers to really stand out in order to resonate with their audiences, which calls for greater creativity, innovation and focus in the use of tech and formats.
LBB> What could the rest of the world learn from what’s happening in the UAE?
Emad> There are many things to learn from the UAE and the nature of the market. They have set a benchmark to how brands conduct business and use technology. Some of the learnings are:
- Mindset: Wanting to be the best and achieve the impossible is a very powerful mantra. It brings people with similar mindsets together and builds determination to achieve new heights.
- Competitiveness: If you have watched “The Last Dance”, you know that one of the most powerful reasons why Michael Jordan is the legend that he is today is that he was always competing against something or someone, even if that person was none other than himself. A strong and healthy competitive landscape like the one in UAE will always incite individuals and communities to bring the best out of themselves.
- Digitization (DX): Putting technology at the heart of everything: Working with today’s technology to build the future. This was one of the reasons why the UAE was able to navigate the pandemic era, by instantly pivoting from the physical to the digital world at a remarkable pace.
LBB> Are there any particular technologies or platforms or trends you’re seeing in activation work in the UAE?
Emad> Covid-19 came as a global catalyst for digital transformation. We have seen a lot of activations around tech in the UAE particularly in the past year.
In AR / VR, we witnessed brands communicate and reach out to audiences wherever they are, instead of asking their audiences to come to them. Another tech evolution was virtual events; some of the biggest global and regional events took place online and hosted hundreds to thousands of people, establishing a new avenue for networking and learning. Emerging trends around e-commerce in the region are opening a window for many brands to explore these marketplaces as marketing activation playgrounds with shopper experience. Activations nowadays have two worlds to be active in: the physical and digital realm, with more tech and possibilities than ever.
LBB> What exciting projects have you been working on that cross that physical and digital divide?
Emad> We have done many activations recently. One of our specialties is AR lens development, and we’ve done it for many brands: from conceptualizing, to experience and interaction design, all the way through development. One of my favourites was created for Louvre Abu Dhabi: On World Art Day (April 15, 2020), the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum was closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and art lovers were unable to leave their homes to celebrate and appreciate art like they normally would.
We created The World Art Day AR Lens – a Snapchat lens that brings people closer to art, allowing them to insert some iconic art pieces from the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum into their own home setting. This initiative aimed to build cultural connections and unite people through art, bringing a pleasant and exciting experience to their homes despite all isolation.