Matthew Butterworth, MD at MullenLowe MENA on lighting up the Burj Khalifa and bringing the moons of Mars to Earth
The grandest. The boldest. The most futuristic. Dubai is a city that’s not afraid of going big – which makes it unsurprising that it’s home to some of the wildest and most ambitious creative activations coming out of the advertising industry.
MullenLowe is one of a cluster of agencies that’s been hitting it out of the park with work that embraces technology, penetrates the culture and creates real buzz. LBB’s Laura Swinton speaks to MullenLowe’s managing director Matthew Butterworth to find out what the rest of the world can learn from Dubai’s ambitious activations.
LBB> Why do you think that the UAE is so strong when it comes to activation work?
Matthew> If you think about it, the UAE has come from nothing in 50 years. 25 years ago, Dubai was a desert, it's now one of the most dynamic modern and cosmopolitan cities on earth. Creative for activation is so strong because big, bold experiences are part of the DNA and culture of the UAE, telling a story in unique ways by continually pushing the boundaries of creativity. Activation as a channel is perfect for this way of thinking.
Everything has to be the biggest and best in the UAE: The world's tallest building, the world's largest resort built on the sea, and sharks swimming in shopping centres to the largest advertising billboards along the stretch of Sheik Zayed Road. All of this ensures we have to capture consumers hearts and minds at any moment.
LBB> Do you think there's anything unique about UAE that makes it such a conducive environment for creative, tech-y activation work?
Matthew> The UAE is one of the most diverse cultural communities from all walks of life. Unique creative thinking from different parts of the world being fused together to create something unique makes it so much easier when you have different minds working together.
In our office only we have over 25 different nationalities. We learn from the Brazilians on the power of a creative idea, after all, they are the best in the world. We have European designers that create things designed so beautifully. And then we have Arabs from diverse backgrounds – from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Lebanon – that give us an understanding of the cultural nuances in getting it right the first time. I don't know anywhere in the world that's like it is here in the UAE.
LBB> What could the rest of the world learn from what's happening in the UAE?
Matthew> Be daring, be brave and make the impossible possible, never settle for second best. Be on a constant drive to do things differently, either by the way in which we think act and do.
LBB> Are there any particular technologies or platforms or trends you’re seeing in activation work in the UAE?
Matthew> It depends on the idea. Sometimes you have to come up with ideas and then find the technology that works best with the idea, at other times technology is already there, like 10 Million lights on the Burj Khalifa or the most up to date projection mapping. It really is about the quality of the idea first, the technology can always be found to make it happen.
LBB> What recent activations have your team been working on?
The World's Tallest Donation Box was a multi-faceted and highly innovative digital campaign that leveraged the power of modern technology, cross-channel marketing techniques and a unique online donation mechanic to provide 1.2 million meals to those most affected during the global pandemic while utilising the Burj Khalifa's light display in a way never seen before. Over seven days, strategic digital and offline promotion, including the use of social media, influencer marketing, TV and radio, drove doners to the initiative's specially-developed microsite, which displayed the 1.2 million pixels for sale – each representing a light and a meal. Once donors had selected and purchased their lights, the site's back-end pushed updates to the Burj Khalifa's display servers in real-time, which lit the world's tallest building's lights in a gleaming display of hope and solidarity. By illuminating all 1.2 million lights, the initiative aimed to bring hope into lives of 1.2 million people, unsure of where their next meal was coming from. In addition, the website also displayed thousands of messages of solidarity and hope from people across the globe, in support of the inspiring initiative.
The campaign was expected to reach its target within one month of launching. It took just seven days before all 1.2 million lights were sold, thanks to the generous donations from people of 110 nations and many global brands including Amazon, McDonalds, Unilever, Atlantis Resorts, VISA, West Zone, Tristar Group, Chalhoub Group and Bin Sougat Group. What started as a tall ask, quickly became a shining example of human generosity and kindness with USD 3.3 million raised in food aid and just over 1.2 million meals donated. The initiative was covered over 400 times by news outlets, worldwide, and reached a staggering 4.3 billion people
When you think about it, all these ideas show that we rip up the textbook when it comes to creativity with our clients, we go out of our way to think and act differently by being disruptive. At the end of the day, we give clients what they deserve, by creating an unfair share of attention, and that's what matters most.