My trip doing marketing for the Middle East Article

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Advertising commercials revealing Arab nationals wearing Arab dress but speaking to a non-Arab soul..

Since 1996, at the time I started my career in advertising and communication working at a prime multinational creative agency handling regional and global brands in FMCG and Financial Sectors Proctor & Gamble, Masterfood, Nestle, Savola and lastly MasterCard and HSBC. Little I knew about the Middle East consumer, despite being a Lebanese national by origin. Having completed my education in the US and accordingly worked and lived there for over 13 years, did not help much knowing the Arab customer up close and personal. Since 1996, that was all about the change!

At the time of joining Leo Burnett, little I even knew about advertising i.e. despite having completed advanced marketing studies. Over 14 years has past, and the evolution we experienced since those early days bring a clear insight into the true reality of the market.

I read the other day a web site of an international advertising agency talking about the Arab Culture to be changing over time. I stopped for a moment and reflected on my own journey of creating advertising through interviewing Arab customers (males and females), substantiating insights and crafting creative communication that creates relationships. Then I have come to a conclusion that Arab Culture cannot change but can only progress. This is a derivate of my own believe and real life experience that cultures are a derivates of one own family values acquired and past through from one Arab generation to another. More importantly, while habits differ between an Arab nation and another, inner values do not (despite religious or sect differentiations). Habits can be a reflection of one man’s culture, however, not necessarily true that habits are in fact a culture. Let me illustrate this for you with a couple of examples with the rich and the poor.

Prince Walid bin Tala, in a recent book written about him “Al Waleed” depicts the true mans’ values behind his daily extraordinary busy life. Though he can puzzle many world leaders with his western like attire and highly disciplined character, Al Waleed inner values are rather core to that of a Bedouin Chivalrous.

During my early days of selling Tide in the Saudi market, I have the privilege to access and interviewed Saudi women in their own homes about their lives. Little I know about their open mindedness despite their habit of placing a head cover. I was their directly talking to their soul and hearing back their value statements and not cultural habits.

One must be careful when searching for insights and human values to differentiate between cultural habits and people’s inner believes. While we make use of cultural habits in advertising, the underlying secret to success in this business of marketing and communication lies in reading out, understanding and sympathizing with those human values (generosity, emotional comrades, family harmony, true meaning of giving without asking for return, pride of own existence and culture itself (and not habits that could change over time) . Only then a brand can mirror people’s aspirations. When was the last time we have asked ourselves about the many Arab advertising commercials revealing Arab nationals wearing Arab dress but speaking to a non-Arab soul?! No wonder, why there are not many Arab founded global brands despite the heavy marketing and media spent behind it!.

As long as we start recognizing the difference between cultural daily habits and cultural fixed values, it would be hard for us as Arab advertising creators to evolve brands into new respectable grounds, where we could become indispensible to global brands wanting to enter and build their business in the Middle East. Moreover, to build own middle east brands that we would one day want to take globally to change global habits leveraging our own inner middle eastern brand essence and values versus always the other way around. Just food for thoughts to think about.