Is Dubai The Gulf’s New Creative Hub?

With swelling advertising budgets and projects such as the Dubai Design District, the emirate is pitching its creative credentials.



“Why should a creative person come to Dubai?” Simon Attwater, the group creative director of global ad agency Digitas LBi, who has just recently moved to Dubai from London, asked a packed hall during this year’s Dubai Lynx.

“This is Sunday, my Monday, so we are already a day ahead of my colleagues back in London, already living four hours in the future. This place feels young, it is energetic and vibrant and that is why I am here,“ he finished to a healthy round of applause.

Attwater is among the many creative professionals who are upbeat about Dubai’s creative industry, specifically, advertising and design. These professionals see Dubai as the new hub to tap into opportunities in emerging Middle Eastern and African markets, replacing London, the erstwhile hub.

Dubai, for its part, is working hard to attract global design talent to the region with initiatives such as Dubai Design District (d3), a sprawling precinct, currently taking shape, which will house major design names. New retail projects such as Meraas’ BoxPark, which incorporates various design concepts, have also led creative professionals to look at the region differently.

“The business (in the region) has always been around luxury but we are really happy with the opening of BoxPark because it embraces a kind of trendy culture and values a new generation of shoppers who are completely different from the previous category,” said Shaghig Anserlian, associate design director at UK-based agency Fitch.

Others point to the diversity of the local population in the Middle East which makes it an interesting market for creative professionals. “There are different creeds and tribes of people here and they bring with them different habits, ways of doing business and languages and make sure it is an eclectic bubbling hot melting pot,” said Attwater.

“Dubai is new while London is 2,000 years old and crumbling in corners and damp…while we come here and it feels like the city is built for the future,” he said.

MONEY BECKONS

The Middle East’s buzzing creative industry has increased in size through larger advertising budgets.

“Roughly speaking, budgets have increased threefold over the last seven or eight years, which is quite a big increase,” said Laurent Ezekiel, global client services director at Digitas LBi.

“Our clients are really pushing us in terms of innovation. They are obsessed with doing work on one of the most important devices – that is mobile handsets. They really have pushed us and there has been some real change here.”

According to technology research firm Gartner, the MENA region spent almost $5 billion on advertising last year but less than 10 per cent was on digital. Digital advertising spend in the region is expected to climb steadily to reach $2.8 billion by 2016, however, Gartner said.

The proliferation of social media and the ‘always-connected’ nature of the population here are leading factors in fuelling this digital ad spend increase, according to Ezekiel.

“The growth in digital is phenomenal. Around 88 per cent of people in the region are social media users…most of them use their mobile phones as the primary way to access the internet, more than a desktop or a laptop.

“Kuwait Is the single biggest market per user for Instagram and in terms of YouTube consumption, Saudi Arabia is the second biggest market. Between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we have the two of the top three markets for the consumption of YouTube videos on mobile phones.”

Even as digital opportunities gain strength, agencies are also keen on tapping into event opportunities events like Expo 2020.

“It (Dubai) is a city where there are events and opportunities, they are hosting the Expo and they really advertise the city very well,” said Anserlian.

“This an emerging market and it is becoming more competitive. Dubai is at the beginning of embracing new ways. We definitely see lots of opportunities here.”