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How pop culture is reaching its potential in the GCC

How pop culture is reaching its potential in the GCC

We speak with the event manager for Middle East Film and Comic Con, Michael Lamprecht, about the business side of the region’s pop culture sector

Pop culture has long had a place in the Gulf region, but how much have you seen the movement grow in the past couple of years?

Over the last few years, a wide range of groups, clubs, and events have formed to support the popular culture community, and that’s reflected in the visitor numbers at Middle East Film & Comic Con (MEFCC). This year, we’re welcomed nearly 50,000 people at Dubai World Trade Centre, a staggering jump from the 5,000 we welcomed in 2012, so there’s a growing appetite for it.

At its core, popular culture is simply a way of understanding the beat of a nation. Comics were first created in the Middle East in 1923, so this isn’t new for us, but for a long time our media influences have come from the East and the West. The internet has allowed creators from across the region to develop their art form, be it graffiti, comic book, anime, film, cartoon, video, or TV, to tell their own stories; stories which allow their creators to shape their identity, believe in themselves, imagine their own heroes, and express freely.

Those living in the UAE will have also seen the incredible displays of fashion at Sole DXB, the street art in Karama, the Storm Troopers in Dubai Mall, and the DC Exhibition at Yas Mall – no doubt a sign of more interesting things to come for us all.

What changes have you seen in the business community that takes part in MEFCC?

MEFCC attracts a truly diverse range of businesses, from regional independent artists all the way through to some of the world’s biggest brands. No matter the person or brand, what is important is how they engage with our fans at the show. The brands we see return year on year to successfully grow their business have done so through a good understanding of the audience, what their brand means to that audience, and creating a memorable experience which stay in the minds of our guests long after the event has finished.

We want every brand that attends our show to see success, and this is also where our MEFCC team experience comes in. Those that listen to our advice and arrive with that little bit extra, such as limited-edition products, engaging stand concepts, official merchandise, licensed artists, or high-profile regional talent, often see a better return on their investment.

How important is MEFCC to those looking to develop their business?

MEFCC has creativity and innovation at its core. Each year we support more than 250 independent retailers at the show, who come to showcase and sell their work. We provide a platform for this community to meet like-minded people, display their brand to a mass audience, generate income from their work, and progress onto creating a successful local business.

We’ve seen this time and time again where a person with a collection of artwork, collectors’ items, ornaments, toys, or jewellery, will start on what is known as Artist Alley, and progress to a larger private space having grown their product range, and brand, within just a few years.

Each year we also invite 10 – 15 international artists to MEFCC. These are world famous artists, who have worked on incredible brands including Game of Thrones, DC, Marvel, Rick & Morty, The Simpsons, Pokémon, Final Fantasy and many others. Everyone who visits the show as a fan or a brand has the opportunity to meet the international artists through our workshop schedule which we run over the three-day event and can be found on our website.

Networking is fundamental to ensuring success, and we support the businesses we host at MEFCC in several ways. We publish a list of all the brands at MEFCC on our website, share and re-share their content on our social media channels before the event, and during the event we encourage people to connect and network in our festival area.

Pop culture is said to be a $20bn market globally. Where do you see the most traction? Which aspects of the sector have become the most popular, and which trends do you see emerging in the months ahead?

The fastest growing trend we’ve observed over the last 12 months is the popularity and demand for esports.

The growth in viewership of esports is now competing with, and in some cases superseding, some of the biggest sports tournaments across the world, and is gaining momentum fast in the region, particularly in places such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Esports events attract tens of thousands in stadiums across the world, with more watching live online. Gaming brands at MEFCC host gaming tournaments, or use the show as a platform to kick-off larger tournaments. We’ve also seen many of our international gaming partners work quickly to localise their content to reach our unique Arabic-speaking audience across the region. We’re looking forward to seeing how this evolves the market in the next couple of years.

Most of your visitors are between 18-35 years old – the highly desirable youth market. Have companies from outside the sector realised the benefits of interacting with pop culture brands and events?

The Gen Z and Millennial audience make up nearly 85 per cent of our guests over the weekend. This is an audience renowned for short attention spans, FOMO (fear of missing out), and, particularly in the GCC, high spending power.

MEFCC is one of the largest gatherings in the Middle East which attracts this hard to reach audience, and as a result we’re in a unique position. We’ve definitely seen a change in how brands from outside the sector want to get involved, after seeing the potential that can come from authentically engaging with our fans.

The key thread which brings brands from inside and outside the sector together is entertainment. We have drinks brands who bring retro arcade rooms, gaming brands who allow access to unreleased games, independent artists with posters from bygone eras, TV brands launching new shows through elaborate installations, brands who showcase hacks and tricks to their technology, cars we allow fans to graffiti, brands who bring ziplines and indoor escape rooms, and brands who bring items so limited edition, they may never be seen for sale again.

This also means that we need to be protective of our brand and our community, and we work hard to ensure we’re unparalleled in our ability to connect brands with consumers in a very positive and content-driven way.

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