The World: Insider's view - Dubai

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 27 April 2007 12:00AM

Agencies operating in the Middle East are demonstrating why cultural differences should be celebrated and not seen as a curb to creativity, Clinton Manson writes.

Our agency's work for Axe, Unilever's male deodorant brand, is a prime example of the importance of cultural knowledge, cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity when advertising in the Middle East.

In a region where the expression of sexuality (among other things) is taboo, the call for a less racy Axe campaign was almost a certainty. The challenge for us was how to devise a way of interpreting the "Axe effect" (namely that men will always seek to find an edge in the mating game) without showing it.

Happily, many of these cultural restrictions have not limited our creativity. They have pushed us further. Creative departments, planners and account handlers alike have been inspired to work within, around and through the parameters set out by the region, censors and, of course, the clients themselves.

When working within such frameworks, many agencies fail to deliver original ideas and prefer to blame their mediocre work on imposed restrictions. Opportunities to do great work here in Dubai are immense if you're willing to file apathy away in the bottom drawer. But this is also true of any country.

With an expatriate population of almost 80 per cent, Dubai is a cultural melting pot of multiple nationalities, religions and ideologies. Proof positive that the world isn't getting smaller - it is smaller. Rather than exploring the new-found intercultural intimacy associated with globalism, we have instead become acutely aware of how different we are. It would be fair to generalise that the cultural chasm between East and West has been fuelled over the past four years by the media. Communication, the one tool proven to remedy or resolve cultural misunderstandings, is being used to perpetuate them.

Through our work, and by maintaining a cultural melange in the workplace (currently employing more than 12 nationalities, including local Emirati ladies who wear the traditional black abaya), we are dedicated to proving otherwise.

The fact that we can all work together proves that our similarities are far greater than our differences. Furthermore, our work has become richer in terms of local relevance and insight; in many cases, we have maintained otherwise "culturally insensitive" global positionings across several accounts.

Achieving this was only possible through our people and the common belief that things can change if you work toward a shared goal and vision. Sounds a little cult-like, but then the ad industry is, and always will be, a cult. Which goes to show, once again, that lamenting cultural differences is fruitless - it's the outnumbering similarities which we should be exploring. We all want the same thing, the only difference is how we choose to pursue our desires.

- Clinton Manson is the creative director of Lowe Middle East North Africa in Dubai.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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