Feature

Middle East: An adman in Dubai

So, what is it like for a Brit to settle in downtown Dubai? Creative director Tom Callaghan distills the highs, the lows and the plain baffling aspects of working in Middle Eastern adland.

Win a kilo of gold!" and "Excite your sixth sense" (no, I don't know what it means either) are two of Dubai's favourite headlines that sum up the advertising mindset here. What follows is a selection of Middle Eastern adland truisms:

Single-minded propositions are invariably three paragraphs long ... The Lebanese girls in agencies always wear their clothes two sizes too small, to make sure they fit properly ... The worst deal in Dubai? Warm Cristal champagne in the Bubble Lounge at Nad Al Sheba Races (at £350 a pop) ... Government censorship has lightened up since the time I bought a book on childbirth and found all the line illustrations blacked out in felt-tip ... Good TV producers are worth their weight in gold ... The new creative who no one told you was joining is the boss' brother's wife's cousin's nephew, who always thought advertising looked "fun" ... Everyone who denies the existence of brown envelopes earns £1,000 a month and drives a Porsche ... "The brief should be ready by 5 o'clock. Oh, and we're pitching tomorrow. In Bahrain" ... Million-dollar ad campaigns use the same royalty-free shots from Getty as everyone else ... Billboards that go on, and on, and on for up to 300 metres and don't say very much apart from "Here's an absolutely massive logo" ... Every milk powder ad must feature a smiling, slightly overweight child with adoring parents ... "They're seeing another 15 agencies, and they want to see ten campaigns from each, above and below the line, before they produce a shortlist for the boss to decide" ... You hear the same voiceover in six radio spots in a row ... Property advertising features an architect's impression and a line about living in luxury, but forgets to mention price ... "Why do we have to pay to use Britney Spears' music? She's rich!" ... The Lebanese advertising mafia is a myth: you just have to come from Beirut to get a job ... A local sponsor may well have wide-ranging business interests: no prizes for guessing where those accounts go ... "Bukhra" is the Arabic equivalent of "manana', and is just as irritating ... "It's a great concept, habibi, but will it work in Arabic?"

- Tom Callaghan is the creative director at Expressions Dubai. He was previously at Publicis Graphics.

HOW TO FAKE IT AS AN AD EXPERT IN THE MIDDLE EAST

- Must-have gadget

The old-school Nokia Communicator remains the adman's best friend, but it faces stiff competition from the corporate toy de jour, the BlackBerry, recently launched in the region.

- Adman of the moment

Not content with running The Holding Group (the parent company of Team Y&R, Mediaedge:cia and the region's biggest PR firm, Asda'a) Lebanon's Joseph Ghossoub is the world president of the International Advertising Association.

- Most innovative media channel

Ambient. Attention-grabbing campaigns have included Saatchi & Saatchi's hopscotch for La Vache Qui Rit cheese, and Starcom's clever work for Hummer, which saw a vehicle placed inside the Ski Dubai indoor slope.

- The car to drive

Driving here is a frenetic and frustrating experience, but no one messes with you if you drive a Hummer. All hail the fuel-guzzling beast.

- Most feted ad

For sheer pushing-the-boundaries cheek, Lowe set tongues wagging with a series of locker room towels for Axe deodorant.

- Where to schmooze your biggest client

Until the world's tallest building, Burj Dubai, is completed, you'll have to make do with the stylish Vu's bar at the summit of the landmark Emirates Towers. For al fresco sundowners, you can't get much better than the Bahri Bar, which offers stunning views of the Burj al Arab and the Persian Gulf.

- Best venue for celebrating an account win

Dubai's Barasti Bar is where the advertising community parties on Thursday evenings. Despite its recent problems, Beirut remains a party city par excellence, and the cool crowd can be found at Element and Pacifico.

- How to dress, adland-style

Summer temperatures hit the 40s, so cool creatives wear jeans torn at the knee, a Diesel T-shirt and designer shades. For client servicing, light suits are made by tailors in the local souk.

- Hot ad-biz topic of the season

Staff poaching is the top watercooler chat. There simply isn't enough talent to keep pace with the industry's rapid growth, so inter-agency movement is rife.

- Must-attend events in the ad calendar

If you work in advertising, your name tends to get you into most launches, but the must-attend events include the Campaign Middle East Awards, the Cannes Lions-organised Dubai Lynx and Beirut's Mena Cristal Awards.

- Least innovative media channel

Radio. The standard of advertising on the airwaves is ear-bleedingly awful.

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