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AI will free up local creatives for more award-winning campaigns

Robots can help, but it's still humans who win the trophies

Saudi prayer beads Saudia/ProtecTasbih
Creative agency Leo Burnett Jeddah created hand-sanitising prayer beads for Saudia to curb the spread of germs among pilgrims

Last month saw one of the highlights of the regional advertising calendar, the Dubai Lynx. The event is a combined festival of creativity and awards show and is a major barometer of how regional work will do on a global stage.

The organisers of Dubai Lynx (and Cannes Lions, its older, bigger international sibling) puts together a round-up of themes in each year’s work. 

There was, predictably, much talk about artificial intelligence, the most disruptive technology since the internet.



A roundtable of chief marketing officers hosted by news agency Bloomberg presented numbers to put meat on the bones of debate.

According to Bloomberg AI was mentioned 3,000 times on earnings calls in the third quarter of last year. Within a decade, AI spend will have risen from nothing to $1.3 trillion, or 12 percent of overall technology spend worldwide. 

A Boston Consulting Group study has found that the Middle East is investing more in AI than anywhere else. 

It helps that the region has strong and reliable data rates and connectivity, while being less cynical about technology. It has less regulation than other markets, and brands and consumers are both happy to embrace new technologies.

As always, some marketers are using data and technology better than others.

Josy Paul, chairman and CCO at ad agency BBDO India, said it was down to a brand and its agencies to use data to make a connection with customers. 

“I think data is looking for humanity,” he told attendees. 

Advertising industry leaders were keen to point out how much AI will free up creatives. The heads of agencies seemed upbeat about the state of their industry. 

The consensus was that the region provides awards-friendly briefs from clients who are prepared to embrace creativity – and the result is good work, which is recognised at local and international awards.

This in turn attracts talent to the Middle East and the creative bar is raised in a virtuous cycle.

I think data is looking for humanity

Josy Paul, chairman and chief commercial officer, BBDO India

The Lynx awards showed that quality work is no longer confined to one or two markets in the region. 

Dubai has long been the centre of advertising in the Middle East, and is where agencies and clients have their regional headquarters. Many agencies originated in Lebanon, which has a strong legacy of creativity, and Egypt is known for its humour. 

But this year saw Saudi Arabia continue its recent creative ascent.

The most awarded campaign was for the the country’s national carrier Saudia. Creative agency Leo Burnett Jeddah created the ProtecTasbih hand-sanitising prayer beads to curb the spread of germs among pilgrims flying on the airline. 

Morocco won its first big prize this year. VML Casablanca and Wunderman Casablanca won the Grand Prix for Good with their work for non-profit Jood, which turned old billboard tarpaulins into tents for survivors of the country’s September 2023 earthquake.

Saudi Arabia I see CokeCreative Commons/NoDerivs
When people in Saudi Arabia saw a Coca-Cola bottle in films they had to shout ‘I see Coke’ to their Alexa smart speaker for a discount code

Another highly awarded campaign came from VML’s Dubai and New York offices for Coca-Cola.

To reach cola drinkers in Saudi Arabia, where Pepsi is the market leader, the agencies built an Alexa Skill, a programme that runs natively within Amazon’s smart speakers.

When people saw a familiar flash of red or that iconic bottle in any of hundreds of movies, they could shout “I see Coke” in English or Arabic to their Alexa smart speaker. Alexa would then acknowledge the product placement with a witty message that related to the film, and would provide a discount code.

Interviewed for the Lynx Creativity Report, VML Commerce’s global CCO Manuel Bordé explained that, while the agency used AI to identify and catalogue hundreds of visual references to Coca-Cola on screen, it took the combined efforts of machine learning and 15 copywriters to write replies tailored to each movie. 

The creatives showed their human worth and it was people, not a robot that stood on stage to receive the trophies.

Austyn Allison is an editorial consultant and journalist who has covered Middle East advertising since 2007

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