‘We’re ashamed of Arabia’ says Middle East ad man

mohamed-hamdalla2The Middle East’s advertising industry is plagued by a deep-seated shame over its Arabian roots, said the creative director of Leo Burnett Cairo during a seminar ahead of tonight’s Dubai Lynx awards.

In a passionate plea for the region’s creatives to raise their game by embracing local culture, Mohamed Hamdalla said an obsession with echoing Western ideas was stifling progress.

“The problem in the Middle East is that we are trying to be more Western than the Westerners,” said Hamdalla. “The only thing we can do is to so something that’s never been seen before.  We need to find an Arabian voice. Right now we are just copying.”

He continued: “Why can’t we make people look at us as human beings instead of terrorists? We are just as good as everyone else but we have to understand that first before anyone else will understand it. We are ashamed of being Arabs and we shouldn’t be. We are beautiful people.

“I think we are in such a good position now because we have never tapped into Arabia. The world is saturated with Swedish and Brazilian culture in advertising but they (consumers) have never seen Arabia. We are in a position to change the world.”

Hamdalla was speaking at The Lynx Debate alongside Ramsey Naja, chief creative officer of JWT MENA, Peter Bidenko, integrated creative director of Impact BBDO Dubai and Andrew Durkan, creative director at The Tribe’s Dubai office.

Naja said: “What we look for in advertising are wonderful stories and often what this culture – that is slightly embarassed to be what it is – looks for is a sanitised version. We call it ‘New York in a dish-dash’.”

One answer, it was suggested, is to nurture homegrown talent rather than relying on the quick fix of recruiting from abroad.

So what do you think? Is the Middle East’s creative output just a pale imitation of what works in the US and Europe? Is the Middle Eastern advertising community afraid, or even ashamed, to show true Arabian culture to the rest of the world?

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