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Creative culture in the Middle East and Europe

A creative hustle

Rosie Muhanna, General Manager Kuwait, Weber Shandwick MENA and Indy Selvarajah, Creative Director, UK & EMEA, Weber Shandwick prepare for a creativity head-to-head.

created on Thursday 9 Feb 2017

"The UK, particularly London, was until recently considered to be the creative heart of Europe"
Indy and Rosie
Weber Shandwick's Indy Selvarajah, Creative Director UK & EMEA and Rosie Muhanna, General Manager Kuwait

In a connected, digital and social-first world, what does creativity look like in the Middle East and Europe, now? In the run-up to Dubai Lynx, we’ve been thinking about what defines the two creative cultures, in terms of their differences, and the things that are common to the best work across borders.
The first thing to note is that, contrary to perceptions from outside the region, the Middle East isn’t one homogenous entity. The creative culture is very different in Levant countries to the GCC area, and different again in North Africa, depending on everything from the complexity of the political environment, to social mores, sense of humour, to demographics, to each country’s history in the arts.
This manifests itself in different creative strengths, and it also means that what works in one country will probably not translate in the same way to another in the region as easily as from one European country to another.
In Kuwait, for example, the paid influencer is king: the country has embraced social media above and beyond the rest of the Middle East. Dubai, by contrast, is the capital of glamorous events for luxury FMCG brands, and Egypt, with its rich tradition of filmmaking, still produces some of the sharpest and most humorous creative work in the region.
Perhaps contrary to expectations, the creative communications work coming out of the Middle East does take some risks. Clients are now often prepared to push boundaries, and there are some great examples of work originating in the region that has become the template for roll-out in other markets.


Things are shifting in the creative culture of Europe, too. The UK, particularly London, was until recently considered to be the creative heart of Europe, from above-the-line work to fashion to music. Over the past couple of years, however, the best communications ideas and content are appearing across the continent, from Sweden, which has become something of a creative powerhouse, to Poland, Hungary and Spain, to name just a few.
This is partly to do with the rapid progress of digital and social, which has democratised creativity: now it’s not just the big London agencies, with studios and big budgets, who can make great content. This is also true across the Middle East: in both regions, we’ve talked about integrated work for a long time, but the projects we’re doing now for clients in both regions are now truly integrated.
Increasingly, the communications or PR agency is taking the lead, creating spikey ideas that can permeate all platforms, handling everything from pure-play creative and social media content production to media relations and working with influencers. It’s a really exciting time.
Humour and emotion are two other common characteristics of the best creative work in the Middle East and Europe; tear-jerkers and brilliant comedy writing often come to the fore in complex times. Beautiful work that reveals a common kernel of universal truth – true storytelling – is also a distinct theme of the best content across borders. 
We’ll be looking at some of this work in our session at Dubai Lynx called "The Middle East and Europe: A Creative Hustle" , each of us bringing three pieces of outstanding creative each from our respective regions, diving into creative culture and what we can learn from each other, and critiquing each other’s selections.  Prepare to have your perceptions challenged!
Dubai Lynx 2016 reel

This article was contributed to Cannes Lions Stories by Weber Shandwick. Rosie and Indy are speaking at Dubai Lynx 2017. Dubai Lynx is the largest creativity festival in the MENA region, with three days of international speakers, inspiration, learning and networking.