Global Neighbourhood


The term ‘local’ means more than the colour of your passport.

In this month’s issue of Campaign Magazine “Power Essays,” Abdullatif Alsayegh looks at what ties people of the UAE to the world.

The world we live in is constantly evolving. This is evident more so than ever in the UAE, a hotspot of creativity where nationalities from all around the world have come together to create a new society. We are all global citizens, increasingly aware of what it takes to be global thinkers. Aware of the trends in the industry from Tokyo to New York, in no other place do the best of every society come together like our home, the UAE.

For many expats, the UAE is a short stop, representing the exciting years they will look back on when they got to be part of something incredible before retreating to their life back home. But what of those who stay here? Consider this: if a brand is looking to build loyalty, would it reach out to those who are here momentarily or those who have lived here for generations and plan to continue their journey in the UAE?

Regardless of nationality and passport, and aside from the nearly 20 per cent Emirati population, there is a high number of people who would consider themselves ‘local’ to this region. Those born in a world-class DHA hospital, those who attended a local school, those who know where to get the best cup of karak or the layout of the souks like the back of their hand. As marketers and communication leaders, how often do we think about these people? Are the campaigns we create tailor-made to consider them, or a catch-all based on desktop research and assumptions, where we hope they will be caught in the net we’ve released into the ether?

Gone are the days when significant outreach could be made without strong data. It is our responsibility to know the difference between the mindset of a woman in Dubai versus a woman in Fujairah. No longer is it enough to operate in the “Sheikh Zayed Corridor” (that is, maintain insights and target the area between Trade Centre and Media City). We must look beyond that, to those from Old Dubai, New Dubai and all across the seven emirates who now have purchasing power.

And yet when brands look to break into this market, often times they head to a global agency that may not be actively involved in shaping the local culture. I am proud to say that at Alsayegh Media, we have built a team of 150 members from all around the world. They represent more than 50 nationalities and speak 85 languages, yet each and every one of them is a local in their own right. Ask anyone from our directors to our admin the difference in Arab men’s fashion (the ghutra and kandura), and they can explain how (and why) Qataris wear it a certain way, Saudis another, and Emiratis yet another. While building our agency, which has been active for more than five years now, it was essential to choose members who had local insight.

When we’re considering a holiday abroad, despite having millions of Google search results and images at our disposal, we’re always more convinced by a citizen or previous visitor to that country, or someone who has actually lived the journey. There is no substitute for living and breathing the experience. And at our core, that is the ethos of Alsayegh Media. This balance between local insights and global thinking is of pivotal importance in paving the way ahead. We know the global trends: augmented reality and virtual reality will become household truths; social communication is moving towards real-time live videos; Generation Z and millennials are playing in the same arena with the same gadgets and applications.

So how do we harness local insights to build a life-long loyalty for the brands that want to play in this market? Well, let’s begin by expressing what we know about the people of the UAE. We are largely multicultural and deeply rooted in the respect of culture and tradition. On the other hand, we are highly innovative, and have one of the highest social media penetrations in the Middle East, particularly across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Snapchat is on the rise and our population eagerly embraces the latest trends in digital technology such as AR/VR. See any overlaps yet?

As it turns out, we have built a society of tomorrow-ers. A multicultural population, a significant number of whom are local to the land regardless of nationality, who are tech-savvy and hungry for the new best thing – under the united vision of a smarter future. The over-riding local insight is that we are globally aware. So how would you, as a brand, begin to leverage this? And who would be the right fit to action this for you?