Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy EMEA - Middle East, Imagination
Whether it was the Expo 2020 or what Saudi Arabia is creating now, experiences have come to define great marketing Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: ‘Experience’ the brand – in full. And then make up your mind.

This is becoming the new reality of advertising and marketing in the UAE and Gulf, with digital channels, the Metaverse and AI all having a hand in this. With one of the world’s highest concentrations of Millennials and Gen Zs, it cannot be any other way.

While brand experiences have been around long enough, these days they come with layers of innovation, according to Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy EMEA - Middle East, Imagination. “Thirteen years ago, it started to change exponentially when (digitally) connected experiences came on,” he said. “But it is with the latest hybrid experiences that brands have gone the extra mile to have experiences overlapping with each other - physical and virtual.”

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The Deloitte 2023 Global Marketing Trends report highlights the importance of the Metaverse in brand strategies. In Saudi Arabia, 90 per cent of marketing chiefs believe the Metaverse will play a significant role in the next two years, while in the UAE, 82 per cent agree that it will be crucial to their brand strategies in the next couple of years.

MENA has produced ground-breaking, business driving work, and it’s clear that creatives in the region are also showing up globally in a big way. Saudi Arabia has embedded creativity into its 2030 plan and is using it as a driving force for growth.

- Simon Cook, CEO, LIONS

Expo effect

The Expo 2020 in Dubai was a prime example of an event throwing up a multitude of experiences for resident and visitor alike, as well as for brands and their consumers. The six-month event featured rotation programming that created a physical experience that was then taken online and amplified to millions of people worldwide.

The physical experience in the domed Al-Wasl structure with 360-degree projection – with live content created by artists projected on to it - was also content that went on a live stream. This parallel experience resulted in a 270 million total reach, 70 million virtual visits across seven platforms, and drove 40 per cent of all website traffic for Expo during the six nights of live performances out of six months.

“We believe in the power of experiences to change the status quo,” Castagnera said. “And in this region, you’re seeing very powerful experiences happening from the World Cup to Expo to everything that’s happening in Saudi.”

Economic agenda

The shift in the economic agenda of Gulf countries has prompted high-growth brands to foster a creative environment. They believe prioritizing experience for a brand is key to bringing more innovation to the campaign. Castagnera noted that the exponential evolution in creating branding experiences is not replacing others ways, but is adding layers of innovation.

“You have all of these different combinations you can play with, so you can mix up e-commerce with live streams happening at an event,” he said.

The rise of potent brand experiences has not only helped the region’s economic agenda but opened up a world of opportunities for global brands. The region’s unique combination of factors and approaches to branding has given rise to a potent experience.