How bad can it be in the Middle East? Are we reeling under the gloom of the US market's mortgage driven economic downturn? Is the price of oil – volatile as it is today – affecting the way we do business here in the region? Is our industry hit?
Are masive cutbacks in spending goig to happen? Will there be a great bailout for the auto industry in the US? Is real estate in the region going under?

There's a great bumper sticker you'll see on cars in Canada. It says "When America sneezes, Canada catches a cold". This time around, it seems the whole world is catching the cold. The gloom and doom virus is upon us all. From Alaska to Australia from Zimbabwe to Zanzibar, the economy is well and truly in for trouble.

Inflation, deflation, banks going under, companies going bust, it's all around us, everywhere. Here in the Middle East, for a while, there seemed lke the ripples wouldn't reach our shores. But, thanks to the internet, thanks to globalization, thanks to a 24/7 media, the word, the virus has spread, and spread quickly.

The people have panicked, one headline read. And, as if like a giant awakening, itis s taking its toll. This is a sentiment, not necessarily a cold reality. People here in the region, small time investors, punters are screaming scared and running with the bears. And in their path lie lost jobs, banks halting loans, companies threatening close downs and deflation – if that were possible.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. While this region is not immune to it all, the chances of a faster recovery are real. Oil canot, will not, stay down around the $50 barrel mark forever. Winter is ahead and some pundits are predicting oil will go back – the world needs to heat homes and offices, cars are still on the road.

Real estate in the region is a commitment to people – and people still need homes. There cannot be a flight out of the region – a flight where people leave to go back to where they came from – because, as they say, there is not there, there. In fact, Dubai is where they are still flocking to, with hope, with the desire to make that inevitable comeback. Things will turn around, although it may not be imminent and immediate. Staying the course here is key.

It''s really up to us in the industry to lead the initiative of weathering the storm. We'll have to find ways to stack up our defense mechanisms. Look outside the proverbial box. We'll need to reinvent, re-direct. Cutbacks in traditional media spends? What about looking at more cost effective spends in digital? Companies still need some platforms to communicate. Still need to push the brand message forward. Still need to sell product and service. So, yes there may be a few long tails to this whole meltdown, but it's for us to avoid the hits and work around them.

The Middle East has always been a different kettle of fish, a different barrel of oil. This too shall pass.

Much ado about award winning creative

There's a lot of ink (well, online, i.e.) at the moment on agencies and award-aimed creative work. Is it kosher for agencies to do pro-active, award-driven work that's not really part of the client's brief? Who commissions such work? Who checks it? Is it released in pucca press? Does the agency have a broadcast certificate? Am OK from the client? A blessing from the client? What's the thin line? And when does one cross it?

Creatives around the world are driven by podium glory. Not all work is done for clients with the brand at heart. And that's not just work that's entered into the grand raffle of ad awards. Day in, day out, creatives do work that is self gratifying. I'm not for a moment saying all work is like that, but a lot of it is. Often, it's off brief, off brand strategy, but the work looks great, and the copy is cleverly crafted, and it's all so much a work of art, rather than an effective communication that sells the brand. So, no big deal, you'd say, when the creatives go one step further and do the same thing for award entries?

But isn't it a push too far? Award winning entries are meant to be work that is done for the brand, on brief, and ones that are effective, ones that resonate with consumers, and leave a mark. Not just beautiful work. Effective work. Real work.

The standards in the Middle East over the last few months have been great. We've seen some gorgeous work entered for the Lynx Awards and for Cannes. Winning work, real work, good stuff. But a few have raised their eyebrows and questioned some of it. FP7 Doha's entry for the EA games which won massive accolades at Cannes has now come up as a hot topic for debate. It's a bit late in the day, isn't it? Crying over spilt milk, or, to be more precise, a gold lion? Apparently EA games have disowned it, they didn't ask for it, they had nothing to do with it. Talk to the team at FP7 Doha, and you'll hear a different story. Yes, they admit, they didn't put in the logos they should have, but, the ads, say FP7 were not faked.

More actually, where creative directors are standing up and saying Enough! with the metal chasing. They want to do real work. I read about a culture in the region that's "ill equipped" to do real work. I so buy that if the winning directors then go back to their creative pods and churn out mediocre ad after ad. That's the line they need to be aware of. And that's what should really be awarded.

The Last Mile and Infiniti

I have two rather close friends in the industry – Abhijeet Pundit and Francesca Ciaudano – both of whom are brand guardians for the Infiniti automotive brand regionally. The automotive business isn't exactly an easy one to be in. It's crowded, there's intense competition, and what really makes or breaks advertising, no matter what, is the last mile. I have often heard it being said that in the automotive industry, sales is sexy and all about spanking new showrooms and the smell of new cars, but what really counts is after sales. Service is key. That's what endears you to the brand, the product, the relationship.

I drive an Infiniti. Having been a European (read as UK/German) manufactured snob on badges all my life, I just fell into this Infiniti deal, and it's been two years, and I have never looked back. And, hear you me, I ain't getting out soon. I love the car. But more than anything else, it's the last mile in the relationship that I like. The service.

Go to the Infiniti Dubai site, and every bit of the cost is there for all to see. I love it. That's transparency. That's being up front when it counts. Much better than when I drove my ex-car to somewhere way beyond the airport, was forced to hire one of their cars and then went back next day and paid excess of 3000 dhs for a 20k km service. Steep huh? So, I See yad that German badge.

Or hey, my ex-ex-car, another German badge, when the windows would not roll up, and I paid 3000 dhs to get that fixed. This in the very first year of ownership. Whatever happened to my warranty? Oh, apparently that tiny part, the one that rolls up the window, that wasn't covered by Germany.

And then, I went Japanese. No surprises, no frills on the bills, and I'm lovin' it. What or who makes the difference however is the guy on the phone. I usually don't use names in my blogs when I write negative bits, but this is so positive, so much of an example if there was one, that I musty name this guy: Jessico. He is the service manager at Infiniti in Jumeirah (Shk Zayed Road) and his politeness, his always willing to help attitude is absolutely what makes my Infinti ownership so fabulous.
Jessico is the last mile. He is the one who makes the ads that Infiniti do in the papers day after day believable. He is the brand in action.

The Real in Real Estate

It's that time of the year. In Dubai, Cityscape defines the moment of truth for the real estate sector. Every year, investors, buyers, sellers, bankers, owners, tenants, the curious and the doomsday sayers all wait for this event. And, each year, it just gets hotter. Except this year, as I write, things are really, really on the edge.

Funnily enough, most every one I know in the ad industry also holds their breath. Someone who has a fair grasp of the industry here i the UAE told me that most agencies are '30% deep in real estate'. Meaning, around 30% of their revenues, in one form or another are real estate related communications related. Thus you see, if there's a spiral headed south, the ad industry here is not going to sit back and sigh and say 'There but for the grace of God...'

What I don't get is this wild wind of panic sentiment. When every stockbroker around is fighting for survival, when every market is in turmoil, hasn't the long standing sentiment always been to rely on real estate? To fall back on things like brick and mortar? But I guess the panic that's hit the money markets are drifting across the real estate segments as well. Although, even in the hardest hit markets, the strong real estate corners are holding steady. Let's just hope sense prevails. We wait and watch.

Post Ramadan

Come October, strange things happen. Halloween is just around the corner. The sky changes color. The season unfolds a turn. Here in Dubai, it's Ramadan. Every one seems to be on a slower gear ratio. Some tempers are frayed. Some of the driving here in Dubai is more Dubai than ever – meaning it's suicidal at its best.

Advertising takes no backseat however. I remember Ramadan used to be a time of withdrawals. Ad people went on slow-mo because clients went that way. There was a burst just pre-Eid, but the rest was a blur between a day long fast, a hurried Iftar and a sumptuous Suhoor (the feast at night, the prep for the next day of nothing at all).

Things have changed. Ramadan is less working hours. More work. The lesser hours you work, the more stressed you are. tighter Deadlines get tighter. Schedules whirr by. Before you wink, it's Eid around the corner. It's a lunar phase. Just a few clockwise movements on the Panerai (not mine, my colleagues, fake from Karama).

But hey, I woke up. Early morning one Ramadan day (this morning actually) to the soothing but challenging prayer call I realized this was it. I had to kick start. Give up. Sacrifice. Stand by with my colleagues who are fasting in some way. Give up the couch, the bed, the Stella. Get steadfast on something. Ergo, I blog.

I am not an ad guy really. Or at least, I don't admit being one. I am free. Free of a career description, a job profile, an industry badge and a dna stamp that says – yew, adman. No, no such luck for you to heap insults on me. I am non competitive. I am not here to target you, your job, your creative work, your agency or your CEO. You will not find me on with a profile that's full of half-truths, half delusions of grandeur. I am the informed, inquisitive consumer. Here in Dubai. And I am awake, and no, I will not surrender. Are you ready?

I found Nurai

With Dubai Cityscape just around the corner, the newspapers are getting filled with real estate ads. The pages are full of promises on sale, the invest now and get rich quick dreams on sale. One campaign that did catch my eye was for a project in Abu Dhabi called Nurai Islands. It was introduced a few months ago, and the campaign's creative force was this woman – Nurai – lamp in hand on a beautiful beach, looking out on to the horizon as the sun sets.

I was in Milan a few weeks ago, and thumbing through the brochure for the La Scala Theatre, what do I see? Nurai! But hold on, not the Nurai we've seen here in our press. The originail, or the half sister, The clone. The original. The American Express Platinum Card version.

How does this happen? I know they're cloning sheep and sundry other animal forms. But beautiful Nurai? The developer, Zaya should be able to say something on this I reckon?