Less than a decade ago, most advertising in North Africa boiled down to a simple formula: a snappy jingle plus some beautiful women. But a recent revolution in the region's advertising, led by Egypt, has begun to mine each country's cultural peculiarities in sophisticated, often funny, ways that the Gulf industry could learn from, according to advertising executives working in the region. "North African advertising is today an example of really successful advertising in the whole region, because these people have succeeded in taking their own culture, their own habits, their own humour and sensitivity and pushed them to an international level of insight and execution," said Walid Menassa, the creative director of Publicis Graphics in Lebanon, who was speaking at the second day of the Dubai International Advertising Festival. As an example, he pointed to two vastly different advertisements created for Mobinil, the Egyptian telecommunications company. The first, created several years ago, featured a mix of over-energetic music. The second, last year's famous "Castaway" ad, featured a narrative of a lost sailor - a metaphor for the mobile-phone customer - that looked like a clip from a big-budget film. Farid Chehab, the chairman of Leo Burnett for Middle East and North Africa and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett for Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, said Egypt had an advantage in this kind of production because of its long history of local cinema. Also certain aspects of Egyptian culture, particularly the tendency towards self-deprecating humour, have helped in making ads that make a lasting emotional impression, he said. "I think that today Egypt has really understood it best how to dig into insights," he said. "It's really what can make the difference between advertising and real communication, the kind that can change the way you think." Richard Pinder, the chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide, suggested that the ability to create bold advertising messages - and to stop copying the formulas invented in 1950s America - was an important stage in a country's development. "As nations get more and more confident in their own culture and their own ability to communicate in ways that are breaking the norms, they find their own voice," he said. Mr Chehab said Morocco and Algeria were not far behind Egypt in finding their own advertising voices. But the Gulf, according to Mr Menassa, still had a way to go for all its big budgets and professional production values. "Certainly, the Gulf advertising is clearly evolving," he said. "However, you feel that it is a fusion of different cultures meeting there, while you see that the Egyptians and North Africans are really dipping into their own cultures to come up with something outstanding. Here [in the Gulf] we are still at a sort of crossroads between western and eastern." Mr Chehab agrees. He believes the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular, could do a much better job in mining its own culture to create advertisements that emotionally connect with consumers. "Dubai is a model for the future," he said. "The Arabic culture has not been used until now. We have been snubbing it all the time." email@example.com
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