Advertising in the UAE? It's not funny.

“People don’t buy from clowns,” Claude Hopkins used to say. But does that explain the lack of humour in advertising in the Arabian Gulf?

When was the last time a local ad tickled your funny bone, made you laugh, or even smile? Think hard. Give up?

When I had met Ed Jones, regional creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, at the Gulf Marketing Forum a few years ago, I thought he’d know the secret.

There are very few if any Emiratis doing any advertising in Dubai.

Ed Jones

(Ex) Regional Creative Director

Saatchi & Saatchi

He said: “Here people are very nervous of making jokes about the population because so many of the people who are doing the advertising are not part of the host country. There are very few if any Emiratis doing any advertising in Dubai. So they are not very sure of themselves in the kind of risks they can take.” The same situation is on the client side, he noted.

“You want people to have the courage to take risks. But if they don’t know their audience, then of course they are less inclined to.”

The advertising industry is very new in this part of the world, only as old as the oil boom. So, anyone who’s attempting humour is most often sailing in uncharted territory. Also, there are cultural considerations. What might work in the USA or the UK might be too much to take for local sensibilities.

“Let’s face it – it’s a very conservative culture,” Ed said. I agree. But there have to be creative ways to cut through the cultural differences and touch a human chord across a multicultural audience.

All we gotta do is find those ways. And with time, we will. At least that’s the half full glass I would like to see.

Insha Allah, as we say. Insha Allah.

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