• Transform magazine
  • April 04, 2020

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Creative culture: Dubai Lynx inspires a region

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Photo courtesy of PPAMPicture/iStock by Getty Images

The annual Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity celebrates creative communications. Speakers and sponsors of the event all approach creativity from a different standpoint, whether that’s in trailblazing imagery, experimental mobile technology or pop culture. Brittany Golob reports

A few years ago, Arafaat Ali Khan and Ben Caddy attended an event on creativity in the UAE. They came across a pair of Emirati girls with a stack of 15- or 16-page comic books. What came as a surprise to Khan and Caddy was that the work was of such a high level to impress even this pair of admitted comic book geeks. The artist had printed the books as a personal project, but they also sparked in Khan and Caddy an idea that would take shape in 2012 with the first-ever Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) in Dubai.

For the duo behind it, the conference was intended to both to celebrate popular culture but also to support local artists and creatives. The 100 local and regional artists who took spaces at the con’s first Artist Alley represented a swath of the creative community in the Middle East. This year, Khan, Caddy and artist Mo Abedin will speak at the Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity.

The festival provides an outlet for the discussion of creativity in an number of guises, from the comic book heroes of the MEFCC to innovation in corporate photography and advertising at speaker and sponsor Getty Images to the innovation required in social analytics by sponsor Crimson Hexagon to the new approaches to mobile for speaker Fitch.

The festival, and the focus that has been placed on creativity in communications in the region over the past few years has encouraged Middle East natives to recognise creative endeavours as a productive, exciting and ultimately, profitable thing. Khan says by bringing together major figures in the world of creativity – whether in pop culture at MEFCC or in communications at Lynx – has encouraged this shift in mindset. “Companies regionally and locally are adopting this form of art – pop culture – in advertising and in communications. It’s great to see. Our end goal is to have the geeks take over the world!” jokes Khan.

SVP of global sales and marketing for Crimson Hexagon, John Donnelly III, agrees, “Lynx is a creativity show in its entirety – a collection of businesses with inspired ideas, showing how they’re staying relevant and differentiating for their competitors. It’s great to see that the panelists are mostly brands or agencies who will be discussing real life examples. That’s what people what to learn from.” They are not alone in noting a shift in communications.

Getty Images has been focusing on the trend toward creative ways of imagining themes and topics for which businesses seek images. Rebecca Swift, a speaker at Lynx, says, “Now that the world is more visual and sourcing imagery is easier and more cost effective, our customers are more demanding about what they want to see visualized. Stock imagery is criticized for being clichéd and perpetuating stereotypes (in some instances, quite rightly so) and the visualization of women is an enduring debate. However, in the last couple of years we have seen that our customers are willing to be braver in their image choices.”

Getty Images’ #repicture campaign, which debuted at June’s Cannes Lions festival, encourages people to share images that represent certain issues, topics or words – some prominent categories included ‘love,’ ‘family’ and ‘work.’ The photo agency also launched its Lean in Collection in partnership with LeanIn.org, which encourages a shift in the way women and young girls are both represented in the media and communicated with by companies. Swift says, “Businesses now need to tell a story through all of their imagery (from press advertising to Facebook pages) and the businesses that are enabling their customers to share in that story are the ones demonstrating creativity.”

Storytelling, as she points out, has become a key aspect of corporate communications. London-based brand communications agency Fitch’s associate design director Shaghig Anserlian will speak on what she dubs ‘story-doing’ and gamification at the festival. She says storytelling is only the beginning and that brands should cultivate experiences that allow consumers to make connections with the brand and share that with their networks. “Play actually has commercial worth to businesses,” she says. “One important thing is for companies to actually invest in new communications platforms instead of going to the safe and old platforms. We encourage investing where the consumer is. Dubai Lynx is the best place of inspiration. It sets the bar really high and companies should reach those and be where the consumer is, otherwise they’re losing opportunities.”

“There are no borders anymore. Technology has broken down all these boundaries and borders to communications now. It’s amazing to see how it all works. As a communications professional in this day and age it’s a wondrous time.”

She points to the rise in mobile, online shopping and online brand experience as a shift for communications. Experimentation in this area will help companies more effectively reach their target audiences, encourage them to build connections with the brand and then share that through social media. “It’s not about advertising anymore,” Anserlian says. “It’s about creating personalised, one-to-one connections with consumers to create a strong emotional connection between the brand and the consumers that allows consumers to speak about the brand and speak about the experiences to others.” Donnelly shares that outlook on the power of technology, “Social media made communication personal again. In a world of mass communication and standardisation, social media introduced the personal touch back into conversations; businesses can actually reach out to consumer and engage directly. The other side of this, of course, is that social media has democratised public opinion and given consumers a voice, meaning brands have to think more creatively than ever when communicating to ensure they are being genuine, and genuinely engaging.”

Access to creative work online has also permeated through the Middle Eastern arts community. “There are new influences with the younger artists and creators that you see coming up now because there’s os much more with the internet. You’re exposed to all forms of art and creativity now and you see lots of varied styles coming up,” says Khan. He also points to a shift in the style of creative communications. As Swift also notes, companies are looking to reach audiences on a more individual level by producing content that cuts through the online clutter and speaks to real issues and emotions. “When you talk pop culture, people don’t realise how mainstream it’s become,” Khan says. “In the first couple of years we had a lot of [companies saying] ‘We don’t understand this. We don’t know if this fits with our target audience.’ Now it’s reversed; people are coming to us and saying MEFCC would be an amazing outlet for us to reach our fans and our audience.” That ethos and that demographic is permeating through the agency world, he adds.

Getty Images, too, has supported creativity among young local talent. It has sponsored the Young Lynx competition since its inception in 2008, allowing young creatives throughout the region to learn from Getty Images, enhance their skills and put their work to the test.

Creativity in the Middle East is embracing new styles, largely dictated by the needs and interests of the younger demographic. However, all agree that technology has forced communications to produce more impactful, creative work. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in imagery.

Beyond the Middle East, though, communications is becoming more transnational. Creatives have to account for the tastes and cultural touchpoints of international audiences when creating campaigns. Khan says that has created a tight link between pop culture and communications, “This is what people are relating to now. You have to move your communications accordingly – there are no borders anymore…Technology has broken down all these boundaries and borders to communications now. It’s amazing to see how it all works. As a communications professional in this day and age it’s a wondrous time. There’s so much you can do. Technology has given you an open range – if you think about it you can do it.”