DUBAI: Brands that want to do well in the Middle East and North Africa need to “step out of their comfort zone” according to a leading brand marketer in the region.

Asad Rehman, Director Media, North Africa & Middle East at Unilever, pointed to Dubai as an example of the “brave” approach that brands should be embracing.

“What Dubai is doing for the region is brave – there's a Minister of Happiness and a recently appointed Minister for Artificial Intelligence,” he said at a Marketing Society event in the city.

“These are signs and hints to people that if you want to do well in the Middle East, you have to do braver things and step out of your comfort zone.” (For more details, read WARC’s report: To boldly go: bravery is essential to growth in MENA.)

Unilever itself has a track record of going against the grain. Its OMO detergent brand recently won Gold in the WARC Prize for MENA Strategy with a 23-hour Facebook Live ad that highlighted the increasingly sedentary lives of kids in the region as part of the brand's broader Dirt is Good platform.

“Nobody is watching more than three seconds of video, so we produced a 23-hour long video and achieved an average watch time of five minutes,” said Rehman.

“Give us a challenge and we'll do the opposite.”

Another Unilever brand was less successful as its brave approach backfired and Dove had to pull a Facebook ad which stoked controversy when it seemed to be showing a black woman turning white.

Brave or stupid? “It was a bit of both,” said Rehman, adding “we can afford to take risks because we have a lot of equity with Dove.”

But with the transparency of social media, most brands can expect to run into some sort of trouble at some time.

“We become so sensitive – everything could be perceived as hostility,” he said. “It takes bravery to do the stuff you still believe in.”

Sourced from WARC