As the deadline for the 2021 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy approaches, WARC’s Aron Davidson explores how winners of last year’s Prize mastered the art of storytelling.

The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is now open for entries with deadline on 28th April.

First launched in 2017 to reward the smartest strategic thinking from the region’s marketing industry, the Prize is free to enter.

Peter DeBenedictis, CMO Middle East and Africa at Microsoft will be chairing this year’s judging panel of senior marketers and strategy experts.

To find out more about the Prize and submit your work, click here.

We like to think we are rational creatures, but the science is out: our feeling brain largely dictates our actions and our thinking brain retrofits a rational justification for them.

An appeal to the emotions is a powerful means of persuasion, and winners from the 2020 Prize for MENA Strategy provide great examples of how to elicit an emotional response from an audience through storytelling – a theme that we’ve seen consistently in work from the region:

So what role did storytelling play in last year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy?

Getting down with local humour

Incorporating a cultural understanding of both family structure and humour in Egypt, Bronze-winning challenger telco Etisalat Misr, through FP7 McCann Cairo, prompted its potential customer base to take an imaginative leap: imagine paying to speak to your family? You’d make every word count.

Giving this hyperbolic spin to a customer pain point and creating a humorous narrative out of it, Etisalat positioned its Hekaya Family offering as a solution that “perforated Egypt’s pop culture” according to judge Omar Saheb, Regional Head of Marketing, MENA, Samsung, “– and that’s like reaching Nirvana.” (For more on local relevance, read Chiara Manco’s Keep it local.)

Saudi telco Jawwy, through FP7 McCann Dubai and FP7 McCann Riyadh, activated its product offering in a similar way. Getting influential content creator Khaled Al Jasmin to haggle with business owners for things he hadn’t fully used – such as only sleeping on one half of a hotel bed – Jawwy’s light-hearted approach highlighted its main product benefit of only paying for what you use, bagging a Gold and the Local Hero Special Award in the process. (For more on humour, read Shagorika Heryani’s Humour: a strategic shortcut to likeability.)

Making life fairer

Jawwy didn’t just create a humorous narrative, it tapped into a desire for fairness among its millennial target audience and successfully linked this to its brand positioning as the self-proclaimed Fair Telco Company. Appealing to the same value through the lens of inequality, Standard Chartered Bank’s Art Gap, through TBWA\RAAD, won Gold for reframing the discussion around the gender pay gap into what judge Shagorika Heryani, Head of Strategy, Grey MENA, described as “a visual conversation rather than an intellectual debate.”

In reducing social problems to statistics, the human element sometimes gets lost. SCB’s memorable visual representations – paintings by female artists with nearly half of the canvas left incomplete to represent the 47.6% price gap compared to works created by male artists – embodied the philosophy of show rather than tell, spurring people to connect with the issue on an emotional basis.

Taking a softer tone

A light-hearted or defiant approach isn’t always the way to go though, as NGO Donner Sang Compter’s Silver-winning Blood Unity, through FP7 McCann Dubai, demonstrated in Lebanon. It changed the narrative around a sectarian religious practice – in which followers strike themselves with razors to honour the sacrifice made by the prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussein – redirecting it towards a more constructive display of devotion through sacrifice: blood donation.

The fact that the campaign garnered support from spiritual leaders was testament to the sensitivity with which the NGO approached the topic, and judge Ziad Skaff, former Managing Director MENA, Hall & Partners, noted that its “cultural understanding and engagement reflected a thorough and well thought out plan.”

What are the takeaways for brands?

Thanks to the emotions it elicits, storytelling plays a key role in persuading and informing audiences, as well as in brand building.

We only expect more of this on the back of the ongoing response to COVID-19, particularly as brands strive to inform audiences about health and safety and step into opportunities created by changes to everyday behaviour, and we look forward to seeing how this year’s Prize entrants will bring to life their strategies through powerful stories.

The 2021 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is open for entries. Deadline is on 28th April. For more information on how to enter, email

You can find all winners of the 2020 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy hereFor more insights, trends and themes around the Prize, read the 2020 MENA Strategy Report.