Stephane Fouks is the executive co-chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide, CEO of Euro RSCG France and CEO of Euro RSCG C&O — all part of one of the world’s largest communication and advertising networks. Executive caught up with him in Dubai to talk about advertising and branding in the Gulf, and how Middle Eastern brands can try to go global.
What are your impressions of Dubai when you come here, particularly when looking at the city from an advertising and communications point of view?
The energy is the first thing you feel when you arrive. Of course, that’s partly because of the amount of construction but also — and this is something that’s very interesting for us — because of the desire for modernity here, which is most apparent in the architecture. This is exciting for the advertising industry because you need that energy, since you’re interested in reaching a growing market, but you also need that desire for modernity. Of course, this is modern and well-designed but it also has an Arabic fragrance in a very interesting way. For advertising people this is always very exciting because it’s what our business is about. It’s taking what you can from each identity and using it to develop international relations and international communication between brands, consumers, media and people. So you really get the feeling that this is an ideal place for our line of business.
So your business must be growing very quickly here in Dubai?
Well, it’s a double-digit growth, so of course it’s very good. In fact, Dubai for us is like a big country, it’s like Brazil, Russia or India — a market where you have a double-digit growth in our industry.
The advertising market here is obviously much newer than in more developed markets like Europe, but where do you see the biggest differences, and where do you think the local market has to catch up?
I think you have three main differences between this region and what we can call the mature markets, even though what makes my business exciting is that it’s a never-ending story: if you consider that a mature market is a market with no change, then you are dead. This industry is always about the future and not the past.
The first difference is linked to the place taken by international brands in Dubai, where they represent the mainstream of communication and marketing. This is a place that gives a fantastic position for international brands, which is not the case in France or Russia, where things are really different. The second difference is that this is not a mature market for media. Even though there are new magazines and newspapers and TV channels coming up all the time, this is just the beginning of this media explosion, especially of the digital world and online communication.
The third difference is that what I said earlier about architecture is also true for advertising. You are working with international modern codes, but there’s a need for international codes with local emotion. And it’s not just about respecting internal rules or local culture, but it’s more because there is a strong history of craft and design which can be drawn upon. There’s a specific culture. It’s like when you’re working in China or India you can’t do exactly the same advertising as you can in Paris or New York.
A recent study by a major international magazine listed the top 100 global brands, none of which came from the Middle East. Looking ahead, what do you think Middle East-based brands need to do to achieve more of a global awareness?
First, I think that Emirates is not far from being one of these global brands. They have a real territory where they can express their culture of “more than comfort.” It also has a good pricing level so any of their ads will be probably present a very strong brand in this industry.
Also, some internationally-recognized brands are actually seeing large investment by shareholders from this region, particularly from Dubai, Qatar or Kuwait. In some cases they’ve become the main shareholder in some of those global brands. It’s true for the hotel industry, and it will also become true in other industries, for instance in sports cars like Aston Martin. This investment doesn’t change the DNA of the brand but it does change the way the brand can be perceived here, as it gives the brand more regional ‘routes’.
E Some UAE companies, particularly major property developers like Emaar, are starting to go regional and even global. If you were advising them on creating an international brand for themselves, what would you advise?
From what I saw from them, I think they are still at stage number one of developing a brand. They still speak about size, business and efficiency, which is a good definition of this first stage. But you don’t become a brand if you don’t define a culture, a goal and a mission.
What has stood out or impressed you in Dubai about the advertising market here?
There is certainly a strong outdoor presence here, as there is a strong print culture in all the Arab countries. But the most impressive note for me has been architecture. I think there is still more modernity here in architecture than in advertising, although this is a good sign as it means that ads will become more and more modern. Much of the corporate advertising here is still very poor, but this is a good sign for us because it means we can really help them to do better.
Are you doing a lot of online work?
Yes, of course. For a lot of clients, it’s a way of entering the market with a good level of investment. Online business is growing fast, at close to 40% per year in the Middle East, so it’s very strong even though that 40% growth is starting from a low base. Despite all the growth here, we consider that the reality of the communication world is not just about digital — we are convinced that there will always be a place for print media, for outdoor, for TV, and that when you want to establish a brand you need to consider a way to be channel-free and not to purely focus on TV or digital. Concentrating on just one channel is the best way to lose out on the evolution of the brand and the market.
What kind of image does Dubai have in France?
In Europe there is a strong, strong excitement about this “new Far East,” if I may call it that. In Paris, they consider that Dubai is a fantastic place for both holidays and business. It’s a fantastic mix where you can find great hotels, but also a fast-growing business market where you see an emerging financial services hub or a regional base for advertising and communication. It’s very exciting. In Europe, they don’t consider that Dubai is part of the ‘crisis area’ of the Middle East. However, it was interesting that we looked closely at the possibility of holding our annual meeting in Dubai — the idea was very well received by all the Europeans but it was more difficult to persuade our US friends, as they tend to see the whole Middle East region as a general ‘crisis area’ and see that Dubai is only a few kilometers from Iran.
So if you were advising the whole region on improving its image in the US, what kind of strategies would you suggest?
There are two mistakes that you should avoid. The first mistake is thinking that because there is an Arabic ‘fear’, you should try to present yourself in a way that avoids using an Arabic image. That is a mistake because the DNA of the brand is stronger with your own image. Instead, you should concentrate more on differentiating yourself than escaping from reality. You should assume the reality to create the differentiation. The second thing is to understand that the offer will create the demand. A lot of campaigns and posters think that you should follow the demand, and if you do market research in the US, you will surely find that Arab-branded products or services are not in demand. So, therefore, many people might believe that you should escape this Arab image. I think this is a terrible mistake: you should assume the image of modernity of an Arab country, which is possible, and which in fact exists here in aspects like architecture.
Do you think that Dubai does a good PR job in terms of promoting itself?
Absolutely. For me it’s probably the best fast-growing city brand in the world. The others are Shanghai or Mumbai, in my opinion, so Dubai is really in that category of fast-growing global city brands.
What are your plans here in the coming years?
We consider this place as a regional hub. Not just for the local market, but rather at the center of a region which reaches from Mumbai to Cairo. Dubai is a very good location to offer our services to an interesting cultural mix.
And the cultural mix is very diverse and segmented in Dubai — does that pose a challenge or an opportunity?
It’s a reflection of my company. Traditionally, the advertising world would try to duplicate everything American. But we really consider that this world is now over: we live in a multicultural world where we have to take into account that there are several hubs. And here in Dubai is one of the hubs of tomorrow, especially for services, like financial services, media and communications. As a multicultural company with a marketing HQ in New York, a corporate HQ in Paris, a CEO in London and a joint venture with a very well established family here, we are in a good position to be a fast-growing network in this region.
Do you feel restricted by the constraints placed on advertising in the Gulf, in terms of what can and can’t be shown, and which types of products can be advertised?
There are two ways of looking at limits on creativity. In the name of my industry, I prefer it when we have more flexibility and freedom to create, but I also recognize that limits oblige you to be more creative. For example, in Russia the alcohol market has become very restricted: you can’t show any people consuming the product, because no assimilation is allowed between the brand and consumption. This has therefore actually forced the ad agencies to be more creative. So on the one hand I prefer more freedom, but on the other we know how to manage these constraints to be more creative.
One last question about Lebanon, where Euro RSCG also has a presence. What prospects do you see for Beirut’s advertising market and how much ground has it lost to Dubai in the past few years?
To be honest, Lebanon was the hub of creativity for the Mediterranean region for years and years, but because of the various crises in the past few years, the market has become stronger today in Dubai than it is in Beirut. However, there is still a culture and a creativity in Beirut which is just asking to come back. It started this year with movies, with some Lebanese productions that were very interesting. For us, having a culture of film and cinemas, like you have in Bollywood in Mumbai, means that you already have the elements of the advertising market. We still think that amidst all the troubles, there is still the flame for a growing advertising market in Beirut.