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INTERVIEW: “In our company, change is a constant”, says the boss of the award-winning advertising agency Havas Middle East

DUBAI: Havas Middle East, a multinational advertising and public relations company, scored a big win for the region at the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, considered by many to be the industry’s premier awards programme.

The agency won seven trophies at the event last month, all for its work with client Adidas. His Liquid Billboard campaign won one Grand Prize, one gold, two silver and one bronze in the outdoor campaign category and one silver in the media category. The agency also won a silver trophy in the Entertainment Lion for Sports category, for its I’m Possible poster campaign.

The CEO of Havas Middle East, Dany Naaman.

Havas Middle East CEO Dany Naaman told Arab News he was on a mission to enhance the agency’s creative reputation and put it in the global spotlight, “so winning seven Cannes Lions awards” is a big deal. “great feeling”.

The Liquid Billboard campaign marked Adidas’ launch of an inclusive swimwear collection. Studies have shown that 32% of women worldwide feel uncomfortable swimming in public, and in the Middle East the proportion rises to 88%.

So Adidas created the world’s first “swimmable billboard” in Dubai, which encouraged women to dive regardless of their body shape, ethnicity or ability.

“Adidas is committed to making the future of sport more inclusive,” Naaman said. “The campaign sparked a conversation around body positivity that has spread across the region and around the world to six continents and more than 60 countries.”

Adidas liquid billboard.

The campaign’s impact around the world is “a testament to Dubai’s global reach”, he added. The UAE was the perfect location for Adidas to launch its new collection and campaign due to the diverse population and inclusive nature of the country, he explained.

“They openly promote tolerance across all strata of an incredibly diverse and multicultural society, which leaves a mark on the culture,” Naaman said.

The UAE is not the only country in the region that is evolving and developing. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification program and the resulting national transformation make the Kingdom a business hub.

“We already have a strong team in place but we continue to launch new initiatives to support the Kingdom’s vision,” Naaman said.

This year, the group will launch Havas Events in response to Saudi Arabia’s growing investment in the local entertainment and events industry. It will also support the Royal Commission of Riyadh City’s Noor Riyadh Festival in October.

From the resounding success of the Cannes Lions event to the expansion into Saudi Arabia, the past two years have been a period of growth and transformation for Havas Middle East. Although the pandemic has severely affected its media business, the creative and PR sections have remained largely unaffected, Naaman said. Indeed, the health crisis served as a growth accelerator, particularly in the areas of e-commerce and digital transformation, with the group attracting several new customers including Adidas, L’Oréal, the Dubai Museum of the Future, and the telecom company of .

Adidas liquid billboard.

“However, when you’re faced with challenges — and challenges of this size — you need to revisit your business model and examine your structure,” Naaman said.

“Restructuring is always painful, too, (but) you have to make sure you have the right people in the right place for the next phase of development.”

Even during the restructuring phase, he added, the company “kept communication channels open” and launched a number of new initiatives, including some related to mental health, to help employees stay connected and healthy. In fact, he said, employee satisfaction levels have actually improved during the pandemic compared to the previous year.

“In our business, change is a constant,” he said. “So you assess and see who fits where, and reorganize to make sure you’re ready for the next wave of change.”

Right now, the next wave seems to include trending technologies like NFTs, Blockchain, Metaverse, and Web3. Naaman believes the Metaverse, a proposed immersive version of the Internet accessed using virtual reality technology, “is the next revolution in computing.”

“It’s believed to be the successor to the mobile internet, so all signs point to huge potential and possibilities, including new opportunities to redefine consumer interaction,” he said.

Havas, which describes its offices as “villages”, launched its own virtual village this year in the video game The Sandbox, offering its customers an augmented experience. Last year, she launched Metaverse by Havas, a new consulting, creative and media offering dedicated to helping brands unlock the potential of the metaverse.

However, for now, the metaverse is still a buzzword, Naaman said, it “isn’t a complete universe and there are silos.” In other words, there are currently different platforms in the metaverse, each of which requires the user to create a separate avatar, resulting in a divisive experience.

“It all depends on how quickly things fall into place within the metaverse, but it’s definitely a space we’re watching closely,” he added.

Ultimately, Naaman said, Havas aims “to leave a mark on culture and create meaningful communication that impacts the world,” whether it happens in the metaverse or on a billboard.


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