Dubai-based LIGHTBLUE’s head of partnerships shares his perspective on how brands in the state can bounce back in this period of uncertainty.
Like a host of creative agencies across the globe, LIGHTBLUE who operate out of Dubai and Los Angeles have had to face the challenges provided by Covid-19 head on. But it is in these unprecedented times that they have used their creative minds to form new ways of working. From a platform designed to address the new needs and mindsets of consumers during this time of social and economic instability to understanding why it’s all about actions and not just words from brands they have a clear path forward.
Joseph Aquilina, head of partnerships at the agency, spoke to LBB’s Natasha Patel to share his insights about the Middle East and why a campaign from Uber during this period caught his eye.
LBB> What is the situation in Dubai like at the moment?
Joseph> Optimism is returning. The UAE Government are cautiously relaxing the protection measures and businesses are re-opening. As the city gradually returns to a ‘new normal’ the focus for Dubai businesses is to return back to the re-discovery phase of what makes Dubai one of the most prominent business hubs in the world, although this time with the support of accelerated technological innovation that we have all witnessed in the recent months.
Now when it comes to social gatherings and live experiences, the Middle East and Dubai in particular had a number of globally recognised milestones planned in the 2020 calendar. Expo 2020 Dubai as a key example has confirmed a one-year postponement, now welcoming the world on October 1st, 2021 with a primary focus on the collective desire for new thinking to identify solutions to some of the greatest challenges of our time.
LBB> How has the economy fared? Is there anything brands can do in the short term to ensure they survive?
Joseph> As one of the most diversified and non-oil dependent economies in the Gulf, Dubai is reliant on sectors such as tourism, entertainment, retail, hospitality and property which have incurred huge losses due to full and partial city-lockdown. Although the government are setting out to reduce the impact of the global economic situation through the likes of stimulus packages for various sectors, it’s a tough call to make any predictions as to when we will bounce back.
What I do know is that confidence is growing by the day in market and brands are realising they have both responsibility and opportunity in equal measures during this time. Actions speak louder than words and we are predicting that in the recovery and rebound phase of the Covid-19 lifecycle, brands will stand out when they have stood up for something.
Brands should act in becoming leaders in rewriting our future, and yes important business opportunities including digital adoption, diversification and the accelerated rebalance between digital and physical retail should be addressed but we cannot forget those who are rewriting the new rules in the process. Consumers and their new needs and mindsets are paramount, and earning their trust and respect through timely, value-driven messaging is especially important in ensuring brands emerge well on the other side.
LBB> What about LIGHTBLUE, do you have a long and short-term plan?
Joseph> In the short-term we have taken a consultative approach with our clients in the aim of providing support in navigating through the crisis. We launched a number of initiatives and one in particular that has gained significant interest and momentum from our clients is “New Age Storytelling”, which was born as a platform to address the new needs and mindsets of consumers during this time of social and economic instability. As a result, we have been busy hosting a number of virtual webinars to enable our partners to re-connect with their audiences through cultural and commercial opportunities.
Now in a world full of change our ambition in the long-term is to remain true to who we are; a creative experience and content agency built for the now. We pride ourselves in our ability to connect brands with the power of culture and by doing so, we are uniquely positioned to support our clients during times of rapid change. It’s important that we continue to acknowledge the ever-changing needs and expectations of brands and consumers alike.
LBB> How has the business been weathering the storm?
Joseph> In between the influx of Zoom calls, webinars and client responses of broadcast, digital and content driven campaigns, we have taken this valuable time to enhance and develop our solution-based offering across our lines of business; strategy, experiential, content and smart-tech.
To best support our partners, our consulting approach is deeply rooted in strategy, planning and audience understanding which has enabled us to identify trends and predictions on what the future of brand experience and amplification has to hold.
LBB> Have you seen any campaigns during the Covid-19 outbreak that have stood out to you?
Joseph> During the outbreak, consumers were disorientated and needed immediate help so for me, brands that used their powerful platforms to communicate a sense of solidarity and togetherness managed to make a lasting impression in my mind.
Uber made a statement with their emotive Thank You For Not Riding campaign which was UGC-led, uncovering the stories of people in isolation and how Uber will #MoveWhatMatters while we all stay safe at home. Another favourite of mine was Nike’s ‘Play inside, play for the world’ as it was released with perfect timing to encourage the community to quarantine and social distance, backed up by an important announcement that premium programming on the Nike Training Club app was accessible to users free of charge.
Beyond the campaigns, a number of brands stepped up to the mark by taking action and making contributions directly to the cause. Whether it’s meeting demands or delivering essential goods, providing free services or committing funds to the cause, all contributions are hugely valuable.
As optimism continues to grow, I believe we will see brand narratives shifting to the realms of the new normal, new times and indeed, new challenges. In order to stand out, it is the role of agencies to support brands in guiding their communication through generating solutions and not just campaigns. If done correctly through creative ‘creative strategy’ that brings to life brand purpose within their day to day communication, brands have the opportunity to win consumer loyalty like never before.
LBB> How have communications changed during this period?
Joseph> People’s frame of mind and the implications for brands has truly been a rollercoaster, evolving daily with some sharp and unexpected turns. Some being more joyful than others. Recently in many places around the world, relief has struck as lighter forms of lockdown have been announced but in the same breath, apprehension appears with reactions of caution and doubt. Brands need to be on their toes.
We are sparking discussion and guiding decision making by advising our clients to take a bespoke and agile approach to all engagements. It’s no secret that brands that are demonstrating empathy and authenticity are those who are winning the conversation. However our role has always been to reimagine the experience consumers have with brands and I believe this unique moment in time should be used for brands to reconsider, improve and reform the roles they play in people’s lives, for the better.
LBB> What have you been working on recently that we can expect to see post-Covid?
Joseph> We are working on a number of broadcast, digital and content campaigns that will be going live across the Middle East in the coming weeks and months across our beauty, luxury, fashion and tech divisions in particular. Our Los Angeles office has now been operating for six months, following an 18 month streak of new business wins.