Dubai advertising scene in a state of prolonged emergence: an Interview with Manuel Borde
Posted on 2016 Nov,23

How a native of Colombia happens to have migrated to the Emirate is testament to an unrelenting quest to challenge the norms and push himself farther than previously thought possible. Creative Director Manuel Borde is in fact a man who strives in creative diversity. In the following exclusive interview, he talks with ArabAd about the work he has been doing for TBWA\RAAD Dubai, which he joined three years ago.


What sets Dubai apart from other countries in the Middle East -- especially when it comes to crafting award-winning campaigns? 

I would guess that what sets Dubai apart from the rest of the region is its creative diversity. We have expats from all over the world working together, giving their unique touch to the ideas. Every year more and more creatives join from Europe, Asia, North and South America adding to the regional muscle. 


Are clients becoming more open to challenging ideas?

I don’t think you as a client CAN become more or less open to ideas. I think there are clients that have an open mindset from the start and they will continue to have it no matter what brand they work for, and then there are those clients that even with the most irreverent brands, would still be too conservative and less open to something different. Clients don’t become more open to challenging ideas, they just get replaced.


"What the UAE is missing for greater recognition and consolidation is getting its agencies to go to award shows as a country, search for collective glory rather than an individual one."


What adjectives best describe Dubai’s advertising scene?

I feel that the Dubai advertising scene has been in a state of prolonged emergence. Yes, it’s fascinating and multicultural. Yes, for many years it has been described as full of creative opportunities and the potential to become one of the leading countries in the industry. However, for what I have seen in my few years here, we have failed to consolidate ourselves as that; a leading country in creativity. 


What is still missing/needed for greater success/recognition?

Don’t get me wrong, I know almost every year an agency or two perform very well in Cannes, but it is always on an individual scale. I think what the UAE is missing for greater recognition and consolidation is getting its agencies to go to award shows as a country, search for collective glory rather than an individual one. If you see countries like Argentina, Brasil or Australia, their jury representatives go as a country, willing to fight for and promote the best work from their market even if it´s not their own. I’m not sure we have reached this level in UAE yet.


With Dubai being a widely diverse landscape of people and cultures, is there an effort to craft ad campaigns within a certain framework for the widest appeal?

Dubai’s diversity is both awesome and troublesome or rather challenging. How to craft messages that fit so many cultures at the same time including that still important chunk of the population that are locals? And it gets even more challenging when you add other regional markets like KSA or Qatar. The challenge is left for us to find stories and insights that are universally relevant. I sometimes do feel we overestimate the term “culturally relevant”. Do I have to show Asian actors, to be relevant to Asian expats? Why??? I actually got told once while presenting a campaign, that a meteor was not relevant to the culture… I don’t think it's a “thing” of any culture, it’s just as relevant as the planets and the stars I guess. 


What are the greatest challenges facing ad creatives today? 

I think the biggest challenge creatives have today is not falling into that zone of comfort and becoming stagnant, and a market like Dubai can dangerously put you there. You will probably get a better salary and quality of life in Dubai than in your own country, and win a couple of awards here and there, but it's a clean slate every year and you have to be constantly hungry for great work. As they say, “you are only as good as your last ad”.


Are there any trends in Dubai’s advertising scene that you specifically dislike?

Can’t think of any in particular… But I will tell you I dislike all the incredibly overacted radio spots here in UAE. I honestly do not know how they make their way through the speakers into people´s ears. Such a waste of a truly fun media.


Do you find it professionally rewarding and personally interesting to be located in Dubai?

Well I wouldn’t be here if I thought otherwise. I believe this is a market that will only become stronger, more competitive and more creative.


What made you pick Dubai?

I was headhunted while I was working at Puerto Rico, and had no opinion of Dubai at all; just everything you hear of it is luxury craze. First thing I did was to google how life was here, and thankfully it ended up being a lot less restrictive than what it said it was. For me, it was a new and exciting challenge in my life. I came here to try it for a year and that turned into three and counting.