Dubai: Sophisticated, Adventurous, Interesting; an Interview with John Smeddle
Posted on 2016 Nov,22

John Smeddle, creative director at Leo Burnett MEA talks to ArabAd about how Dubai is becoming increasingly attractive to top global talent, expresses his resentment about how creatives are shamelessly focusing their efforts on winning awards, and communicates how delighted he is to be working and living in such a culturally-diverse environment filled with rich learning experiences.


What sets Dubai apart from other countries in the Middle East? 

Dubai is becoming increasingly attractive to top global talent. This can be attributed to the Emirates’ resilience in the face of a worldwide economic stall, and all the ramifications that come with it, such as fewer opportunities for talent to express itself, lack of money, social uncertainty. I’ve witnessed firsthand how clients are taking us by surprise – not so much being open to challenging ideas but rather challenging us to be more daring, more intrusive.


What adjectives best describe Dubai’s advertising scene? 

Not sure I can provide adjectives but I can give you some pretty meaningful nouns. Sophisticated (it has to be, we live in the most digitally-saturated region on the planet). Adventurous (a product of more tolerant leadership). Interesting (not sure where else on the planet you could work alongside – and therefore learn from – so many different cultures).


What is still missing for greater recognition?

There’s nothing missing. We’re doing what we have to do with the tools at our disposal. And why should we be seeking more recognition?


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?

This question is a bit ‘us and them’, I find. Our mandate is to create dialogue with the people to whom our brands are targeted. Of course we try and find universal truths but we are deferential to all the cultures we reach out to, be it Asian, European, African, American, Latin or the highly diverse Arabic markets.


What are the greatest challenges facing ad creatives today? 

The same as they have always been. Originality and relevance.


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

Award chasing. It happens everywhere, but there seems to be a complete lack of shame about it here. It’s given rise to an environment of dishonesty and even worse, created a generation of creative people who think that awards are our business. Well, awards are not our business. Creating dialogue between brands and consumers is our business. An award is the gratification of peer recognition. Nice. But that’s not why we’re here.


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

Recently, I’ve found it very professionally rewarding to be here. The management structure above me is superb – focused and uncompromising. Who wouldn’t be interested in Dubai? It seems to know where it’s going. I love it, my family loves it.


What made you pick Dubai?

I was originally slated to start up an ad agency within a giant Nigerian telco, in Lagos. And then the Dubai offer came along. So after comparing annual rainfall, and the fact that one of my ‘perks’ in Lagos would be an armed bodyguard/driver, I thought I’d take my chances here.