A Ray of Sunshine
Posted on May 19, 2017 | By Iain Akerman

Dubai-based indie Science & Sunshine is a year old. ArabAd caught up with the agency’s founders to find out where they’re headed

“I remember in the beginning when we first started it was difficult,” admits Nadine Ghossoub, the chief executive of Science & Sunshine. “We weren’t used to the pace. The momentum was really slow. There was work but it wasn’t at the pace we were used to.”

Most people will remember Ghossoub from her days at Y&R Dubai. In fact, all of the founders of the Dubai Media City-based newbie will trigger memories of a similar sort: Shahir Zag, the agency’s chief creative officer; Ash Chagla, Science & Sunshine’s executive creative director; and Farid Hobeiche, the company’s group business director. All four previously worked together at Y&R.

“We wanted to detach from all that baggage from the past,” says Ghossoub. “The world of advertising we knew back then is not the world it is today. It’s run by people who are not over 40. They’re young kids. But it’s a struggle when you have your own business. It’s just the way it goes. The risks are high.”

Do you worry sometimes?

“I haven’t yet,” she replies. “Look, there are always challenges when you’re opening your own thing, trying to position yourself in this industry where you have a lot of boutique agencies, you have a lot of network agencies. It’s pretty saturated if you ask me. What we’re trying to do is have the freedom not to put ourselves in a box – where we have to make ends meet because we’re a boutique agency, or we have to make ends meet because we want to be a network. It’s neither of those. We’re really, really pushing to work with clients or briefs that we find interesting so that we can have that freedom.”

It’s been exactly a year since Science & Sunshine first opened for business as a collective of homegrown talent. It positioned itself as a ‘digitally native, through-the-line, fearlessly creative advertising agency’ with a mantra to ‘always never be boring’. It appears to be working.

"We’re a homegrown collective of people, of one mind and different disciplines. We are just answering to ourselves and answering where we think advertising should go..."-Shahir Zag

The pace has been upped and new clients are onboard, including Netflix and the Dubai-based online luxury retailer The Modist, whom the agency launched globally as a brand on International Women’s Day. Then there’s (amongst others) Dubai International Film Festival and Piramal Realty in India, both retained accounts that have helped the agency grow to 18 members of staff in just 12 months.

“We’ve been saying eventually we’re going to be flavour of the month,” says Zag with a smile. “But the first time we entered the office I said that in this room is enough talent to really fail. There’s so much talent that we can fail. We could ruin this. Failure is definitely an option. But what is success? This experiment to us is a living success. We don’t want to be millionaires or to beat somebody. There’s nobody on our radar. We’re a homegrown collective of people, of one mind and different disciplines. We are just answering to ourselves and answering where we think advertising should go.”

“We’re not trying to get every client that we possibly can,” adds Ghossoub. “We’re trying to do things where we also create the content ourselves. We conceptualise, we produce. There are different avenues that we’re exploring.”

One avenue of exploration is film, but from an entirely non-advertising perspective. The fictional short 'A Beautiful Mess' was directed, co-produced and written by Zag, and tells the story of a maid who takes the break-up of the family she works for very personally.

“It was a Science & Sunshine project,” says Zag. “Complete fiction, completely abstract to advertising, just as a collective to see what we could do. To explore. It has nothing to do with advertising. Nothing to do with anything except trying to engage ourselves differently. I want to create. We want to be creators. We write, produce, direct, everything.”

Science & Sunshine doesn’t want to be a big agency. Maybe 25 people max. The idea is to keep everybody on their toes and to not become complacent. They have also started Tap, a social agency that will work within the company’s existing set-up, although it hasn’t officially launched yet.

“Year one was survive. Year two – lay a body of great work. Outstanding work,” says Zag.

“I’m with you on that,” adds Ghossoub. “We need to get work out. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to define us. We’re only as good as the work that we produce.”

“It’s time to do work that’s talked about, that raises eyebrows,” continues Zag. “And the pressure is double because we’re making it ourselves. We can only blame ourselves if the ideas aren’t good enough. We want to be a globally recognised independent. That’s where we want to go. That’s going to take a lot of patience; to methodically climb up to that level. We’re not trying to be a hot shop, our plans are far more mundane and routine and boring. We just want to create great work.”