The outside world’s perception of Saudi Arabia means the country is placed in a creative-less blank box. It shouldn’t be, says J.Walter Thompson’s Daniah Al-Aoudah.
“This generation in Saudi Arabia is more open and more accepting,” says Daniah Al-Aoudah, a conceptual copywriter at J.Walter Thompson in Riyadh. “They talk about everything that’s going on and that has transcended even to the older generations. People right now are more accepting and more demanding of being more open; of being more real.”
Born and bred in Saudi Arabia, Al-Aoudah is a rarity. A Saudi female creative working for an international advertising agency, she is one of only a handful of such women ploughing an almost solitary field.
She is also on a mission of sorts. A mission to quash perceptions of the kingdom as a restrictive and limiting creative environment.
“When you say I’m a rare commodity in the advertising world, I feel I’m just lucky that I had an opportunity to be able to speak,” she says. “And there are lots of creatives like me who work in Saudi and are doing great work.
Saudi creatives don’t see this box that people from outside see us in. Therefore we’re able to break barriers and actually do work that really stands out in the market.
“People outside Saudi view Saudi Arabia in a box. And you really won’t find creativity in this box, with all its limitations and preconceptions. It’s just a box. A blank box. But for Saudi creatives, we don’t see this box that people from outside see us in. Therefore we’re able to break barriers and actually do work that really stands out in the market.
“In reality, this generation is rebelling. And it’s rebelling in a very positive way. The mentality of doing what other people want you to do, versus what you want to do, is about to break. The younger generations are doing what they think is right. They’re not being selfish about it, but at the same time they’re doing something that will make them feel good about themselves. To be in this era right now is brilliant for a creative like me.”
Al-Aoudah cites J.Walter Thompson’s ‘It’s your time’ campaign for Activia as an example, which encouraged women in the country to move past social pressures and to focus on themselves.
“Just because she sits in the back seat and she can’t drive, doesn’t mean a Saudi woman can’t take control of whatever she wants to do,” says Al-Aoudah. “So it’s a perception that people have about us, versus what we really want to do, and we kind of just said it bluntly. Now is your time to do whatever you want to do.”
Understanding the Saudi consumer, of course, is the end goal of most marketers in the GCC. Yet no one ever seems to ever ‘crack’ Saudi Arabia.
“But the thing is they were doing it wrong. There’s nothing to crack,” responds Al-Aoudah. “This is the misconception I think. There are a lot of creative Saudis, maybe not so many in the international agencies, but there are a lot of local agencies that are doing brilliant work.
“It’s not about cracking. It’s not that I’m cracking what we are as a whole country, or what my identity is. It’s that I’m taking what people see as a disadvantage for me and I’m using it for my benefit to stand out from the rest of the market.”