Welcome to the world of creative commerce
Posted on 2023 Oct,04  | By Iain Akerman

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Creative commerce has rocketed into the limelight. So why aren’t brands across the Middle East embracing it with gusto?

When Wunderman Thompson Riyadh picked up the creative commerce grand prix at Cannes in June, it shone a light on a category that remains relatively unknown in the Middle East and North Africa. What is this newfangled term? Why is it important?

Strangely, the agencys Subconscious Orderfor food delivery app HungerStation wasnt even shortlisted in the creative commerce category at the Dubai Lynx, raising questions once again about the quality of the judging. It did, however, pick up a grand prix in mobile for an innovative feature that analyses eye-tracking data to see which meals attract an indecisive user’s attention. A list of relevant HungerStation restaurants is then provided to the user.

Is the ‘Subconscious Order’ a taste of whats to come?

“I believe so, yes,” replies Rayyan Aoun, executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson Riyadh. Such a solution can forever shift the consumers buying behaviour across categories. Just envision the possibilities if this tool were to be enhanced to the point of being able to perceive and analyse consumer thoughts and behaviours, and subsequently provide personalised recommendations that can result in more effective conversion.”

And therein lies the power of creative commerce, which Cannes Lions describes as an innovative and creative approach to online and offline commerce, payment solutions and transactional journeys. It’s a description that arguably does the category an injustice, omitting the crucial elements of brand equity and consumer experience.


“Commerce needs to be creative, and creative needs to be commercial.--Rayyan Aoun, ECD, Wunderman Thompson Riyadh


“Over the last couple of years, the worlds of media, entertainment and commerce have been converging,” says Oliver White, group executive director of commerce at MCN. “And creative commerce is the term that connects the creative of media and entertainment to the conversions from commerce. Its the coming together of brand experience and consumer experience to collectively drive consumer action or conversions.

“The term itself might simply prove to be another buzzword. No doubt well all update our LinkedIn profiles with it today and forget it tomorrow. But, if we look past the vernacular, creative commerce is important because of what it represents. The grey space that once separated sales from marketing is shrinking and brands are starting to think holistically. Creative commerce is an antidote to the siloed vertical functions of brand marketing and performance marketing, and physical and digital retail. In bringing sales and marketing together, we can focus on building brands through creativity that converts to sales.”

One agency that has done more than any other to promote and define creative commerce is VMLY&R. In fact, it invented the term. The merger of Geometry and VMLY&R in 2020 led to the creation of a ‘creative commerce company’ – VMLY&R Commerce. Since then it has been spreading the gospel worldwide, leading to the eventual launch of the creative commerce category at Cannes in 2022. One of its main proponents has been Manuel Bordé, a former Dubai resident and now global chief creative officer at VMLY&R Commerce.


“Creative commerce is an antidote to the siloed vertical functions of brand marketing and performance marketing, and physical and digital retail.”--Oliver White, group executive director of commerce, MCN


“Creative commerce means integrated, all-worlds creativity that merges brand equity and conversion, coalescing into a creative whole and opening a world of possibility,” says Hemal Soni, head of commerce at VMLY&R Commerce Dubai. “Its more than a transaction. Its an interaction that can be gamified, socialised, live streamed on digital, or experienced with all the senses… As channels collide around shopping and buying, as sales converges with marketing, creativity in commerce has become essential to delivering consumer experience, brand promise, and memorable engagement. And has become the new canvas of creativity for both brands and a talent to stretch within and across.”  


“Creative commerce propels business growth, creating an unparalleled synergy between brand elevation and sales surges.”--Hemal Soni, head of commerce, VMLY&R Commerce Dubai


With such importance given to creative commerce, why is the region largely unaware of it? After all, consumer shopping behaviour has undergone a significant shift, with greater openness to change and innovation, says Aoun. Consumers are no longer confined to traditional shopping environments. They are utilising everything from mobile ordering, digital interactions and AR and voice commands to purchase goods. This places a greater need on the development of “innovative and imaginative solutions that simplify the purchasing process and deliver a more personalised shopping experience,” believes Aoun. “While some brands have started to embrace this concept, I believe we have only just begun to tap into its full potential. With the rapid progress of new technologies, it is crucial that we seize the opportunity to become pioneers in adopting these advancements and setting new trends.”         

“This is where we need to educate clients,” adds White. “For many brands, commerce is still treated as a vertical function – sat somewhere between IT, marketing and commercial. But were slowly coming to realise commerce is more than a transaction. Its an interaction. Educating clients on how to horizontally integrate commerce across their business and how to ensure great creative is anchored to consumer action.”

Soni agrees. The region’s consumer landscape is a dynamic one, she says, with commerce evolving at an unprecedented pace. As such, brands face a challenge – standing out. “To stand out in the cluttered environment, it is important for brands and marketers to no longer see commerce as just a lower marketing funnel activity but instead as an interesting means to deliver growth in a way that also builds their brand,” she says. “For too long, commerce as a space has been approached and viewed as purely transactional. Yet, commerce is every bit as creative, as emotional and as engaging as each piece of work we create.” 

Brands should not only be leaning into the world of creative commerce, they should be brave, believes Soni. Why? Because creative commerce not only paints compelling brand narratives”, it propels business growth, creating an unparalleled synergy between brand elevation and sales surges”.

Aside from HungerStation’s ‘Subconscious Order’, Soni cites two of her own agency’s campaigns as examples of what can be achieved if brands embrace the concept. The first is ‘Alexa, I See Coke’, which saw Coca-Cola build an innovative AI-driven shopping experience in partnership with Amazon in Saudi Arabia.

The second is ‘OreoCodes’ by VMLY&R Commerce US. The campaign turned milk barcodes into scannable cookies, leading to an 83 per cent redemption rate and a 7.3 per cent sales increase compared with the previous year. The campaign was awarded gold at Cannes in June.

“In the realm of creative commerce, the future holds immense opportunities for individuals and businesses alike,” says Aoun. “Brands should reconsider their customer interactions and harness the latest technological advancements to revolutionise conventional transactional approaches and pave the way for a shortened purchasing journey and a more efficient shopping experience. In my view, the future of commerce lies in its seamless integration into all aspects of our lives, allowing for effortless transactions at any time and anywhere.”

  What next? For his part, White would like to see the industry evolve to a point where “we drop the creative from commerce and the commerce from creative”. “Commerce needs to be creative, and creative needs to be commercial,” he says. “There was a time (only a few years ago) where brands talked about offline, online and omnichannel – finally we seem to have dropped the efrom ecommerceand started to settle on commerce – a channel agnostic term. Hopefully, all the other prefixes that routinely find themselves stapled to commercevia a hyphen get dropped too: social-commerce, conversational-commerce, live-commerce, creative-commerce. Commerce should become symbiotic with all the above.”