Back to Insights

Why it's time to prioritise brand experiences in the Middle East

06 April 2023

This article first appeared in Economy Middle East, written by Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy, Middle East, at Imagination Dubai

Experiences were one of the biggest focuses at this year’s iteration of Dubai Lynx, and it’s no wonder why. A perfect storm has been built in the Middle East for the experiences industry. A region looking to diversify its economies, with a young, dynamic population, and brands – both local and global – willing to be bold and innovative, have all combined to make brand experiences one of the most potent forces for marketing.

Brand experiences enable a level of storytelling and inspiration rarely matched in other forms of brand communication.

But why and how are experiences so potent now for brands? Let’s take a step back to understand the landscape for brand experiences and what they can deliver.

The evolution of experiences

Brand experiences have been around for as long as humans, as a means to bring people together to connect and engage through shared passions, communities, businesses & families.

Thanks to the invention of the radio, and later TV, experiences were able to have the reach to match the depth of connection and emotion they have always generated.

And the enhanced interaction from the emergence of social media platforms has also allowed people to connect offline and online at any brand experience. Thus changing the game for enhanced interaction KPIs, allowing experiences to be tracked and measured for the powerful network advocacy effect they generate.

Shifting consumer behaviour

Flash forward to 2020, the pandemic created huge shifts in behaviour and saw the breakthrough mainstream moment for virtual experiences, which had been more experimental in the decade prior. So now we can create blended experiences that can be experienced both in person and virtually via technology, all at the same time.

This is how brand experiences have evolved from one-off, in-person events to become 360-degree engagement platforms supported by integrated new technology. It’s an exponential landscape full of multi-layered experiences with multiple combinations, where user interaction with brands is constantly developing. Brand experiences are more sophisticated now than ever before, but are also more complex, which requires more strategic planning to be executed successfully.

Unlimited opportunity

Whether in public spaces, retail spaces, galleries, conference halls, or destinations, experiences can now be curated to mix a whole host of technologies. From live streaming to e-commerce, mobile apps to social AR; VR and haptics to olfactory; and AI-powered projection mapping – the possibilities seem endless.

Combined with storytelling and inspiration, experiences are truly unmatched by any other form of brand communication, and play a vital part in the transformation of nations, as demonstrated during Expo 2020 in Dubai, at the 2022 Qatar Fifa World Cup and with the musical experiences and creativity of MDLBeast from Saudi Arabia.

Expo 2020 Dubai

Due to Covid-19, Expo 2020 had to innovate its format as physical events were more restricted in terms of audiences, especially in the earlier part of the program.

Therefore they created the Infinite Nights experiences of live entertainment shows to complement the global design profile of the Expo.

The experience had two layers – the physical and the online virtual.

The live show concept was at the Al Wasl dome, harnessing the 360-degree projection, designed around a selected live audience.

While online, a curated digital broadcast via Facebook and seven other TV and online platforms was created, harnessing the stunning content to work for the screen.

The shows featured an amazing roster of regional and global stars across 6 show days, including Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, and Iraqi star Kadim Al Sahir

The six shows were spread throughout the 6 months of the program and were the largest driver of click-throughs to the Expo online, with 40% of all traffic for Expo2020 as a whole. In total, they achieved 217 million in total reach and 70 million virtual visits, because they harnessed the power of parallel experiences that made the event accessible for both live and online audiences.

2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar

For the 2022 FIFA World Cup – the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East – Visa created the game-changing ‘Visa Masters of Movement’ experience that combined art, technology, and football to create a world-first brand experience.

Here, with the use of tracking technology, footballers’ moves were tracked and fed into an algorithm that produced flowing, real-time brush strokes, that ultimately became stunning pieces of dynamic, digital art.

In the build-up to the tournament, there was an auction of five iconic moves by five legendary players that had been turned into art using this technology and minted into NFTs, with the proceeds benefiting charity Street Child United.

Visitors to the FIFA Fan Festival™in Doha were also able to take part in the experience and become artists themselves.

It was the first time anything like this had ever been done, and the results spoke for themselves. Overall, 120,037 players took part and scored 9,546 goals in 3,025 Games. The campaign had a reach of over 60 million from the NFT art shared on social media, and the media coverage had a total reach of over 151 million.

Visa’s success was due in part to the fact that there were fewer preconceived notions of what football should look or feel like in the region, giving it complete creative freedom to create a new type of experience.

Furthermore, its ability to tap into what fans care about most – football – was a key factor in the success of the brand experience, as it allowed for the creation of bespoke moments tailored to the audience’s interests.

MDLBeast, Saudi Arabia

To support their brand vision to amplify the unseen, MDLBeast created a music streaming channel and deployed the world’s first use of live spatial audio at the region’s biggest dance music festival, Soundstorm.

Streamed through BEAST TV to 107 countries, remote audiences enjoyed an ‘I was there’ sensation through immersive and cutting-edge audio technology.

By combining national moments of transformation with creative brand experiences and cutting-edge technology, such as live spatial audio, they were able to deliver world-first immersive events.

With the region’s big momentum, there has never been a better time for brands to harness the power of brand experiences and connect with audiences in meaningful ways that leave a lasting impression.

Christophe Castagnera, Head of Strategy, Middle East

Christophe Castagnera

Head of Strategy, Imagination Middle East

Christophe has 24 years of experience in experience design, brand and marketing engagement for clients and agencies. He works across our offer of Consulting, Destinations, Live and Content and develops through-the-line strategies to develop & communicate destinations ranging from Retail Developments to Theme Parks.

He has a vast array of sector experience, from automotive and tourism to FMCG, luxury and technology.

He understands Brand communications strategy of the highest level, for example, the development of the Global Brand Campaign Strategy for Rolls-Royce. Regionally he was Involved in the Marketing Activation for the Al Wasl Development in Dubai, MDL Beast and Expo 2020, including integrated communications, brand positioning, messaging, channel planning and the measurement framework.


  • Consulting in experience blueprints and business models

  • Destinations and placemaking strategy

  • Customer experience design & journeys

  • Data analytics and reporting

  • Primary research including qualitative and quantitative

  • Integrated marketing & communications planning

  • Project management (communications and events)

  • Budgeting / financial planning

  • Digital content management and research


  • Christophe works across our offers, including, Consulting, Destinations, Live and Content and develops through-the-line strategies to communicate destinations ranging from Retail Developments to Theme Parks.

  • He understands Brand communications strategy of the highest level, for example, the development of the Global Brand Campaign Strategy for Rolls-Royce Ghost through; Insights and research planning, client discovery and strategy workshop, development of a creative platform proposal and integrated communications plan.

  • Regionally he was Involved in the Marketing Activation for the Al Wasl Development in Dubai, the Strategic development of MDL Beast programme of experiences and cultural activations across KSA.

  • He also worked directly for Expo 2020 client team on a long-term consultancy basis, developed Connected Experience Strategy for integrated communications, brand positioning, messaging, channel planning and measurement framework.


  • Bachelor of Science Degree in International Business (BSC) from Aston University, UK

  • IPM Diploma and Member (Institute of Marketing)

  • Member of the IPA Master Certification & Effectiveness Council


  • 24+ years experience