Ramadan 2006; the typical khaleeji family gathers to eat and drink after a long day of fasting, followed by hours of being slumped at the TV to watch the regular, bland TV shows. TV shows that covered topics that have been over and done with year after year, offering nothing new.
But not this year; this was 2006, and something was different. Apparently someone thought that taking the khaleeji culture, turning it into a funny cartoon, and throwing in a few modern day topics seemed like a good idea. And a good idea it was; "Freej" instantly caught on with both children and adults, becoming an instant hit and appealing to the crowds that watched. Although essentially Emarati, all khaleeji's could somehow relate to this cartoon; the story of four old traditional women, caught up in the fast-evolving changing world that is Dubai.
All those originally from the region somehow managed to relate; the older people who had seen the Gulf countries develop from tiny villages and deserts to huge international cities, the teenagers who have brief memories of days when things were much more simple, and the children who have finally found a cartoon that has characters from their part of the world, rather than anime monsters and superhuman robots.
And yes, it was a creative concept; a cool breeze of fresh air in a region where Ramadan TV shows every year seemed to bring the same old thing. Although the viewers loved it, most TV show producers turned their heads. It was just a cartoon after all, why should they bother with such a childish concept?
Freej went on to grow with a marketing strategy to spread it's brand to dolls, toys, branded clothes, stationary and much more (and yes, they all sold like crazy). Freej was everywhere; in children's bedrooms, at your local DVD store, and the characters were even found in various festivals and events.
Now, the TV show producers started to notice; their initial impressions that this was a childish short-term thing were apparently wrong. Freej was one hell of a brand that was marketed right, and stole a niche in the Ramadan TV show market that no one even knew existed.
So what do we get for Ramadan now? A million different cartoon/animated shows.. Seems the producers figured that animated shows were actually the way to go, and so they just dropped all their effort into coming up with mind-numbing stories animated with the newest graphics and animation technologies..
That's not what made Freej popular. It wasn't the fact that the animation and graphics were advanced. It was partly the stories it portrayed, the issues it addressed, the thought and passion of it's producer (who I have utmost respect for, way to go), which showed in every detail of it, from sound production, to script, to everything else.
But no, these producers figured they could just slap on some hi-tech graphics, and instantly achieve the success of Freej. Unfortunately most of them are total misses, try hard to be funny (and fail), and have stories that, although based in the region, are hardly related to anything here, and are actually a bit of a drag to watch.
The point is, this topic isn't just about Ramadan TV shows. It's about the Gulf countries in general; One GCC country achieves great success in building luxury resorts and properties, so the surrounding countries decide to copycat the concepts hoping to achieve the same success. One GCC country builds a Formula One track bringing in attention from the whole world, and all of a sudden 2 others want to build their own F1 tracks too. Tallest tower in the world? Nope, a few other countries decide they'll build their own tallest tower.
But it's all for the best right? We're all growing right?
Wrong. We're all biting at each other, and minimizing the chances for each others' success, rather than working together to help complement each other with different services and products.
And unfortunately, this trend of copycatting everything seems to continue. What we need is more original ideas. Why don't we see investment in technology? Science? Energy? Entertainment?
Creativity guys. Bring it on, that's what we need.