Friday, May 24, 2019

Ta2tou2 City: from a small store to a two-branch thriving business. #EU4Youth

Disclaimer: This story was commisionned by the EU to cover their funding activities in Lebanon, and was published originally here.

Ibrahim and Rayane Koussa, left Nigeria to open a small store which is now, with the help of the European Union (EU), a two-branch business anchored in their extended family in the north of Lebanon. The young couple beneficiated from the Economic and Social Fund for Development (ESFD) which is supported by the EU.

Rahbe, in the north of Lebanon, is not often in the news, despite it being a pristine, picturesque village with a lot of greenery. Whereas Lebanon is not exactly big as a country, most work and administrative management tends to be concentrated in the capital, Beirut.

The Koussas story

The Lebanese diaspora in the world, was for a long time a pillar of the economy, with Lebanese being going abroad to seek work a common currency. Africa is a continent which received the lion’s share of Lebanese seeking work. So, within this atmosphere, the story of the Koussa couple is nothing short of an oddity: They came back from Africa to open a new business in a remote part of Lebanon, with the help of funding from the European Union through the Economic and Social Fund for Development (ESFD). ESFD is part of the Euro-med Partnership established between the European Union and the republic of Lebanon since November 2000.

Rayane Koussa and her two children, now aged respectively 9 and 6, remigrated to Lebanon from Nigeria six years ago, with Ibrahim - her husband - supposed to follow a year later. He only lasted one month alone, far from his family and it was not because he was unable to take care of himself. When teased he answers: “No! We cooked yesterday, spaghetti is my specialty, I did bechamel spaghetti! We are a working couple, so it is only normal to share house duties”. Rayane only confirms his culinary skills, “oh yes, all I had to do is heat it in the microwave!”.

But let us go back to the beginning, we are with Ibrahim in Halba the capital of Akkar Governorate in northern Lebanon, in the underground warehouse dubbed “Ta2tou2 CITY grand hall”, which spreads over 900 square meters, 50 of which are a small entrance and a stockroom. Ibrahim, tall, rather conservative in character, is welcoming and very customer-friendly.

The place looks like a paradise for kids, filled with toys. Look a little further in the back and you see bicycles, mini-cars, gadgets, plush toys, and basically all the colourful items that make children’s imaginations run wild. Actually, backpacks and stationery still have their own corner, even if the school year is drawing to a close. A grandmother goes to the cashier manned diligently by Ibrahim with a stroller in tow, “Mabrouk!” - the Arabic for congratulations, he smiles at her sincerely.

Actually, there was no such place in the region, the demand was high, especially that the name became synonymous with such novelty and fun items - but also original branded items as opposed to knock-offs. The name Ta2tou2, pronounced “Taqtouq” was wittily chosen as it means in Arabic somewhere between “bic à brac” and “fun item”.

Ibrahim took a loan from the ESFD made possible thanks to EU support in the shape of “a rotating fund which started operating in 2003, when a study revealed that 87% of people work in small and medium enterprises. This excludes them from classic bank loans which give a maximum of 5000 USD under a “private loan”. This according to Helmi El Hage, senior internal control officer at the ESFD. The successful couple took, not just one, but three loans, the first already repaid at this stage. “It is possible to do so when loans are being repaid on time and this after a year” says El Hage.

The Koussas used three loans for several objectives, the first was to launch the original two-door store in Rahbeh and insure it is filled with stocks from suppliers. It was valued at 37 million Lebanese Pounds or €22.500 at the current conversion rate.

Once the original loan was repaid, they took a second one which was specifically used to arrange the interior of the newly opened “Ta2tou2 CITY grand hall” in Halba which opened 14 months ago when it comes to shelving, interior decoration, refurbishment and was of 75 million Lebanese Pounds or the current equivalent of €46.000.

The third loan of 12 million Lebanese Pounds or €7,000, was used to connect the new Rahbe shop (which was across the street from the rented original) to the shop next to it, and eventually the apartment above it with an internal staircase and a large two storey glass facade. The latter, with its extensions, is barely one month old. “One of the main reasons that brought us back is family, plus our children can have a social life and learn Arabic”, says Rayane, curly-haired, bubbly, extremely extroverted and with a disarming smile. “Sunday lunch is a feisty affair, an assortment of in-laws from both sides, and extended family end up dropping by” she adds. “I close Halba’s store on Sunday but in Rahbe, I open it for two hours in the morning and three in the afternoon” Ibrahim adds.

During weekdays, between 1 and 3:30 P.M. Rayane takes a break from the shop to be home when the children get back from school and help them with their studies, in the meantime, the shop is taken over by her own mother. In terms of job creations, which is one of the objectives of the EU through the ESFD, the Halba store is now staffed by Ibrahim and three other employees, whereas the Rahbe store has three employees including Rayane.

“Well, I can safely say that they have courage and work extremely hard”, says Abdallah Ishac, one of the four representatives of the ESFD in the north of Lebanon.

“I help people do the feasibility study, sometimes we go back to their suppliers’ invoices and compare to the current stock available to estimate the amount of sales done in a year” says Ishac. “The clients I brought currently have zero default” he adds, signalling that since he started, he must have had around two hundred cases he followed up. The ESFD estimates that, through the EU funding some 7,500 jobs were created in the north Lebanon alone since the fund started.

“For a long time our default rate was 2%” says El Hage, “only lately due to the economic downturn we got to 5% in arrears which is a very respectable figure. This is why we still have very high credibility vis à vis our partner banks”, he explains.

As for Ibrahim, he declares in a very business-like tone: “I basically have five seasons - Christmas is when I sell a lot of decoration and fake trees, then Valentine’s day - where the Halba store does a better business due to the perfumes and cosmetics section there - then Easter - again, with decorations - summer season - with inflatable pools and floaters - and eventually back to school - stationery and such. A small side season is Saint Barbara where disguises are sold as well.”

“I don’t think the Halba store would have had such a strong start if the name Ta2tou2 was not already known in the region. I insisted on being the only one who had original perfumes as opposed to cheap copies. The make-up section in offers low-end and accessible brands, but also high-end products” says Rayane. Clients from all socio-economic levels visit the store, “I never ever want anyone to feel the shop is not for them”, she proudly beams adding. The store also stocks beachwear, fantasy jewellery, and gadgets in addition to watches and other items.

“In Rahbe there is a possibility to sell either at a small discount to the client or on credit, as most are either relatives or friends. In Halba it is a little more complicated since I am not from town, but what I do is that I can put things aside that couples choose when expecting a baby. They pay by monthly instalments and once the baby is here, they can pick up their stuff. Baby furniture makes brisk business.” Explains Ibrahim.

“Last year a client came and picked my most expensive inflatable pool at 1,4 Million Lebanese Pounds, he asked for a small gesture at the checkout, and it sold for 1,3 Million. Feeling he was well treated, this year he came back for a trampoline.” Notes Ibrahim.

“Well, this young couple has heart and guts” says Ishac, “they jumped on the opportunity of the warehouse in Halba, they renovated the store to such incredible high-end standards. Sure, they perhaps can sell more if the economic situation of the country was better, but they work hand in hand in both branches to make things happen on all fronts”.

“I kept telling Abdallah, it will be difficult for me to get a loan, I already went to a bank and they sent me packing, but truly, it was easy, it was accessible and here we are!” ponders Ibrahim about his experience. “In the end, thanks to the ESFD, I made up for what I left in Nigeria” - he concludes - “and much more”.

*In Lebanese slang, the “2” is used to represent the “ ء ” when writing Arabic words in Latin letters.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Almarai goes all out in a touching Ramadan ad.

Almarai the giant Saudi giant, goes all out in a touching Ramadan ad. The animation is touching, human, and well-adapted to the concept in bluish almost monochrome color, then there's the whole personal touch in all the labor, then - crisis - as the characters morph into "plate" appreciating the end product to their labor, the child is about to throw what is on his plate! Thankfully his mother intervenes which leads to the brilliant line "appreciate the blessings". In am in awe! Do watch the ad here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Louis Vuitton goes with a gibberish Arabic in Ramadan ad!

Louis Vuitton, an uncotested symbol of luxury, just came up with a faux pas. The ad displayed above goes - in good English - "Blessings for the season. In honor of Eid, explore a selection of special Louis Vuitton gifts on our website" but the Arabic translation:
"ne3mat haza al mawsam"
نعمة هذا الموسم
leaves a lot to be desired.... Let me explain in Arabic it should be:
"barakat haza al mawsam ta7oul 3alaykom
فلتحل عليكم بركات هذا الموسم
So where's my hiccup? Within this incredibly bad translation the statement reads in English:
(We are the) blessing of the season with the Eid coming up, etc....
I don't think Louis Vuitton wanted to be that pompous!

Monday, May 20, 2019

AUB grad, Sarah Saroufim wins Absolut global competition.

Sarah Saroufim - Absolut global winner
Lebanese AUB graduate (2018 graphic design) Sarah Saroufim was carefully selected by a jury panel consisting of some of the world's leading creative voices, including New York based artist, Mickalene Thomas, founding director of the London based Delaphina Institute, Aaron Cezar, and Indian based, artist and curator, Bose Krishnamachari.
In her own words: "The more we talk about mental illness, the closer we get to overcoming it. I expressed this idea using the pun 'Don't keep things bottled up' and an overflow of expression symbolised by speech bubbles." She goes on, saying: ""I'm so honoured to have won Absolut's Creative Competition. This message is so important to me as I'm not the easiest nut to crack. I don't open up so easily but when I do, it makes it so much easier to manage the every day. I hope everyone will learn from this message and see the power of expressing themselves."
Artist and jury member, Aaron Cezar, said: "Sarah's award-winning entry to the Absolut Creative Competition speaks to the urgencies of this time. In an era of post-truth, Saroufim reminds us of the power of having a voice to not only to express but to expose. In Sarah's statement, she expresses her need to overcome mental illness but her work transcends this and demonstrates its strength visually."
Congratulations and way to go Sarah!

Clorets goes several notches down.

Clorets - the gum - has a new shape but says it in a rather flavorless ad. Do note that their previous ads were much more interesting creatively. Here's an example (from the sadly inactive Beirut Drive-by shooting).
Did you notice that brilliant line? El th2a bil nafas? El thi2a bil nefes is self-confidence whereas el thi2a bil nafas is a play on words that goes "breath-confidence". So here's hoping Clorets has many things still left to give.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Four ads and a funeral: The late Patriarch Sfeir.

So here's four ads and a funeral now that Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir is dead...
Jounieh Municipality went with the psalm "Song of Salomon" - "his countenance [is] as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars."
 Le Charcutier Aoun has gone with a quote from Saint Therese Of Lisieux: "We do not die, we go into life".
 The Lebanese Forces went with "(people) such as him do not die" (except in Arabic it should have been plural - "amthalouhou" not "mithlouhou", because as is the sentence is half single, half plural).
The Maronite Foundation has stressed the continuity by portraying the (already elected and active) Patriarch Rahi and the late Sfeir with the line "the circle that does not break".
As you might have noted, all these ads are dipped into the patriotico-religious sauce. There are other ads mind you, except these were actually the ones on the streets (meaning with booking budgets behind them). 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Remiel and Plaza Palace both play on "I do".

Two ads in town, two different takes on the "I do". It is rare for me to speak of ads at the same time unless it is a "compare and contrast" situation (meaning potential copyright infringement. Do note, I am not the target audience of these two ads - only couples preparing their weddings are. Remiel sells chocolates and the like, while Plaza Palace is a hotel-cum-wedding hall. Remiel went for
"Yes I do
love Chocolate"
While Plaza Palace did:
          "Say I
& let us DO the rest"
I tried to mimick their design. Do the ads work? Don't ask me, ask the couples preparing their wedding this year. I must admit esthetically, Remiel is a less "crowded" ad (the Plaza Palace has too much going on!), but again, who am I to judge since the ads do not speak to me nor do they target me. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Why do advertisers discriminate against people like me?

Photo by Tarek Chemaly (Portland, Oregon, 2004)
Why do advertisers discriminate against people like me?
Do note, I left the "people like me" vague so as for as many people to feel included...
So who I to begin with:
I was born in 1974, did not get married, have no kids, am well-educated, have side hobbies, with a career which is "uncommon" but quite lucrative, living in Lebanon but outside Beirut, whereas I do not do culinary wonders no one ever complained of my cooking, oh I have high spending power.
So let me describe a friend of mine:
Divorced with a child (ex and child living abroad), same age as me, owns a company, is currently in a long-term relationship, lives in Beirut, and with a lucrative career as well.
Both him and myself have specific living arrangements that include an elderly parent, and both are svelte and rather stylish even if we source our clothes through different stores.
Men my age I see in ads, are married, have two children (older girl, younger son), have dinner with their families around the dining room table (with the wife cooking naturally), wear bland clothes, and tend to have a beard with a small tummy.
All holiday packages are targeted towards families, in all brochures, internet websites, there are no "single" people. No one exploring a foreign country solo. Nope, all of them are couples, couples with children, or honeymooners. Are there any women of a certain age, with no partners or families? Be they divorced, unmarried, with established careers. No, none.
It is interesting how much the ad industry is geared towards the family concept, when the spending power is all over the place, or rather concentrated in segments often disregarded by them.
Single people, people not within nuclear family arrangements, people who fall into "psychodemographic" marketing definitions are all invisible (meaning: trips to Nepal could interest people who are into trecking, into exploration, into adventure, regardless of the old archaic age-gender-social class which used to be applied in marketing). Believe it or not, "tables for one" in restaurants or deliveries of single-meals are not that uncommon. Before you start telling me that society is built around family and monogamy, let me tell you that these concepts are only too new in the anthropological sense.
All those irritating "Merry Christmas from my family to you" which I keep seeing when the person in question most likely does not know you and certainly does not know your family, are not really good indicators of the state of reality.
Take this non-Lebanese anecdote which happened at a marketing conference in 2000 in Lebanon. The lecturer was explaining that a yoghourt company in Italy wanted to know if the Italian market was ready for a larger sized product. It did two studies one ended up with a "no" and the other with a "yes". He quizzed the audience as to why, bragging that he cracked the answer after a colossal budget. To me the answer was so intrinsic, I simply said "those who said yes were a sample which was composed of men - mostly single - who want a late night snack straight from the fridge". To which he replied, "you are a danger to the profession!".
When a few weeks back my close European friend came for a holiday in Lebanon, none of the activities we did was sourced through the classical family-oriented schemes advertised on the usual entertainment channels whose images I saw, even if money did end up being spent.
See? What am trying to say is that, the company that earned much of the spending during our buddy trip was one that never targeted me as a "middle aged man with children waiting for his wife to serve him dinner" - it was, believe it or not - my trusted taxi company (Angelo Taxi, I say the name due to their dependability) who always treated me as an individual (regardless of the usual parameters), and to whom I am a reliable client and who has money to spend. And when I did try to hire the services of a travel agency to do day trips in Lebanon with them, their first question was: "You wish to book a car and a guide to you and your family?"
No, not really.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ford does Ramadan with minimum effort.

Ford does a Ramadan ad with as minimum effort as possible. Insert a mosque in the background and tadam! Your Ramadan ad is ready before you even say kareem!... It seems to me this is a pan-Arab non-country specific campaign, destined to all Arab markets with an unidetified mosque in the background, just to inspire a visual related to the holy month. In all cases, not really a great Ramadan ad!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

OneTouch extends its iconic campaign to Ramadan

Darts/Kellaj (the Ramadan specialty sweet?)
Is this a game? No it is an extension of the sweet (pun intended) OneTouch campaign "so that diabetes won't play with you" (i.e. go up and down, and as a diabetic myself the 104 figure that shows in the ad is something I dream of seeing but I disgress!). So there, OneTouch extended its wonderful (yes, almost iconic) campaign for a Ramadan adaptation. To those who missed the original, here it is below in all its glory (the mille feuilles/card deck remains one of my favorites). Thank you Miled for sharing your archive with me (you must have had a good teacher!) and thanks Pimo for extending such a super campaign. Am all for!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Kimbo pest control has a gotcha moment.

"Cockroach problem" is when a problem is hiding another and another just like cockroaches, leave it to Kimbo to make that fun, in a "gotcha" (literally, this is what the headline says!) moment (kamashtak), seriously, cockroaches and ads do not mix too well, but this time (and this campaign is running exclusively in the north of Lebanon) the result is full of wit and charm. Hey and it comes with a full year guarantee.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Zomato gold plays it with a local flavor

Lebanese grandmothers are known to be going on a feeding frenzy specifically towards their grandsons/daughters, they are known as "teta" which is why Zomato gold capitalizes on that in their new series of offers (1+1 on food, 2+2 on drinks), "teta isn't the only one overfeeding you" - well, that is one overfeeding all right, with a local wink to boot. There is another ad about "sunday lunches" but this one is the wittiest in the series. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Plein Soleil - a race with time on the wrong side of stereotype

Plein Soleil, comes with a lovely ad that you can watch here. A mother (a teacher) is racing the school bus on the way to home. She beats it, prepares a full meal in minutes and wins the race.
The glitch?
For all the (supposedly minimal) effort she does, we find her husband sitting on the table, materializing out of nowhere and sitting there on the table. All this reinforces the cliche that women can "work and take care of their home" and that men "only work". This is what stereotyping is and this is how it works.
Can you imagine the ad if the man was trying to beat time to cook for his family and not the "working mother"?

Monday, May 6, 2019

Ramadan Kareem!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Ramadan Kareem to all those concerned, and able to fast...

Truly Nolen goes slang in pest control.

"Raw7a bala raj3a" a classical local expression that means "out and don't come back" and then "thei primary reasons for pest immigration", I guess they had two good lines and decided to use both. The yellow background is catchy yet the logo is a little tacky (but this is an international franchise so little they can do - it seems the company is famous for its yellow mouse car. Still, on the whole, an ad one notices. And that's the point of ads generally.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Unicef #vaccineswork - just ask little red riding hood.

Little red riding hood is being used by Unicef to inform kids (or is it parents?) that the wolf can be kept at the door by using vaccines, and yes #vaccineswork - the campaign has other imagery but this one is the most striking. The we are debating if children should be vaccinated or if the earth is flat is in itself mind-blowing, but as president Trump said himself said, let us look at the "oranges" of this - as a side note 16,4 Million Americans believe cocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Panzani - train them while they're young

Panzani - the pasta brand - is back showing its face. On the plus side, they stuck to that oh-so-wonderful line "Des pates, oui, mais des Panzani!" (Panzani was famous for using Don Patillo, the priest who keeps falling into temptation). On the downside, there is a small girl in an apron - so tell me, why can't it be a small boy? You see, this is exactly how stereotypes are born and are kept alive. Every little girl will want to emulate the one in the ad, and learn that her place was in the kitchen. What's wrong with using a boy instead? Just yesterday I prepared dinner for my guests, it was delicious and everyone enjoyed it. So again, I think it is sad to go with such imagery, because once more this is how stereotypes of what women can do and how they view themselves are born.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Pimo does labor day

Yes I know, labor day was two days ago but this merits a post even if a bit late. Pimo does a labor day ad, wel - almost. The idea is, there's no one there to do an ad! Tadam, so it came out blank! In French they say - "c'est complique de faire simple" (it is complicated to do something simple). So, there you are, simple and complicated at once!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Hallab does labor day

Hallab does labor day in a movie you can see here. The film shines when no one is talking and when no one is speaking to the cam - you can see that in certain scenes when employees are sharing an inside joke, when one is laughing madly, and sadly the magic gets spoiled when they actually talk to the cam in a copy better done without, or when it is obvious when they are waiting for the camera to show. But seriously, had the movie been just those laid-back scenes which showed the employees really enjoying their work, it would have been a pure gem!

Alfa does labor day.

So labor day was yesterday, and even I took the day off (not true but this came in late in the post so only blogged about it today. So voila, proletariat galore and marxo-communistic flavor! What is there not to love? Oh and a smartphone to indicate what they do!