Sunday, February 24, 2019

Exotica - the bland #HappyByNature

Exotica, a major part of our collective memory, and the brand that used to do ads this good (check here and here , now gives us the bland, trivial, #HappyByNature - I really, really, wanted to say more. But there is not. The brand is too far gone now. Pity!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Tragedy of the commons in advertising #flashback

Originally published 20/9/15
(Since the article is a reprint there might be some Mathematical errors!)
The tragedy of the commons, a term first coined by William Foster Lloyd is making the rounds again and again. This time though a psychology professor called Dylan Selterman from the university of Maryland. In essence, the tragedy of the commons begs the question: What happens when individuals put their own short term interests above the group's long term ones - essentially, it all brings the "disaster" that William Forster Lloyd professed.
As a person who works in advertising, I have seen people and agencies come up with all the tricks in the book which, on the long run, is getting the whole sector to very dangerous results. Some agencies offer free creative services, can you imagine the impact this does to the small studios who have to charge their clients for creative services to survive? Other agencies opted for a steep rebate on media booking, which of course puts the agencies that are faithful to the agreed upon scorecards at a disadvantage.
Pitching can turn into a joke when extra services are offered by agencies which include women and salacious behavior which is "over and above" the strategy and creative offered. Heck, even men are included and if you saw Mad Men you'd understand (I specifically speak of the episode where the "Sal" Romano character gets sacked for refusing to sleep with the Lucky Strike executive).
Ironically, his boss "Don Draper" thought him caring for his selfish interests. Bryan Bratt, the character who plays Sal Romano said:
"Sal could have prevented that by taking one for the team but I don't think Sal was ready for that," Batt said. "The guy was kind of creepy and drunk and it was seedy how it happened. What it boils down to is he's not going to do anything that jeopardizes his position at Sterling Cooper, but when he tried to do the right thing, he was screwed. In one way".
Trying to do the right thing, in advertising, what a hilarity.
I am saddened for one thing, back in 2003 I wrote an article for ArabAd magazine, called "J'accuse" - using Emile Zola's famous piece. In 2015 the article still rings true to its core bottom. I shall copy paste it verbatim as it was written even if there might have been slight editorial changes when it appeared (I am not sure of that, but it is an eventuality). Whereas it is long, please have the patience to read it, it still has complete relevency in today's world.
Especially that it was a piece about the tragedy of the commons as applied to advertising, 12 years ago.
J'attends. Toujours...

 “J’accuse” by Tarek Joseph Chemaly
Originally published in 2003 in ArabAd magazine. 

When, in August 2001, I decided to make my career shift from engineering and economics to the world of advertising, I was mainly lured by the promise that the “ad world” would be fun, stimulating, adrenaline-filled and oh-so-exciting.
Right before I made my move I got an advice from a very close friend of mine who is a veteran of the advertising industry in the US, he said: “T., advertising is an ego business, go there for the fun, and remember not to take anything personal.”
Being the stubborn person that I am, I kept the advice but little did I follow it. Well, whereas I did go into advertising for the fun, the part about not taking things personal eluded me.
The reasons behind that will be explained in this piece. I must mention however that, whereas I am not the best-placed person to criticize the inner workings of the advertising industry, I did arrive to the point where even I – at the bottom of the ladder – am feeling too much political interference and that it’s really a jungle out there. So let us all beware.
Where do I begin to expose the situation?
Perhaps by talking about the domain I used to work in before advertising: Research, that is. According to my limited knowledge, the main characteristic that makes any research credible is the degree of objectivity it involves. In that case, could anyone explain how come the ownership of research and statistic agencies related to the advertising world so biased and skewed?
How can we expect honest, straightforward, and credible results when the stakeholders behind the research would want to “pull the blanket” to their own side giving the kind of result that would please their clients and their immediate “allies” forgetting all about how the results would affect the industry in the long run.
Or perhaps one must begin with the media. Ah, those… The rationale nowadays is becoming “give me exposure, any exposure, and I’ll be your sucker.” But is anyone noticing that “any exposure” does not necessarily mean reaching the desired target audience? If you get a few ads for free in some obscure publication at the low-end of the spectrum, isn’t that actually degrading rather than enhancing the image of the client?
Should I remind anyone about the famous “rate card”? Anyone remembers that? It seems the only reason for its existence is precisely to forgo sticking by it and therefore completely ignoring it.
And the result, may I ask? Well, the result is that any amount of cash can be “blown up” to suit your needs. You can show off in front of the mother agency abroad or your international client by convincing them that you have spent an obscene amount of money therefore increasing your “billing” vis à vis the client – while, under the table, a different sum of money is being pocketed and exchanged.
But it seems too innocent to blame it on just one party. All the protagonists in the advertising world are being, directly or indirectly, part of this free-fall we seem to be experiencing.
The agencies are too worried about their commission that they’re ready to comply with whatever the client wishes, no matter how ridiculous it is and no matter how much it goes against the general positioning, or general common-sense.
Those who have decided to throw a punch below the belt and therefore decided to forego about their commission, are worried about the “volume rebate” media houses are ready to offer them – leading once more to the entanglement of the justification of the money spent and how efficient it is in targeting the correct audience. But when money-back is related to frequency of ads, then who’s counting?
The media houses are. Delayed payments to the media houses due to nonchalance are the order of the day as if everyone is working by the famous Egyptian IBM adage (Inshallah, bokra, ma’alesh). Interestingly, this lack of cash does not show when it comes to the personal spending habits of agency bosses – money is only stingy when it is work-related.
I am not sure if these days really existed or they are the embellished product of the remembrance of the people who were talking to me, but it seems there actually was a time when ethics was respected in the business. Again, I have no way of verifying this, but my own experience seems to be that there is little ethics left in the market. And unless there is a general awakening, there seems to be little hope to throw a pitch at salvaging what is left of the industry’s integrity.
Speaking of pitches, does anyone notice how these are won? Every time a pitch is lost, I always hear the word “political reasons”, but when a pitch was actually won it was always attributed to the “use of correct media strategy and clever creative.” Humbug! Pitches, lost or won, are sadly the product of preferences, personal favoritism, corporate “favor”-itism (à la scratch my back and I will scratch yours), sectarian backgrounds and the oh so ubiquitous “who knows who.”
Hurdled in the middle, and below these spheres of influence, are average people belonging to either “client-servicing department” or “creative department” who abide by the Arab proverb “Me against my cousin, and me and my cousin against the foreigner.” Too busy to prove that either one of the departments is the backbone or money-generator of the industry; these individuals forget that they actually have to unite to stand front to the general slump of their livelihood or – for those like me – the reason behind a potential pleasure.
Creative people – me included – are too ego driven and so self-imbibed to see beyond their noses. Also, most of the time we are too ignorant about the market, have very little knowledge but assume otherwise, and draw concepts from an education and a background alien to the consumer we are targeting.
Client-servicing people are so afraid to lose the client who might be swayed by any other agency, and so they are ready to compromise all the strategy that has been discussed because the client “wants a bigger headline, a different body copy, and a more prominent logo and 50th year celebration mascot.” 
So an easy solution would be for the creative people to listen more to the insights of the client servicing department, who – in turn – should listen less to clients with poor advertising education and who are stuck in the “reclame” era of hard-sell strategies and who keep on assuming that the market “is not ready for such kind of things.”
In my opinion, the only people who are not ready are the clients themselves, and in extenso, the client servicing departments who back out in front of anything original because “the client thought it was too daring.”
Whereas “too daring” is certainly a matter of personal definitions, and most of the times is unjustified, I did hear some aberrant reasoning during brainstorms including an advertising based on “counting sheep to sleep” in Saudi Arabia – a concept totally unheard of there.
Plagued by money, political (In the real and fictional sense of the world) influences, power struggles and other such defects, the advertising industry is on a downward-spiraling loop. What is sad however is that people like myself have left very successful careers in other domains to fulfill their dream in an industry whose inner workings are just as nasty as that “Auctioning and tender committee” in the governmental body they used to work in.
If the advertising industry resembles the bureaucratic red-taped world I have left, then certainly there is no “fun” in the industry, and I believe it is my right to “take things personal” – both of these facts negate my friend’s advice to me before joining the advertising world.
Giving this piece the same title as the most-celebrated article in history and which Emile Zola wrote in “L’aurore” on Jan. 18, 1898 is not a coincidence. I still believe that advertising can be “fun.” I still believe that the industry in an act of total revamp can rise from its ashes; maybe this is why the name “Phoenix” was given to the much-coveted advertising awards.
In a recent encounter with one of Lebanon’s advertising greats, he plainly told me that advertising is a dying industry. He even advised me to go back to engineering if I can. Convinced that our generation cannot experience another breakthrough in advertising like the one that happened in the post-war Lebanon in the early nineties, that same person expressed a hope that there will be a renewal in this ailing industry through a revival of the conscience, and certainly a lesser influence of the money factor as represented by the media-addiction which is currently being experienced.
If people don’t know about the above-mentioned facts, then they should. If they do, then it’s a shame for not exposing them earlier.
Who will be the forefront runner in the reshaping of the ad world in the region, I know not. But I will end this piece in the same manner as Zola did, with the words: “J’attends.”
I am waiting.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Questioning history - February 65 (95)

Artworks by Tarek Chemaly
65 was the winter Beirut flooded. The video does not show the flood but there is a damp ambiance all over.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Karl Lagerfeld - RIP

That was the Lagerfeld that was - Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

PIB Brokers - the "other" peace of mind

Hmmmm Blom Bank has touted the slogan "peace of mind" since - like - forever. Which is why with total surprise I see PIB (Partners International Brokers) reiterating it - front and center (the line in the ad is not shy about it "guaranteed peace of mind with the right insurance). Surely, it is not copywrited to Blom legally but the definition of copyright in its simplest form includes "it's been done before" so yeah - it's been done before. The PIB website does not state any link with Blom by the way.

Monday, February 18, 2019

MTC Touch - dial #names not numbers

Depending on which generation you come from, "there can only be one" either comes from the film "Highlander" or the anime Yu-Gi-Yoh. I remember both, which kind of dates me. But I digress, the "there can only be one" is now applied to #queen or #doc or some other # - whereby you an dial #names instead of numbers and you can book this apparently - but you got to be quick as "there can only be one" (geddit?). Well, this is the disclaimer and fees:
Send an SMS including # followed by th Name Tag desired to 1434.
The service is available to prepaid and postpaid clients and its fee varies depending on the word’s [sic] character count:
3 characters: $300
4 characters and 5+ same pattern: $100 (i.e. 1111, 22222, 333333, etc.)
5 characters: $60
6 characters: $30
7+ characters: $15

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Byblos Bank: Franklin Ben Yammine

So Byblos Bank is - like all other banks - trying to encourage Lebanese people to use the Lebanese Pound and not the USD so much that now there are no extra fees (while using the same card) and the user gets 50% more points. And Byblos Bank does so with the help of one Franklin Ben Yammine a Lebanese immigant who took off his fez when he landed in America and rebaptized himself as one Benjamin Franklin foregoing his Lebanese roots. Ah well, they actually stamped his face on the 100 Dollar bill!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

AUDI LED screens masterstroke!

Audi turns a hindrance into an asset. Lebanon has multiple power cuts per day which turn the LED screens into dotted structures with the dots multiplying with time. So Audi took that into their own advantage and built their own dots to showcase their "Pre Sense" systems. The ads - printed on billboards and not LED screes are a true genius work!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Alfa Telecom falls on a missed opportunity this Valentine's

Sigh - it could hae been great. See here. OK let us recap - Alfa Telecom has a story about Elie and Siham Saroufim married for 56 years. They recount their courtship, their daily life, they dance - a wonderful couple if there was any and incredibly endearing (and we all know how difficult it is to showcase this in an ad). Alfa had a hit on their hands until they derailed it with a silly product placement. People, can't you end this with "love is all about communication" and end it on a high instead of this pathetic product placement. Best wishes to Elie and Siham - better luck to Alfa next time.

ParAzar goes on a minimal Valentine

Clean, crisp, minimal, conceptual, and yet totally on-brand. Naturally, ParAzar is more than a wedding photographer but we all know it comprises a chunk of the business. A true antidote to the saturated ads we see daily on Valentine's Day. Watch it here - it works and it calms you down all while delivering the message.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Talaya goes Valentine's Day

Did you know there was something called "le nez Libanais" (The Lebanese nose)? It is because of the uniform result of the plastic surgeries the girls undertake. Which brings us to Talaya a drinking water that was "loved you because of your nature, no plastic surgery". Geddit? Well, there you go, enjoy it naturally and drink it in (no pun). See, this is Valentine's Day fun without dilution.

Lada Urban goes Valentine's

Should your relationship be filled with potholes - a little a la the streets in Lebanon - and should you want to patch it up with a test drive a Lada Urban all while ending up with a romantic dinner courtesty of the company then - you're in luck! This is exactly what Lada is proposing - pardon the pun. A good, solid, nice ad this Valentine's Day from the Russian brand - and they say romance is dead! Do note the image was photoshopped, but such potholes exist - here are some other photos.

Al Mustaqbal web - where does one begin?

1 - You knew your print edition was going to stop, so why was the website not done with?
2 - And this Mahmoud Ghazayel pointed out earlier - your logo is too close to gmail.
3 - Kelmetna Kelme? Seriously? This roughly translates as "our word is a standard" (had it been done in good copy) but actually says "our word is unique" - except in cheapo Arabic not worthy of the weight that Al Mustaqbal is supposed to carry.
4 - And is still there, so - what on earth is almustaqbalweb?
I am pretty sure this was done in house without ad agency consulting. If it was not, then the problem is way more serious!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

In defense of Georges Najm

I am not here to debate or negate the contracts which appeared online in the weekend and which were circulated heavily about Noise and The Municipality of Beirut. But a certain name popped up which  normally is not known apart in advertising circles: Georges Kamil Najm.
In his capacity of Clementine and Noise shareholder (the former is co-owned with another shareholder, Claudine Aoun, the daughter of the current Lebanese president), suddenly his name got circulated and allegations of such and such were thrown on him.
My first meeting with Georges was in May 2015 (note to all idiotic conspiracy theorists, it was after the lawsuits were filed on me so there was zero connection between us as an "allied fronts" that some paranoid souls like to think). Yes, we immediately took to another another. He was kind, polite, shrewd but not dirty. Anyone who knows me, knows how economical I am in praising people.
Truth be told, we met exceptionally rarely. And his Whatsapp "will call you tonight" is met with a dismissive smirk on my part, he never does as he is always buried in work. But this is one thing I do respect about him - he has an acute business ethic. And this is not something I take lightly.
OK, let me ask you? When was the last time you called me at 9 P.M. trying to see if a campaign is ethical, or if it has a hint of plagiarism. See? Georges does that.
In 1997 when I was doing my military service an incident happened and one officer jumped and called it "wasta" (clientage), the general looked at him and said "teshil a3mel" (business facilitation). At the time I thought it was semantics, as I grew in my career I understood the difference. Should I be using this example, it is because I think of Georges' ambiguous position: On one hand he wants his company(ies) to go out of the Aounist shadow (his partner Chantal Aoun said so explicitly in a talk to ArabAd), and on the other hand grifters are willing and wanting to work with him through his agency to be closer to the presidential sphere.
Would you shun away new clients had they come knocking on your door?
Exactly what I thought.
Do note - In their early days, Clementine had no one harsher in their criticism than me. Their layouts were - at best - wonky, their ads had dubious ethical origins, and the list continues. Thankfully, order was restored due to a staff rearrangement and they tightened their screws.
Once more, I did not discuss this post or what appeared online in terms of contracts through the weekend with Georges or anyone else. Yet seeing Georges' ethics being subject to the court of public opinion from people who do not know him or his Modus Operandi was a little harsh for me to swallow.
Just to be clear, and this I say loudly and clearly:
Georges Najm is an incredibly ethical, hard working person. Anyone who disagrees will go through me first.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Balkis - Pomegranate

"A flavor out of this world" - astronaut, check. Pomegranate in the shape of a planet, check. An ad where nothing works yet - childishly - when all put together, it does. I think that dodgy homemade element sort of works for it. You would not win awards with this one, but well - not all ads are supposed to anyway. I think this one just works as is!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Ministry of Health's most known slogan goes calligraffiti

*insert muffled sound of me screaming in excitement*
Ministry of Health's most known slogan goes calligraffiti - lakkihou atfalakom la yanfa3ou al nadamn (vaccinate your children regret will not do you good).

Friday, February 8, 2019

Master nuts - white inside out

It could be stretching it to say their salted pumkin seeds nuts (or what we call "bizr abiad" - white nuts) are "white inside out" which means that once you peel them they are white on the inside too (yes, but why?). Yet their character in the ad - monocle-clad and with a traditional hat - seems to recount is story as some spoiled nut which has been pampered to end up the way he is. The car scene in the ad is not as well done as the rest, but this aside the ad is cute indeed. Do watch it here.

Today - diabetic chocolate now for everyone

Today - one of the rare chocolates I can consume (moderately) as a diabetic has gone public (the chocolate is stocked in pharmacies or in the diet/diabetic shelf in supermarkets). The campaign centrs around "which flavor you want today?" joining the name of the brand in the line". I wrote a post on this prior (do check it here).

Thursday, February 7, 2019

On the Zara in-store efficiency.

In case you did not know Zara changed its logo. When all couture houses are doing so and going sans serif (think Balenciaga, Balmain, Calvin klein, Burberry, Berlutti,...) Zara went the other way (courtesy of Baron Baron). I did not like the logo as I thought it was a little claustrophobic but Kudos to Zara shops who changed ALL price tags on the items - including those on the previous collection's sale items in barely two days since the logo was unveiled!

Al Massira and the consistent Lebanese Forces media strategy.

The Lebanese Forces are doing this the right way media wise (see here and here and here). That incredible consistency in typography, colors, general layout and mood is just incredible. No matter the product you immediately know to whom it belongs politically. The Lebanese Forces are really on top of their game these days - solid ads coming from a clear strategy and positioning (it took Tayyar about ten trials to settle one shade of orange Pentone shade back in 2009!). The ad though refers to their magazine, Al Massira (which means the long walk) and says "the long walk continues" (how much this is true with the print media being in trouble I know not) - but the ad is good.