Tuesday, January 21, 2020

On Gebran Bassil and Davos

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Well, here we are: Gebran Bassil, caretaker minister and Head of the Free Patriotic Movement is going to go to Davos and speak about Arab unrest. Cue: Mass hysteria.
To begin with Davos is the annual meeting of the ultra rich. The super well-connected, and those who know where (or what) Davos is to begin with.
Let me ask you: Where was the last place you spent your ski holiday in?
Oh, you do not take ski holidays? No wait, you do not ski to begin with?
Now let us flip the equation: The revolutionaries have always said they have no leader and no one speaks on their behalf, so they got no spokesperson to represent locally or internationally. Ergo, no Davos for them!
A long long time ago when I was doing my military service, tradition had it that officers of which I was one would have a ceremonial Monday morning breakfast. There was talk about something or the other and someone said "wasta" (clientage or someone earning what is not theirs) so the general rectified him with "la2 teshil a3mel" (no, business facilitation).
I thought it was semantics, but the general was right. You need to be connected enough to go to Davos. At the end of the day, Davos is an echo chamber of rich people listening to one another. So: Who are they going to invite? 

The Medco campaign that actually works

Yes I know, Arabic/Latin typo transposition has been happening since ages - yet, Medco managed to still make it fresh and enticing with its campain. The trick was using the "chadde" which is usually used to emphasize letters (in one of the cases they used the skoun which "silences" the letter when pronounced). As I said whereas the original idea of using Arabized latin has been in the market for too long, Medco spiced it up to still make it relevant and interesting which is no mean feat.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dear agencies let's go digital!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
The current crisis hitting the advertising market in Lebanon could - paradoxically - bring with it its own silver lining. All it takes is for agencies to be less stubborn and greedy. Yet asking that from such people who would rather cut their nose to spite their face, even when their own survival is at stake, seems to be nearly impossible. The blueprint I speak of is easy - instead of capitalizing on OOH (which is expensive and no longer effective as I argued here) or dying newspapers (as explained here) or magazines (rationale here) now is the time to go digital.
The problem? Digital brings much less money, does not offer the opportunity for kickbacks with production companies, goes against the logic of the large agencies as more nimble and agile ones are a better fit and - ooops - does not fit the calcified mentalities of dinosaurish ad people in Lebanon. As I said, they'd rather die than change models.
Sure I am a sucker for well-produced ads which cost an arm and a leg, but remember, most ads end up being seen on youtube! And today's phones have the capacities that old cinematographers only could dream of, without mentioning photoshop and all the programs which a single person can use to produce what before used to take a whole army to do (I go back to nimble agencies I spoke of).
It is in times of crisis like these that possible things can happen - new alternatives can be seen as viable. This is the jolt we all need in the industry in Lebanon right now - a new way to see things and implement them differently.
I truly believe we are now being handed the opportunity to focus on a new system, let us not waste it and hang on to the remnants of an old, archaic structure.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Megxit is a masterclass of media management by the Queen.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
It was only a week after Lady Diana died that Queen Elizabeth agreed to fly the flag at half-mast all while the nation was weeping uncontrollably. In her logic, the death of the ex-wife of her eldest son did not affect the family - later, much later, it emerged that she had sheltered her grandsons William and Harry from the news and in the days that followed the tragedy took care of them emotionally.
Make no mistake, the monarch learnt her lesson. When news broke that Harry and Meghan Markle wished to step back from their royal duties she arranged for a meeting at the highest royal echelons. News broke that she caved in and that Harry and Meghan pulled a gun on her temple and won.
Not so fast.
Yesterday it emerged that Harry and Meghan will relinquish their royal titles and pay back the British taxpayers the money that was put to renovate their cottage. I did say it previously, the woman who outlasted so many American presidents and British Prime Ministers is not going to relinquish so easily and here we are today - she let loose her grandson and his wife, upgraded the role of her youngest son (Edward and his wife Sophie), weathered a media storm successfully, all while scotch taping her family and has three kings-in-waiting and an ensured line of succession.
I want to be this tough when I get to 93 years old.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Nancy Ajram - the brand - is on trial.

A long - long - time ago the incredibly popular singer Nancy Ajram did an interview with a pan-Arab magazine where she said "I did two plastic surgeries to be more beautiful", the second day after the magazine hit the stands, her manager - the very capable  Jiji Lamara - went on damage control mode saying it was just spa sessions she meant. Also a long time ago Nancy Ajram said "no one can stop Nancy except Nancy" - little did she factor a man who would come into her villa at night only for him to end up being dead.
Well, at this stage even the simplest facts surrounding the story seem murky.
Because Nancy Ajram (and by extension her husband who shot the man) has entered the public realm and became a brand - who is having a real time PR crisis which went totally and completely out of hand. Her name trends on twitter daily every day since the tragedy happened. Speculations abound and rumours swirl around her, her husband, her virtue, and every person seems to have become a Sherlock Holmes noticing things in their security video (a fragment of which was distributed online) that properly trained investigators and coroners did not ("did you see the video at so and so minute and second?" - "did you notice the color of dead man's jacket?" and so on).
Once more, no one is treating her as a person - if she publishes a photo with her children, she is either a "devoted mother" or "the woman who robbed other children of their father" (words quoted verbatim from Twitter) - she is seen as an abstracted version of herself, simply, a brand. People are already issuing legal verdicts, interpreting (or rather misenterpreting) all the legal elements surrounding the case, publishing on social media their thoughts as if they were informed opinions. But that is because, again, Nancy Ajram is not being treated as a person any longer. She is now subjected to the whims and speculations of many issues (it did not help that the man who ended up being dead following what was apparently a theft at the singer's house was actually Syrian - because suddenly anyone who mentions his nationality becomes xenophobic, and anyone who does not, is being biased).
Nancy Ajram, who has many deals with companies is now in a compromised position - brands who in the past were running to be able to have her front their goods and paying her lavishly in the process (Coca-Cola, Toyota, Hwawei, Damas (jewelry) but to name a few...) now see her as "divisive" sadly. Regardless of the legal outcome about her husband shooting the man, people already have their mind set ("she is the wife of a muderer" - "she is the victim of a theft") and as is no brand can afford alienating its customer base having her representing them.
It is a pity the woman (or rather her husband) is no longer afforded the luxury of a trial in the legal sense of the word. Now her trial is the realm of public opinion and this is not something Jiji Lamara can sweep under the rug like he did about her plastic surgeries.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The dying magazines in Lebanon and how not to get them back!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on the Femme Magazine logo
Count with me: Elle (Oriental), L'officiel, Noun, Snob (Al Hasnaa), Femme magazine and the list goes on. I previously did a post about newspapers and one about Future TV (ps - LDC which is part of the LBC group of TVs is also a casualty, but it does not count as this post focuses on magazines that closed down in 2019).
So there, the list continues to the surprise of no one. The head of communication at a major institution told me once that all the ads in the print dailies and magazines were "tenfi3at" - now that such institutions are eliminating all non-essential spending (including coffee machines in HQs!!) these publications no longer have a lifeline.
But truth be told, there was just no logic in their existence to begin with- say you are a woman who wants to see the latest fashion show: You go to instagram and see the brands you are following and basically get all images uploaded about 5 minutes after the show. You want styling tips? Infuencers are there to help you (while wearing clothes generously donated by brands - even if most still want you to believe they bought them with their hard earned money!). If I am giving these examples specifically it is because most magazines cited are oriented towads women and lifestyle.
But again, when major publishers and this includes Conde Nast - this would be Vogue owner! - is trying to keep its publications afloat through various formulas (be it subscription, paid content, firewall, video publishing and what not!) how can you blame struggling magazines in Lebanon past their expiry dates when it comes to their usefulness. Weekly there is caroussel of editors being laid off under the diplomatic terms of "seeking other opportunities" (and this is on the international scene).
We all want our information here and now - no one will wait for a weekly and much less monthly publication. Naturally, there are some who are trying but are doing so in altenative ways (The Face was reborn in 2019 but in a format different than its original iconic run).
Those who think I am against the press, or as someone accused me on Linkedin "would you want to see the newsstand empty?", remember: I run an incredibly successful blog since 2007 - yes January 2007. That's a long time people - do I earn money out of it?
Let me reprint my answer:
"This blog does not make money, I admit to it. I did not wish for my readership to be bought and sold or for my readers to think my opinion about an ad is skewed because I was paid to comment on it. Still, want it or not, it is a respectable publication, I went to Sweden because of it, was invited to lecture in Oslo, am a member of the Epica Awards (the only blogger there) due to its content, and the list continues. I could easily sell out in search for quick income, but I did not (and yes, it is "costly" in certain ways - I admit). But well, the golden age of money-making in print is long gone (as one publisher quipped when told a book was being published by a not-for-profit foundation "Oh, I thought the whole industry was!").
No, we cannot get these newspapers back - and sadly clickbait is being used by publications (not just in Lebanon but our local example is quite risible!) to attract readers online. Good, smart, meaningful content will always win, do not forget that."
So yes, the blog does not make money, but I still can't see a better image tool for myself!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

STC vs CTS compare and contrast

Image via Naji Boulos
So 2020 starts where 2019 - people "being inspired" from each other (basically the Arab world thinking they can get away with that mostly). I think I am seeing double, but you be the judge: STC (Saudi Telecom) and CTS (a US tech firm) - is it or is it not?

Saturday, January 11, 2020

UAE rebrands

So the Emirates drops the eage and goes towards an abstract design which according to the National newspaper, is somewhere between wave and and dune in terms of movement and shape - and is also an abstract map of the country. The new logo is accompanied by a selling line "Make it happen" which reflects the journey of the nation. As the new logo helps propell the Emirates into the future, apparently 10 million trees will be planted (one for every vote) in West Papua, Indonesia, a centre for marine biodiversity, and at the Amaltaari planting site in Nawalparasi, Nepal to support the endangered species, such as the Bengal tiger, that live there. Now, CSR aside, the logo must live and prosper according to its own merit. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Buckingham Palace spin machine is better than anyone thinks!

God Save The Queen - Jamie Reid
So it seems I am commenting on an international rather than local event. The news emerged that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (that's Harry and Meghan to you!!) wish to step back from their royal duties. Whereas Buckingham Palace's first reaction was muted saying it is a complex issue, because it seems even the queen was blindsided by the announcement, today reports emerge that Elizabeth II wants the matter resolved quickly - within days.
Make no mistake, you cannot hold the throne so long and not be experienced in Public Relations, spin and alterative story-telling. Right after her son also took a step back (Prince Andrew) from his royal engagements due to his friendship with now-diseased paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, she insisted on showing herself horse-riding with him right in front of the press. If this is not he-might-relegate-his-royal-duties-but-he's-still-my-son spin I wonder what is!
All this put aside, just as Harry and Meghan exploded their bombshell, and while crisis meetings were being held at the palace, suddenly stories about "Lady Louise" (who? Prince Edward's - the queen's youngest son's daughter who is usually never discussed in the press!) or about "Zara Tindall" (who? The queen's granddaugher!) or about the Dutchess of Cambridge's birthday (that's Kate Middleton's official title) at the palace, were flooding the gossip press.
Buckingham Palace is smart, it knows that the game will be played in the court of tabloid press (and their websites) rather than in informed analysis in more respectable outlets. This is a sign of a well-oiled spin machine and no grandchild (no matter how much he is liked by the queen - which appaently Harry is) is going to be an obstacle in front of. The woman who survived the death of Princess Diana (dubbed "Queen of hearts") and bounced back to become an incredibly well-liked figure is not going to yield to a Hollywood actress no matter how much clout that actress thinks she has.
I really think anyone who is blowing the horn on "bombshells" and "crisis for the monarchy" and what not, does not understand how exceptional the palace is at going forward. Harry and Meghan want to capitalize on their Royal name and connections all while turning their back on the said name and connections - if the name Wallis Simpson does not ring a bell maybe it should.
But again, underestimating the clout of a spin machine is not to be recommended, that woman - the queen - is tough. I would not advise anyone to test her.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Extra Sketch and advertising irony

Remember how much people are up in arms against banks?
Remember how much we talk about monopoly money and Lollar?
Remember how much Bank Audi has become truly detested?
Introducing that impeccably ironic (though not designed to be so!) ad by The Next Sketch.
Seriously, even planned, it would not have worked as well as this!
Anyhow please check these two previous instances:
Bassima's album titled "what brought you back?" next to an ad when Emile Lahoud's mandate was extended.
Photo credit: Geoana Hobeiche Massabni
And a Ramadan Greeting courtesy of Chivas Regal.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Of advertising statistics in 2020 in Lebanon (reading Naji Boulos numbers)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Prominent ad person Naji Boulos projects 25 USD per person in 2020 in terms of ad spending in Lebanon. In 2019, for the first time in 22 years (still according to Naji) that number dipped below 100 million (if the number was adjusted to inflation I know not). Actually this is how he got to the 25 USD number - a best case scenario of 100 million divided by the Lebanese population. The projection does make sense. My point of squabble (and I stand corrected if I misunderstood the numbers) is that he says this is 40% drop - which presumably means when compared to 2018. Let me remind you - without the political elections of last year, the media spend numbers would have been as bad as 2019 (again, not sure I understood the numbers correctly but if I did, then the 40% does not hold as the political spending skewed the average incredibly badly).
Yes, yes, in times of down-market, advertising is an investment - meaning when the market improves and customers get disposable income to spend again, the top of mind brand would be yours. But what's with ad agencies in Lebanon using the lowest prices to compete, with customers cutting corners and marketing departments always using the lowest common denominator, and with this whole conundrum working against any logic, then investing in brand building in Lebanon in down-time remains a theory.
The 25 USD number that Naji proposed could also be an exaggeration, though theoretically it does hold. Last year, December which is usually the busiest OOH (Out Of Home) month was a total disaster. Poor revolutionaries, they had to fight the false claim that it was all because of them when it was a perfect storm which had been brewing for - literally - years. Ad agencies are struggling just to remain afloat in Lebanon when they were already barely doing so earlier as the whole ad landscape was morphing. Which means that already there are bleak hopes.
Lately a major marketeer said I was simply preaching "doom and gloom" and that ad agencies are now doing what they did in 90s - meaning servicing the GCC from the Beirut offices. Which will procure a lifeline - specially to the agencies with international alliances who secure contracts across their whole networks, still, what's with rents and payments and blockages and banking haircuts, this whole theory does not have much merit. Beirut is certainly an extremely pricey city to operate a business in as per international statistics.
And so now what?
Well, now we wait. And now we morph. And now we adapt. Or now we die.
That the Lebanese built the GCC ad industry is no secret, but they also did not build a good structure back home. Is now the time to do it? I know not - as I doubt that suddenly, ad people in Lebanon start thinking "institutionally" as opposed to "I'll give a lower price than my competitor".
If I am preaching doom and gloom as I have been accused, I apologize. But someone, somewhere, must look at things beyond the artifice and that "bland optimism" of "no matter how you throw the Lebanese he lands on his feet" - because really, I think the cat in the Lebanese is approaching its 9th life, and quickly.

Monday, January 6, 2020

BLC - another bank, another blunder of an ad.

"With storms, cedars only get stronger" so goes the BLC bank ad. I said it prior - nothing will work with banks. That's it - people lost their patience and their trust and have had enough. Truly, people are no longer in the mood for pseudo-patriotic ads, at this stage they just want their money and they are getting agitated and exasperated since banks are holding it from them! So yes, the ad is itself might be "inspiring" but trust me, no one is in the mood to be inspired.
As a side note, I am realizing the spin doctoring in banks is as follows: It is not our fault, it is the big bad corrupted govornment. I saw it with two banks already, all exonerating themselves from the mess all while earning millions from the scheme they instingated and willingly participated in!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Muse du Liban, a new wine from the heart of the cedars

Lebanon has a new wine, and it is - thankfully - not a chateau. Muse, "was conceived by none other than France’s Michel Rolland, one of the world’s most revered winemakers and award-winning consultants, with a palate renowned for its penchant for inimitable". The name and logo - much like Ixsir which broke the mould of "chateau" brings a refreshing change to the scenery. Apparently muse is available as "Rousing Red", "Rebellious Rose" and "Wanton White" (oddly they could have named the three varieties after women since they are going for the feminine concept). Still, Muse seems a much welcome novelty in the land of chateaux.

Waterfront City VS Sakr Real Estate - compare and contrast

And in our first compare and contrast this year, please look at those samples - "al 3ikar akwa istithmar" and "al 3ikar azka isthisthmar" - respectively: "real estate is the strongest investment" (Waterfront City) and "real estate is the smartest investment" (Sakr Real Estate). Waterfront City started it without any doubt, still - you be the judge.... I for one am seeing double. And yes, the two ads are running concurently on the streets right now in Beirut.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Lollar t-shirts now available via Patrick Chemali

Dan Azzi coined the term Lollar, Patrick Chemali came up with the logo and website, and now the merchandise is here! Well, if you cannot beat them, join them - and release your lollar in the process. A strange world indeed, filled with strange friends who come up with the weirdest ideas!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Volkswagen Beetle - the last mile... Sadly.

The Beetle is no longer - after the last unit was produced in July 2019 Volkswagen bids it farwell in a beautifully animated movie. 90 seconds of pure joy as we watch the history of the model through the eye of a personal story. Whereas the creative treatment was expected, it is the visual imagery that stuns, specifically the choice of animation, plus that lovely "Let it be" version. Be still my beating heart... Please watch the film here!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

BankMed and a New Year disaster

Well, in French there is an eloquent expression to tell someone to shut up. "Vous avez manque une opportunity pour vous taire" (you missed a chance to shut up). In Arabic, sadly, the equivalent is much more crude "ya raytak khrit w ma 7kit" (you better has defecated than spoke!). No matter the language, and knowing banks are really NOT the favorite discussion topic of Lebanese people, BankMed sincerely could have done without it wishing us 365 new chances and all that. Just give us back our lollar and shut up! Watch those corny 365 new chances ad here!

Alfa Telecom - a small New Year gem

Alfa Telecom managed to bring a lovely end of year gem! A simple idea about drinking and driving. I will no spoil the party by saying the copy should have been "you only get one shot at life" (rather than "in life"), but certainly the creative idea holds all while being unpretentious and unpatronizing! I do hope you did not drink and drive yesterday!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thoughts as we go onto 2020

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
I had written a long, long, article about the decade that was. Then I deleted it all and replaced it with this imagery: Between 2010 and 2019 I had been living in a literal pressure cooker. Here's to a more relaxed new decade. Here's a fine copywriting sample for you:
عقدٌ جديد لعقد جديد

Monday, December 30, 2019

Cadrans #TheTimeIsNow

Cadrans - the house that sells upscale watches has just come up with a spectacular ad about the revolution still gripping Lebanon. Under the #TheTimeIsNow the Cadrans ad goes "this year, we're not sleepng to dream: We're waking up to make it happen" - the visual does little to hide what they mean (images from the revolution). Superb ad that interwinds what they are selling all while meshing it with the current events! See the ad here.

Someone just spoofed Lebanese banks hard

You're welcome! Sadly don't know who did this but whomever it is - it's brilliant. Someone spoofed Lebanese banks bad - real real bad. Let's sart with Bank Med whose "we know what you want" became "but we're not giving it to you", then SGBL whose line is "let's get things moving" (*except money was added), Credit Libanais that usually signs with "Close to you" had a "d" added so that it is now "Closed to you", and Blom Bank whose line "ra7at al bal" (peace of mind - with the word ra7a also meaning in Arabic loukoum) had their signature morphed into "loukoum and biscuit and that's more than you deserve". If anyone knows who did them please let me know - these are exceptional indeed.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Patrick Chemali - the Lollar (R) currency design

Dan Azzi coined the concept, and Patrick Chemali came out with the sign. Now in a step further the photo of the head our central bank adors the modified Dollar bill (please scrutinize the small design details - I love the "no one knows" signature below a wink to Riad Salame's answer as to how high the Dollar will get!). Sadly, the Lollar is still worth ziltch!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Khoury Home goes into finance with haircuts

Now that the term "haircut" has become ubiquitous in the Lebanese lingo - and here am referring to the financial measure, it seems fitting it would trickle down to advertising. And here is an example from Khoury Home "survive the haircut - keep your money where you can see it" i.e. in the shape of appliances. OK the visual does explain it completely in case you are lost - oh and there is a Christmas tree behind too. A bit much but then again the message has to go through! Yesterday was real estate, today appliances - all means are good to release your Lollar.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Waterfront City could be on to something

After the freefall of real estate prices, suddenly indicators are turning around: Hey even Dan Azzi who predicted the fall (along with Jihad El Hokayem) has changed his mind and is predicting a boom. It's logical, with your money stuck in the banking system a Lollar, the best way to release it is to buy real estate (side note, the Solidere share price hass been rallying for a while now). Which brings us to the Waterfront City ads which are so visible on the road (mainly due to lack of competition, as no one else is advertising) - the Arabic version is actually better than the English - interestingly all social media for Waterfront City has been neglected for a year but suddenly their facebook page came to life... So here it is: Buy real estate!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Bechara Mouzannar leaves Publicis after three decades!

Bechara Mouzannar leaves Publicis after three decades! Here is part of Bechara's parting statement: “Today is the right time for me to pursue my passion for entertainment. I will soon be announcing my next venture. I wish to see our family continue in their strides and keep delivering at the highest level. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every person involved, from my colleagues to our clients, who sincerely wanted to make a positive change to our industry and to our societies.” Not much to say really - the man has received 36 Lions at the Cannes Lions, including six Golds, and 12 D&AD Pencils, including one White and one Yellow. In 2016, he was named #1 Chief Creative Officer in the World by the Big Won Report.

#merrychristmas 2019

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Here's my Christmas card from 2015, and then the one 2018, an also the 2000, 2013 and 2015 end of year cards. My output this year goes "may it be repeated on you, under different circumstances" (for those not familiar with the loca culture, "may it be repeated" means "may you be alive to celebrate it again" - just that this year, with its truly challeging mood, the idea is to celebrate it later in better circumstances).

Monday, December 23, 2019

ParAzar goes local economy with end of year gifts

Recycled hand blown glass? Check. Eshmoun sweet treats? Check. Local economy end of year gifts that support local economy by ParAzar? Check, check, check. Well, sometimes it only takes a nice time-fitting idea, when everyone was just saying "let's support local economy and artisans", ParAzar went out and did it. And yes, even as a diabetic, I am craving those olive chocolate treats! Watch the film here and enjoy everyone's effort!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Lollar (R) gets its sign by Patrick Chemali

Design by Patrick Chemali as per Dani Azzi's copyrighted term
The Lollar (R) (a copyrighted by Dan Azzi) seems now to have found its sign courtesy of Patrick Chemali (no relation). It's our money, behind bars. There, simple. But "c'est complique de faire simple". Reminder, Dan Azzi defines the Lollar as "a Lebanese Dollar, or a US Dollar which is stuck in the Lebanese banking system, really just a computer entry with no corresponding currency". And hey, Patrick just put out the official Lollar website!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Marie Kondo and the advertising industry in Lebanon today.

Card found in Amsterdam in 2000
As I said earlier, there are simply no new ads in town - billboards are simply covered in white paper (only one place is advertising its end of year party, and Cablevsion has a get one gift one and that's it). Yet, for a long time there was this law about the limiting of haphazard use of public places to advertise (tree trunks, walls, illegal banners), now it's fixed. The city looks orderly, tame - I swear I saw a billboard cut off and only the two iron stands supporting it still standing.
Christmas is notoriously a consumerist frenzy, however this year, it is dipped in a strong malaise - the banking issues, the currency nose diving, the political unrest (the perfect storm). Naji Boulos tells me this is the first year since two decades that advertising expenditure will dip below 100 million Dollars in Lebanon. Many people are paid half salaries, and even then retrieving that money from bank seems a nightmare. In short this is truly a bad time for Lebanon (1,5 people in Lebanon live below the poverty line in Lebanon).
But, what if we are looking at this the wrong way?
Yesterday, I decided to invite my teenage nephew out (nothing fancy, but we both like the place). At the end of the meal he said he was looking for a shirt and that he has the money to pay for it - I suggested to gift it to him. Usually he and his younger brother get money at Christmas so I thought an extra shirt will not break the bank. Yet, as he went into Timberland to see their shirts he fell in love with a boot which I ended up offering him. And then we went to several other stores looking for the elusive shirt which we found and again I paid for.
As we were walking back to his house, with the evening mild we got to talk and I explained how fortunate we are to be able to treat him to such gifts when people are rummaging in the dumpsters in daylight. And despite being a teenager (that age where meh attitude reigns) he showed a lot of maturity understanding the situation.
He thanked me for the gifts and said they would be in lieu of the usual money, and he also told me he was putting aside bags of clothes for an orphanage and asked me if I had anything to donate, I told him I gave everything away to needy people. Still, when I got home I was putting away a new (needed) jumper from the ever wonderful Depot-Vente (thank you Nawal) and keeping in mind I own much less clothing than the average man my age (I was born in 1974, you do the math) several shirts looked at my guiltily.
So - at about 11 P.M. - I decided to go Marie Kondo on the already minimal closet ("if it doesn't spark joy, get rid of it"). Believe it or not - I managed to cull three pairs of shoes (I wore them enough and they were still in good condition), several shirts in pristine condition (one was a little too thick, one a little too tight, one I owned since 2002, and so on!), an unworn pant bought at deep sales (I found a better pair in a lighter hue), a sweater (with a spot only I could see - being OCD I stopped wearing it) a nice scarf (no idea how it got to my closet) all while still having enough clothes to wear.
What if, without advertising, we can still have things to wear an enjoy. What if in this festive period we used the lack of advertising to see where we stand, how much we can donate (I am not dumb I know beneath every altruistic gesture there is a selfish motive - it has been scientifically proven), all while still having enough.
When a teenager can understand this concept, perhaps we can too.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Wunder and the Canadian White Christmas

Wunder just bought 10,000 USD worth of panels - in order to NOT place ads on them. So if you are i Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) and dreaming of a "White Christmas" (name of the campaign by the way) you're in luck. Winder wants to give people some mental break. Interestingly, we have the same case in Lebanon - except no one is buying the ads in question!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Nadine El Rassi shines in the SK Bijoux ad

Have you seen the new SK Bijoux ad? Maybe you should. In it, actress Nadine El Rassi truly shines. Really, the ad is just centered around her, her incredibly funny expressions as a shopaholic trying to go though a glasss door all while trying to hold on to her items but also keep a shred of dignity in the process. A masterclass of acting! Based on the strength of this ad alone Mrs. Al Rassi puts to shame all other actresses currently gracing television screens! Watch it and laugh here!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

On God and the Lebanese revolution

One of the loveliest things to come out of the reolution that Lebanon has been experiencing since October 17, is those altruistic gestures filling people. People are really waking up to the needy, to those now rummaging in plain daylight in dumpsters, to those living under the poverty line and all this done in a dignified way (OK so some make sure cameras are there as they visit people who need help but am disregarding those). I also like the many many shops who put signs which losely transate as "dear citizen, if you do not have money to pay, please take what you need, my livelihood and yours are on God".
Let me repeat: I like all these fundraising initiatives, and repect them all. My problem is that for a revolution that wants to abolish the "nizam al ta2ifi" in Lebanon (or Sectarian system) I still see the stress on God everywhere. I touched on this point earlier when speaking about women and their stereotypes in the revolution. The gist of it is this: "For a revolution that wants to get past faith/sect issues, no matter where I turn, I see them emphasized as if saying "we want a united Lebanon in spite of our different faith" as opposed to "regardless if we believe or what we believe in"." As I said, how can we get past the Secterian system when even those wanting to abolish it come back to religion all the time (and the step being "religion" and "sect" is too small believe me). I am not claiming I have a quick solution, but what I have is perhaps a small notifier: Try not to bring God into the equation when you claim you want te so-called Sectarian system to be abolished, somehow, it's as bad as the image below: The Islamic wing of the communist party - workers of the world pray on the prophet!
And with this I shall leave you with the words of (Nobel Laureate!) Bob Dylan: "If God's on our side/He'll stop the next war".

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Ministry of Health in Lebanon parody by Ryan Howayek!

Ryan Howayek aces this one!! "Thank you Ministry of Public Health in Lebanon"... Look at the Chinese shadows to understand what they are being thanked for however. Not much as you can realize. Well, just add this to other issues plaguing the land, what can one say! 

Friday, December 13, 2019

The best strategy for Lebanese banks to communicate further on.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
If LSB is any measure, it tried to throw the blame on someone else. Nice try. But is this the recommended way to talk to an audience that no longer trusts banks in general and their bank specifically? Interestingly, as Dan Azzi questioned, this is influencing the Lebanese socio-economic stata: Who gets to withdraw money and how much. The thing is, banks had the chance to swallow the bullet and come out "altruistic" by taking a hit rather than the public at large: They doubled down greedily by administring haircuts to the final clients rather than forgoing part of their own debt to the government or decreasing the interest rate (just as a reminder, it seems decreasing the interest rate by one percentage point saves the government 900 million Dollars yearly).
People have little or no faith in banks anymore. They'd rather put their money under their pillow now rather than waiting in line hours to be able to collect a measly 200 or 300 Dollars. People are confused, will this become the norm? Are these the big interest rates they were promised? People who put their money in blocked accounts - specifically in Lebanese Pounds - lured by 14% interest rates now see the value of their currency nose-dive.
And yet the question remains: Say I am a bank in Lebanon, how do I communicate further on? Where do I go from here?
Banks used all possible cards in the past: Family, slice of life, emotional appeal - you name it, it was used. Already their selling lines were playing on such promises, words such as "proximity", "potential", or "life" abounded and played on the public eager emotions.
Technically, practically all slices of the public at large were swayed. Which brings us to current crisis which touched almost everyone.
Now, can they use the truth as a weapon? Surely not, as I said prior they had the chance to do the right thing but abdicated.
Can they sell more such emotionality? Well, the public is now disgusted so that's a no-go too.
So - what now? Fancy productions do not cut it anymore. Sympathetic messages will only enrage the public further. Messages of support also seem redundant.
The only way out as I see it is for a bank to do a harakiri and announce it is forgoing part of its debt to the government and that it is doing so for patriotic reasons. To begin with it grows big in the eyes of current and potential consumers, then it automatically shames the competition in a way anyone else who does it becomes a me-too, it also rehabilitates its standing nation-wide. Will it lose money? Obviously. But in the long run, this act will always be associated with its name and brand and this no one can take away from it: When push came to shove they did what had to be done for the nation at large.
Now, does such a bank exist? I doubt. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wassim Ghandour (Gandour) opens fire on Snickers (and gets away with it)

Actually that was funny, Wassim Ghandour (of the famed Gandour products) just opened fire on Snickers and got away with it. Mr Ghandour actually is saying that since Gandour (biscuits, chocolates) are the pride of our national production shops should order it faster than they are flying off the shelves - he goes on to market his own biscuits and ends up riffing the Snickers line (when hunger hits you hit it back not with a Snickers but with a Gandour product).
My theory that he picked Snickers is because his company still did not make a chocolate inspired by it. Let me exhibit my case: Safari is inspired from Lion Bar, Pik-One is a dissimulated KitKat (originally called Zig Zag - name changed after a litigation with the original Rowntree who owns/ed Kitkat!), Queen is a dissimulated Choco Prince Lu, their Hawaii is a pseudo-Bounty, Tofiluk is a sort of Twix, and their Tarboush is le petit Perrier. See? No Snickers in sight.
Still he gets a pass because it was funny.

The advertising work is already eating up the Cattelan banana

Artist Maurizio Cattelan posts an artwork at Art Basel Miami at the Emmanuel Perrotin gallery: A banana secured with a duct tape priced at 120,000 USD.
"Hungry" performance artist David Datuna ended up eating the installation in question.
Supermarkets - from Carrefour to the Turkish Tezken are already on the meme case.
I suppose that was a case that begged to happen! I am sure there are more examples (I already saw several) and this is the way the ad world is always reacting to the events in the world as of late. Pity this is coming at the price of a focused strategy however.

Monday, December 9, 2019

On an incurable failure (sorry, Fawwaz Trabulsi!)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
So it snowed on the tarmac of the airport. The two photos, distributed originally on the Middle East Airlines (MEA) digital accounts were enough to make everyone mushy! The same people and instagram accounts who were calling the MEA as all sorts of names, accusing their management of all possible wrongs, and using the sarcastic "MEA Whale" (whale means "7out" in Arabic in reference to the family name of the company's president - just to note I personally experienced nothing bad from the company so I refrain from any criticism, on the contrary all my trips there were really optimal!), are now gushing and mellowing over the photos snow on the airport tarmac, with appropriate tags about the dreamed Lebanon and what not.
So there's that the "revolution" news of the day, some pre-winter melancholy about snow and planes and an "ideal" Lebanon that never existed and some accompanying hastags. Fawwaz Trabulsi has a beautiful book entitled "On an incurable hope" - sorry, when you can change the moods of a whole revolution with photos about snow on the tarmac, this makes these people "snowflakes"! And that is an incurable failure. 

Spinney's and the reusable bags

Now this is interesting, Spinney's supermarket in Lebanon is trying to fight single plastic use by offering reusable bags - do note long time ago Spinney's initiated such a scheme by offering totes to its customers (a friend of mine got two but kept forgetting them every time she went shopping!). This being said, I really like the ad, quite simple but truly efficient at showing the idea.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advertising agencies in Lebanon are facing a "perfect storm"

Photo credit: Jana Traboulsi
Advertising agencies in Lebanon are cursing their bad luck! Had it not been for the political parties who swamped them with money for the elections last year, there would have had no income. With no elections this year, one can only guess how bad their situation is. Not just are they in a market that is changing at a record pace globally, in terms of clients moving accounts internally, or budgeting split between several agencies all while the said bugets tumbling to be a shadow of what they used to be, without factoring the invasion of all things digital - well, these agencies are also living in Lebanon and dealing with the Lebanese market which has crashed severely and now, added to all this, now they are dealing with the Lebanese revolution.
End of year campaigns are practically non-existent. I am not inventing this, just look around you, some ads date back to the week of October 14 or the week when the revolution started. The Lebanese Pound is still being traded in banks at around 1507 but in the black market prices vary by day and by region (a number around 2200 LBP to the Dollar is not only unheard of, it is actually the norm) - so already everything is more expensive as it reaches supermarkets or vendors, and in parallel companies are going through stages of either total layoffs, or paying half of the monthly salaries, or forcing workers to take accumulated vacation days with this applying to all kinds of institutions from high end shops, to FMCG companies, going through shops selling household appliances, or importers, stockists, and reaching the HORECA (hotels, restaurants and cafes) - with figures indicating around 450 such institutions (restaurants or cafes) closed since begining September 2019.
So let us look at the facts, right on the gates of the holiday season, workers are either not being fully paid, or cannot get their money out the bank (which is rationing money severely mostly playing $300 a week - with people converting each $100 at the exhangers to get the most out of it), and if they manage to get that hard-earned difficultly withdrawn cash, this makes the priorities of spending it confusing to say the least.
Recently I heard a joke: "A man goes into a bank accompanied by the grocery guy, the butcher, the car mechanic, the monthly installment, the internet provider, and the woman who sweeps the building's stairway, and says to the teller, "please distribute the 300 Dollars among them since you are so knowledgeable!"" - the Arabic saying goes "the worst problems are those that make you laugh".
Advertising people are not laughing that is for sure. A company I know - had at one point 26 clients now they are down to 3. Larger companies rely on international alignments to secure contracts, but even them are having their budgets slashed, and local clients - usually the large companies such a banks are wrecking havoc in their own spending (an Alpha bank withdrew the free coffee machines at its headquarters - anything which used to be bona fide is now considered luxury).
Well, advertising is always the barometer of the economy, when work there dries up expect the whole market to crash somewhere between 6-9 months in the future. And work started drying up severely at the end of last year.
And as I said earlier, since the whole international ad experience is changing and morphing globally, Lebanese agencies cannot but feel the pinch. They feel the so-called pinch more because they are now confronted to the social issues, the Dollar peg which blew in the black market hence making the Lebanese lose about about 40% of their income, and the Lebanese manifesting in the streets more often than not closing roads in protests. A feeling of big malaise looms large on the population, no one has the energy to feel the approaching holiday season, evryone is on edge or short-fused.
Ad people in Lebanon are living in what is called a "perfect storm" - which is defined as "an especially bad situation caused by a combination of unfavourable circumstances", it seems several circumstances have agglomerated together each worsening the effect of the other. Should there be a silver lining, I am afraid I do not see it yet. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The way we speak of suicide is harmful.

1564 is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline
(Artwork by Tarek Chemaly)
In 1996, an AUB student committed suicide because he failed to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). At the time I was the "Campus" representative (Campus was the newspaper which had at the time replaced Outlook which was on hiatus) so instead of building on the hype, I went there and covered the matter like an adult speaking to psychologists and doctors and the outcome was that, once put into context, perhaps the student had a borderline disorder or accompanying causes which had put him under so much strain and pushed him to his decision.
The way we speak of the many suicides that happened - sadly - concurrently, in Lebanon is quite harmful. Statistically, someone dies by suicide in Lebanon every two and a half days, and an estimated suicide attempt every six hours. I am not belittling this at all, but I am simply trying to put the numbers in context. May 2018 saw 28 cases of suicides as an example - a statistically aberrant number but at the time neither the media and the people where not interested in it.
1564 is the number of the national suicide prevention hotline which recieves up to seven calls a day not only from people in mental or emotiona distress but from their families and loved ones as well. According to Mia Atoui, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Embrace Association for Mental
Health Awareness: " “In Lebanon, unlike other countries, we are a very small and tight community and when a suicide is committed the whole area would know about it. Suicide could be contagious. Once it is publicised it might affect vulnerable people and encourage them to take their own lives, too.”
So in essence the way suicide is being talked about is pushing people who are "on a ledge", please, let us be aware of the repercussions of our words.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Dear Tania Mehanna, please come back.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Dear Tania Mehanna, would you please come back to Lebanon and school everyone as to how reporting should be? Our paths only crossed for a brief second when you and your family were visiting Harissa - I looked at you in awe, a little starstruck.
What I wish for is for you to come back and do that incedible fact based reporting, without guessing, or adding spices, or fueling hormones, or what not. I want you to come back because I miss that you took time to ask Terje Rød-Larsen about how his name is pronounced, I miss how you went to Islamabad and sent stories from there, I miss how you rationalized stories when everyone else was trying to sansationalize news. From political scoops, to social stories, to murders or suicides, you always brushed off the hype and went straight to what mattered most - the human element in every story, yet you exposed it without drama, all while remaining dignified and retaining the dignity of whomever suffered a loss or a damage.
At a time when news is becoming an outbidding process in search of clicks, in chase of the lowest common denominator, the silver screen needs you to bring back the rational element into the storytelling, all while not negating caring to both - viewers and subjects alike.
I understand you wanted to get away, except with all the fiascos currently filling the airspace, your absence is noted more than ever.
Dear Tania Mehanna, Lebanon needs you.

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Sunsilk - on the meaning of pink

Sunsilk redefines pink! Did you know that up until the 50s of last century pink was a de rigueur color for men? Then suddenly it was decided it was a feminine color and that blue was more "manly". Yet, some traditions immediately take hold - another example: Did you know that Queen Victoria was the first woma to wear a white dress on her wedding? A color which is now practically the only color acceptable to brides? Which brings us back to Sunsilk and its mission to "let us redefine pink together" from "cute" to "determination", from "tender" to "limitless". The way they portray women in the ad is brilliant, we see bold, independent, noble women. Truly a wonderful repositioning to a color - just not yet one that is manly though.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Women in Lebanon and the stereotypical stance regarding faith

Recently, as part of the side events accompanying the "revolution" in Lebanon, there has been many meetings where women of previously opposing camps (Chiyah - Ain el Roumaneh, Khanda2 el ghamik - Tabaris) went out to proclaim that they will not allow parties/leaders to drag them or their sons against one another in a civil conflict as they did in the past (specifically the 1975-90 war). Whereas I cannot but encourage these acts - especially as someone who comes from a family where those issues were non-existent - I cannot but be a bit shocked at the stereotypical attitude of it all.
Just look at the images: All Moslem women wear "islamically compliant" veils, all Christian women have designer sunglasses and are coiffed trendily. I am not here to deny the emotions expressed in those images (good on them!) but these images imply all women subscribing to any faith are all alike which is incredibly far from the truth. Variations are all over the place, a lot of Moslem women are not veiled, and certainly not all Christian women are the BCBG sample shown in the images.
It baffles me. For a revolution that wants to get past faith/sect issues, no matter where I turn, I see them emphasized as if saying "we want a united Lebanon in spite of our different faith" as opposed to "regardless if we believe or what we believe in".
This attitude doesn't work in the long run, truth be told, as long as one is emphasizing faith as a driving force - specifically in this stereotypical way.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Municipalities under the spotlight (Nahnoo)

"You still did not ask your municipality about your money?" - a catchy enough headline from the Municialities Under The Spotlight campaign. Their website - apparently the whole thing is initiated by Nahnoo (which means "we" in Arabic) - is quite self-explanatory as it tries to shed transparency on municipal work as they to disentangle laws and financial issues. Well, at a time when the crowds are going berserk for anti-corruption this could be a wortwhile effort. 

Abed Tahan nails Black Friday

Abed Tahan nails the Black Friday ad like no other, dipping it in Egyptian movie sauce (all while keeping the Lebanese references through the pigeon's rock - Rawche) the "Egyptian" stereotypical Saidi (rural area dweller) goes "ya nhar aswad" (Oh what a black day!) - the day in question is a Friday and it extends (as most shops did) througgh the whole weekend. I truly thought the ad was funny! 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Lebanese Swiss Bank (LSB) - takes exoneration route

Lebanese Swiss Bank is playing it coy - as if not part of the alpha banks in Lebanon (with deposits exceeding 2 Billion Dollars).... And basically, is throwing all the usual finger-pointing at "corruption" (as a disclosure I have done work in the past for LSB). "Democracy is not hereditary" "corruption bloating, how lovely" "feed the pocket and the eye goes shy" or "we financed the state but who milked it?" is but samples of the campaign. It all ends with a black screen "pity the people.. people Lebanon you rulers... but isn't corruption a pity?"
I am not negating the campaign is good, but coming from an alpha bank which has benefited from the "financial engineering" it makes one a bit puzzled. Just to note, considering I know Tanal Sabbah the chairman of the board and how colorful he is, I know where these ads come from, but I also wonder where they stand as an instituation. I suppose this is a counter-message which takes the exoneration route out.