Monday, February 19, 2024

Financial Crime and Cash Economy - Rethinking Lebanon strikes again

"Ca va sans dire, mais ca va mieux en le disant" (it goes without saying, but it goes better saying it) said Charles De Gaulle: Lebanon has become a de facto cash economy. With banks holding all our money hostage, with banks doing all kinds of tricks to take money when you deposit, transfer, or withdraw (lately, they are charging 70 USD to retrieve money coming from abroad). Money transfer systems (such as OMT/Western Union or Wish or BOB Finance) have become the way people handle money as opposed to banks.
A conference about "Financial Crime and Cash Economy" is being co-organized by Holy Spirit University of Kaslik and Rethinking Lebanon (helmed by the intrepid Jihad El Hokayem) in collaboration with the Lebanese Army. This conference will convene experts to address the rise in financial crimes resulting from Lebanon's shift to a cash economy. Of course, the idea is that with very few choices the Lebanese have, what is the best way to stop money laundering and such other crimes now that cash is the most used means in Lebanon.
The conference will mainly focus areas are identifying new illicit cash flow trends, evaluating policies to boost cash transparency, improving cross-sector information sharing, and building awareness. It is to be noted that as per the World Bank the severe economic and financial crisis Lebanon is enduring is likely to rank in the top 3, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century.
Experts will also examine solutions to reduce overreliance on cash, including restoring trust in banks, expanding digital payments (funny story, last time I was at my bank, I signed papers for the renewal of my card but - the person handling my application did not give me the said card, nor did I ask for it - why? Because the card is worthless at this point since no money comes into it!), implementing focused cash regulations, and incentivizing formal financial services. The goal is to advance a coordinated response that combats financial crimes while considering economic and inclusion impacts as Lebanon transitions away from a cash-based system.
The conference will be held at Jean Paul II amphitheater, USEK campus - Jounieh, on March 26, 2024 from 9:30 AM until 2:30 PM. The maximum capacity of the amphitheater is 1350 attendees in person. However, you can tune in to a live stream on zoom or dive into an immersive metaverse experience, the conference will be also covered by various media outlets and channels.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

On sexual innuendos in ads, and why Comin got it wrong.

Ah here were are again, still talking about that silly, trashy Comin ad. Well, is this a triumph for them? They do say "bad publicity is good publicity". If this is the case then Comin was a triumph - to be honest I don't think so. Also, now that the door for sexual innuendos has been open, even their name "Comin" is starting to resonate badly. My previous post has generated heated discussion on Linkedin, and to be clear no it was not a "translation" - this ad was done in Arabic. Also many called it "sad", which I tend to concur with. Also, there was people saying that it differentiated itself from what is already on the panels and therefore "made you look" - a must for any ad. The problem? In 2005 (circa) we needed 500 panels for our campaign to be seen in Beirut, now only half a dozen billboards is enough. There is not enough competition and - this I know from an internal source - OOH companies have prices so low they just tell agencies "just book please".

So where does this lead us? Comin had done an ad with a sexual innuendo. It was at best, idiotic. Because as a company they were incredibly innovative when it comes to the packages they proposed to clients (in case you want to see the ad again, please do so here). I shall refer you to what I wrote previously about the Vote for Tolerance Aizone campaign (here):

The smartness was to dress the models in colors that resembled the Lebanese political parties (orange for FPM, green for Lebanese Forces, blue for Future Movement....) but look deeper and you shall see it is about homosexuality and bisexuality and their acceptance. The body language in the ad whereas barely dissimulated was enough to get past censorship.

You don't have to go above and beyond for things to work. As I said the Aizone campaign is a prime example of that. We may be talking about Comin, but there is also brand value - now this is tarnished for Comin. I hope it was worth it for the sake of just one ad.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Comin.... relax don't do it

Photo credit - Georges Serhan

Not sure where to start. Or maybe I am jumping the gun (har har)... But is that a gun in my pocket or is that ad happy to see me? Well, here we are. Comin, the insurance company, has a new ad.... It says "we stand by you" but it also says "you are having an erection". Is it attention grabbing? Yes. Is it the positioning wanted by an insurance company? Well, apparently yes from where they stand (no pun). The ad says "you are having an erection" and underneath "this is our number" just to be clear - and the visual is a man with a magnifier (apparently the size of the boner is not big enough). Well, this is sad people. Suddenly am remembering Frankie Goes To Hollywood and their "Relax don't do it"... Or it could be they are just comin(g) you know....

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Surreal - Hanx and a throwback to Cyberia - Warde

Surreal - the cereals - apparently teamed up with Hanx - the condoms for a double ad (for Valentine's that is!), one is "great for spooning" and the other is "great for forking", will let you guess which is which har har. Kidding aside, obviously this is a great media placement for both brands. All of this brings me to a throwback from 2007 in Lebanon, where Cyberia and Warde both had the same agency (Leo Burnett) and did crossover panels whereby the Cyberia ad jumped over the Warde one. This was another media buy play... Not quite the same but not too far either.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

On that BDSM workshop banned in Beirut - what if we are not regressing?

I admit, I knew about this quite late. Apparently an introductory day to kinkiness at KED has been banned. You might read about this at length here. This would not be the first time or the last time a cultural event (because that's what it was) would be banned.
Someone told me we are running backwards. Society at large in Lebanon is going backwards but it got me thinking: Is it?
First some facts: In the 1960s a nightclub in Aley (Los Cuevos) had a BSDM room and a dominatrix.
Lebanon did have the first soft-porn mass market movie (Sayyidat Al Akmar Al Sawda2 - directed by, no I am not kidding Samir A. Khoury, who would go on and direct Remi Bandali in her children's fairy film "Amani ta7t kaws kouza7"). The film was produced in 1971.
In 1972 Lebanon - yes, the country - advertises in Playboy - yes, that Playboy.
In 1978 the late Elias Rahbani released his hit Liza Liza with a women showing her naked breasts on the sleeve.
In 1982, Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt gets interviewed by Playboy - yes, again, that Playboy.
Now all of these signal that Lebanon was an open and sexually-tolerant society. I have heard that too many times.
And yet....
What if these were the exceptions, not the rule.
What if society, has always been conservative, unaccepting of new ideas, what if it benefited everyone - I mean politicians do not want people to actually think, the clergy of all religions would see their reign destabilized by people who ask or ague too much, people themselves prefer their ignorance to really straying too far in thinking. 
Here is an incident I spoke of before:
A commission of the delegates went to Kamel Assaad*'s father who was one of the most influential Shiite feudal lords (or dignitaries to put in mildly) in the South of Lebanon and asked him to build schools for their children, his retort was: “Kamel a’am yeta’alam a’ankon” (Kamel is studying on your behalf!) (*Kamel Assaad became speaker of the house after the parliamentary elections that preceded the war of 1975 and remained until the end of the self-prorogating law which lasted until the first post-war elections which included “nominations” of certain MPs).
As I said, a lot of people benefited from ignorance. From conservatism. I kept a large chunk of people under control. And control is the key word here. 
On all accounts, I still think that perhaps, if we look at this from a different standpoint, I do not think we are regressing. We are simple where we have always been. What happened prior was perhaps the exceptions that proved the rule and which happened before things got "better organized".
Take it from someone who taught at universities since 2005, no our youth are not open-minded at all, and teachers make a point of disciplining anyone who tries to make something which - supposedly - goes against their morals (their being the teachers themselves).
In a retrospective on Jeff Koons, a student was forbidden to include the work he did with his then-wife Elena Anna Stoller better known as Cicciolina (see work under "made in heaven" on Google). Let me repeat, the student wanted to include this seminal work and it is the teacher who forbade him.
With this, I really wonder - are we going backwards?

Monday, February 12, 2024

Freez Mix - mix, match, miss

Here's another idea that seemed fine when it came out. But it remined me of that image of an old and out of shape Egyptian actor playing tennis - he wanted to look cool but missed the mark. The ad, whose concept is "mix your socks, mix your thoughts" and ergo "mix your drinks" (because that is the idea of Freez Mix) seemed subtle when someone came up with it. On the ground, something is seriously missing. Maybe that cool factor? You can see the ad here. On the flip side, someone really tried.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Exotica does Valentine.... The mighty has fallen

Wow, Exotica has an ad for Valentine's (saw it on Linkedin, so maybe I this is some watered down version). OK, I was not impressed. Just to remind you when H&C (at the time without Leo Burnett) launched Exotica in the 80s it was one of the first ads with a clear positioning "plante la joie" (plants happiness). And Exotica managed hit after hit for all possible occasions (mother's day, Easter, back to school, etc....). So for them to end up with this lower tier ad is a bit baffling. Still, below are some of the ads for Valentine they came up with the past:

Friday, February 9, 2024

On the boring Super Bowl ads this year.

OK, so there's one with Jason Momoa (a failed Flashdance pastiche even including original actress Jennifer Beals), BeyonceArnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito, Ice SpiceRobert Downey Jr., Jenna Ortega, Chris Pratt, Mr. T, Cardi B, Messi, Tina Fey, Kris Jenner, Christopher Walken and Usher, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Scarlet Johanson, Kate McKinnon/Pete Davidson, Ken JeongAddison Rae (with a beautiful homage to - Flashdance (yes, again)), Ben Affleck/Matt Damon/Tom Brady/Jennifer Lopezthe cast of Suits (a total waste of use when compared to this), a whole bunch of them (although frankly apart from the very funny bit with David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, I fail to understand what the rest of them are doing there). and another whole bunch of them. So yes, here we are again "just insert celebrity" ads. Most are surely worth a look, very few of them a second look, and an even lower number which is actually memorable. I feel drawn to the bit of the Uber Eats with the Friends stars, and surprisingly to the Addison Rae Nerds ad. Am also waiting for the Volkswagen "An American Love Story" ad (launching in February 11th). Thank you AdLand for doing the recap by the way.

Small update: The released VW ad is here. Maybe a bit too woke as an ad, but certainly worth it. A cut above the rest of the "celebrity" ads mentioned above.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Association of Lebanese Industrialists... Would you register your business?

So the Association of Lebanese Industrialists is actually encouraging people to register their business because it will bring them more exposure and widen the breadth of their clientele. The ad itself is all over the place - first there is a pseudo-farmer with a beanie (a young one at that) holding a "strawberry jam" jar. The comes the hands of two men in a suit shaking hands on the foreground (I think one of them needed his nails trimmed to be honest). As I said the ad is a horse drawn by a committee and makes little sense. You can see the ad here. There is also a tag to go with the campaign: #الشغل_مسجل_كلو_مسهل (business is registered, all is made easy). Of course if registering the business means paying more taxes to the government, or declaring how much coming is coming in, or what not is something I don't know about.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Spinneys celebrates 75 years

Spinneys celebrates 75 years. Good for the. The logo is kind of nice. The ad is a little confusing for me though - too glum and nothing celebratory about it if you ask me. Now, the whole thing is under the title "unforgettable moments". Again, maybe some more clarity is required for us to pitch in - and by the way, these ads on not online on the usual Spinneys channels (the 75 years logo is though).

Now you want an anecdote about Spinneys and their age?

In 2009 Spinneys celebrated their 11 years. In 2012 they celebrated 64. Don't believe me? Check below.

See? At the time I called my post "Spinneys can kiss my math". Obviously they are numbers challenged... 
But then again I guess 64+11 now makes it 75 (so they eventually stuck to one number).

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Omo goes for stories behind the dirt (update)

First, Omo has a very good Arabic adaptation for their "dirt is good" like "kil khabsa ela ossa" (every spot/blunder has a story). I really love that one. Not obvious to get such a good line in a different language but someone went to the heart of its meaning and made it make sense for the Arabic audiences. Which brings us to... "has a story". So voila, there are different stories for the dirt on the clothes.

One of them? "When dad allowed us to eat fries instead of moujaddara". Another? "When we helped Nour change her tire after the party". One that is not pictured? "When we forgot the cover of the mixer while making the cake". As you can see, they really thought: What are real-life spot-causing issues. And how can we look at them in a funny way. 

All of this is to say that, yes, many people would identify with Omo and its situations - mainly a younger audience rather than "traditional" housewives. But again, just finding enough situations to make them relatable and funny is in itself no small feat.


I have managed to find the rest of the campaign. The missing visuals apart from the "mixer" mentioned above are - "when I decided to run for the meeting holding my coffee" and "when we finally settled for a color for the twins' room".

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Saudia launches ProtecTasbih - the first sanitizing prayer beads

Do you remember Al Mosafer's ad "Stories from Mecca"? Sadly, you don't (here). The budgetless ad that the brilliant brains of Tahaab Rais came up with. Well, here is again, along with Saudia (the airlines) this time behind ProtecTasbih, the first sanitizing prayer beads which pilgrims have used during the Umrah (pilgrimage) season. What's there not to like. A brilliant, useful, and totally hip product.

It also shows that one is in "advertising" one can do many things, not just being a "strategist" or "copywriter" or whatever. Once more, the brains on Tahaab just threw us another passion project - and this one had many practical implications. "Power of One" (the Publicis slogan where Tahaab is now) never meant more - apparently it took a village to make the whole thing happen (here).

Here's to more "stories from Mecca" - from a brilliant "storyteller" indeed.

On Saudi tourism, stereotyping and reality.

Two days ago I spoke about Saudi tourism... Maybe now is the time to speak again... Please check the "Messi/Messy" thing here. OK, so the idea of the ad is to get famous football player Messi as an ambassador to debunk Saudi "stereotypes". Saudi Arabia is not "just a desert". This is correct but I also have seen paved roads with the sand which was excavated thrown on the two sides of the streets. Again, yes, Saudi Arabia is not just a desert, but to get to the other parts requires being out of the classical sedentary areas.

Now, "nothing ever happens"? Sure there are concerts and events lead by Turki Al-Sheikh (according to his wikipedia he is is a Saudi adviser at the Royal Court under the rank of Minister and the current Chairman of General Authority for Entertainment). Major A-list stars have flocked to Saudi Arabia to do concerts, many other stars have been granted Saudi nationality and on it goes. How much of this trickles down to the normal/average Saudi is however open for debate.

Is it a "closed culture"? Ok, this is where it gets tricky. Stadiums have only very recently opened a section for "families" (as everything - restaurants etc, there are places for "singles" (i.e. men) and "families"), and yes women have been granted the right to drive also not long ago. May I however remind you of the case of Loujain Al-Hathloul who was jailed for three years for campaigning for women's rights to drive and who was only released very very shortly before women obtained their right to drive? Again, perhaps a lot happened since the last time I was in the kingdom in 2004 visiting a VIP client, but once more, no - society is not open. Let us not hide behind our fingers.

"Girls can't". OK, there is Sarah Attar who competed in the London 2012 edition, and there were others as well - notably Wajdan Shahrakhani the judo player who participated in the same edition. But get this, there was someone on X (formerly twitter) who described these women as "عاهرات الاولمبياد" (literally the Olympics sluts). Kind reminder - this was only 12 years ago and barely. Now, are you going to tell me a society goes from ultra-conservative to Liberal in this short span of time?

You can watch the film here. I still think though that what was shown in the film are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Saudi tourism, between messy and Messi

So Saudi Arabia is very serious about its tourism. Every other day in whatever online publication I read I see an article about tourism in Saudi Arabia. Some hyperventilating others keeping things more real. But the fact that Saudi bagged so many stars as ambassadors is truly a sign that they are very serious.

To be clear, yes, there are many interesting places to visit in Saudi Arabia, I know so because I was there in 2002-3 and went totally off the beaten track and saw wonderful things. It does get very cold at night in the desert by the way, so you might need to layer up. But all this being said, do people want to come to Saudi Arabia? Apparently I read that a total of 77.84 Million people did visit in 2022 (here), of course how many of those in the Hajj and Omra as opposed to regular tourists. Inbound tourism according to the same source was 16.64 million people. Already in 2022, religious tourism was 37%, visiting friends and relatives was 31%, business was 10%... So "leisure" and "other" were 18% only (here).

Now, what the kingdom is doing is basically replicating the success of Dubai. The #mydubai campaign was a total smash hit, so KSA went with #ShareYourSaudi and #السعودية_بعيونك the campaign's headline is "beyond what you think". Also Saudi Arabia is opening the first alcohol shop for non-Muslim diplomats (OK, this disregards the major bootleg and black market alcohol market already present there) a first in the kingdom since the 1952 ban.

After Ronaldo, who plays football for a local club, Messi is the second major boost for the kingdom in terms of international ambassadors. And yes, the star and his family are going all out promoting places to go and things to be seen in the kingdom.

Would this entice people to come visit KSA as tourists? I feel there is something very messy (pardon the pun) in the strategy. There is a full film by the way, watch it here.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

About that IAA Lebanese Chapter Hall of Fame event...

So the time has come. Yesterday was the launch event of the IAA Lebanese Chapter Hall Of Fame. An event, literally, years in the making - between the malaise Lebanon has gone through, and then the pandemic, and whereas originally programmed to happen on November 25 2023, the events which unfolded in Gaza in Palestine, postponed it till Jan. 27, 2024.

To be clear, the induction is not a easy thing. As a matter of fact, rules stipulate that the "induction into the IAA Lebanon Hall of Fame is reserved for Lebanese men and women, either living or deceased, from the ranks of advertisers, agencies, media and communication organizations, and academic institutions. They should have distinguished themselves in the advertising industry, have had careers spanning at least 35 years, have contributed to the development of advertising and its reputation in Lebanon or the Middle East, have made significant volunteer efforts outside the workplace particularly within the IAA (International Advertising Association) or the AA (Advertising Association). To be eligible, individuals must be retired from their advertising careers."

Still, this year, due to the "backlog" 17 people made the cut. Something that will decrease substantially with the years to come - I heard the original number was 45 which was culled to the 17 in question. But truth be told, the ambiance of the evening was truly one of camaraderie and chumminess.

Note that the communication industry in Lebanon rarely meets en masse. And since the event was not one of "competitive nature" (i.e. an "awards show"), basically everyone was there to enjoy themselves and "let their hair down" (interestingly, some of the women had their hair up but I digress). So, seeing so many admen and adwomen in the same room, basically at their best behavior and enjoying themselves was in itself a lovely sight.

The IAA also had the kindness to invite me. Well, tickets would usually set you back 100 USD or 150 for the VIP seating and considering this was taking place at the Casino du Liban, the whole setting was synonymous of the price tag. IAA Lebanon president Naji Boulos and Joe Ayache (one of the former presidents of the chapter) both in their black tie attire really made everyone welcome all while attending to the nitty gritty details of such a well-orchestrated event.

The inductees this year were:  Mustapha Assad (founder of Publi-Graphics), Walid Azzi (Founder of ArabAd), Farid Chehab (founder of H&C Leo Burnett), Jean-Claude Boulos (Founder of Inter-Regies), Antoine Choueiri (Founder of Choueiri Group), Samir Fares (IAA Worldwide President Elect 1988), Bernard Fattal (CEO Fattal Group), Erwin Guerrovich (Founder of Intermarkets), Alain Khouri (Founder of Impact BBDO), Akram Miknas (Founder of Promoseven), Edmond Moutran (Founder of Memac Ogilvy), Ramsay G. Najjar (IAA Lebanon chapter president 1995-1997), Fouad Pharaon (First IAA member from Lebanon), Andre Rizk (Founder of Publirizk and Rizk Advertising and associates), Ibrahim Tabet (Founder of Strategies), Mounir Takchi (Founder of TAMAM), Ghassan Tueni (CEO AnNahar).

Actually, considering I am one of those who dig deep into advertising and has a substantial archive, the evening struck a major emotional chord. Ask anyone from the "new crop" about this and that name and you are met with a blank stare. Which is, of course, a pity, because the person in question was someone risking his (sorry to be chauvinistic) life and crossing from East to West Beirut to get the films for the AnNahar presses under the shelling, or such other person was kidnapped when going to the studio to record a radio jingle. So the ad industry does owe its own existence to many, many people who sadly are not top-of-mind in terms of awareness for a newer flock of people.

Now of course, how do you actually do an event when your audience plans events for a living? I am sure the IAA Lebanon Chapter must have thought long and hard to come up with the answer considering who was showing up to the event.

Long, long ago when the first "Phenix de la Pub" event was held in 1995 (the defunct event to elect the best ads of the Lebanese industry), Josiane Boulos (yes, sister of current IAA Lebanese Chapter president Naji!) who was co-organizing the event and presenting it said: "the best thing about this evening? It's that it is about to finish". So you can imagine the stress related when your audience works in the communication field.

So the answer the IAA Lebanon came up with was a set of mini-musical numbers which summed up the advertising spirit of the decades starting with the 70s. Lovely interludes between the short speeches (no, unlike the Academy Awards there were no orchestra to cut you short but still most attendees stuck by very very short formats). Sure, the event was not without its moments - Josiane Boulos barely holding herself together as she received her late father's trophy (Jean-Claude Boulos), one attendee sending a speech to introduce an inductee by video with a live horse neighing behind him (which left people at my table incredibly puzzled), one person introducing an inductee ended up praising himself rather than the inductee (turns out the measure of success of the inductee was that he worked with him, the presenter). 

But the evening was truly a suave, very tightly-run and well-oiled machine considering the enormity of the event. And in a moment of self-indulgence calling two inductees "friends" (the late Walid Azzi and the wonderful Farid Chehab) made me giddy with excitement. Of course, the traces the inductees have left in the advertising industry - in Lebanon and the Middle East - were enormous so having them in the hall of fame is truly where they belong.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Suyool - the uncola of banking

Just to be clear, I am usually against the "anti" positioning. Beirut Beer did its whole idea as an anti-Almaza so much it forgot its own positive points as a brand. The only time it truly worked was how 7UP labelled itself as the Uncola - pitting itself against Pepsi and Coca-Cola for a crowd that did not subscribe to either (with a brilliant campaign to boot - which included hallucinogenic and surreal art). Which brings us to Suyool App (not to be confused with the Bank of Beirut Soyoula program which was launched long long ago and most likely now defunkt). The ad is nice - it shows that this is an app that works as a bank including withdrawals and sending money etc. Most likely this is like a local Venmo. What makes the ad interesting is the "ma tbannek" line at the end. It has the pun of "ma tpannek" (do not panic which is one of the verbs in foreign languages used in Arabic) but also "do not use banks" - it also includes "shadde" and "kasra" two Arabic attributes specific to the language. See the full ad here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Touba: Ahmed Fahmy is supposed to be funny

See (here) for the full ad. Look on paper I think this was supposed to be funny. First a background: the ad aims to introduce the real estate game-changing payment plan "Touba" as the solution for the problem that everyone could relate to in their own life. Egyptians, for the first time, did not need to get stuck in a harsh installment plan, and instead got all the flexibility in the world to divide the full price of a property over multiple payments however they see fit, without any control from the real estate developer Madinet Masr.

So far so good. Then comes the ad. Ahmed Fahmy sells out to pay the installments of his new summer house, first dressed as a parrot, then accepting selfies, then having to play the bear the next day. All of this of course to insure that his house is paid for. The ad is supposed to be funny, but - like the English version which captions it - something gets lost in the translation (and not as beautifully as Sofia Coppola's). Indeed, something seems amiss. 

As I said it is supposed to be haha funny but it ends up being, tiré par les cheveux for some reason. I am sure they tried though. And getting Ahmed Fahmy is not cheap so the ad really cost an arm and a leg.

If all ads have moved digital. Where are they?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

All right, my sample could be flawed so statistically not reliable. But, what's with all ads having "moved digital" - where may I ask are they? Normally my instagram should be an indicator: Whenever I open it, and as I scroll through stories, ads should be appearing there. Are they? Well, there Massimo Dutti (oddly I am offered the women's section of the sale, go figure!), then a couple of local shoe brands, one major discount outlet in Kaslik, and ultimately when I go and see images Rectangle Jaune seems to be on sale.

Well, truth be told either it is me and my feed or there are barely any ads to speak of digitally. Wait, maybe like all the cool kids they have migrated to Tiktok (where I am not truth be told). Seriously though, what's with everyone assuming that all ads are digital, where are those ads? I still see accounts selling their items online - outlet this and discounted brand that. We all know that this what shopping has been like since the pandemic. Sure, footfall does exist in actual stores but shopping online has been the norm for many. 

I am not saying there are no ads online in Lebanon, but there seems to be an over-projection as to how many. Perhaps the Gulf is in better shape than the Lebanese market - after all they have more disposable income (I hear that in Kuwait you have a 2-hour queue in front of Cartier - and that's the upscale jeweler in case you are confused!). But again, something seems fishy on the local scene. I guess it all goes back to how much people are willing to spend. That the crisis is ongoing in Lebanon is a fact. Say you are shopping for a turtleneck, you will most likely see items from China (if you dress Large you ask for the XXL to compensate for the size difference). Will you see ads for them? Unlikely, but there are shops online that specialize in such items (said turtleneck cost 10 USD at this point).

Once more, I feel there is a confusing element here. Maybe there is enough customers without attracting more ads. Maybe "outlet" stores have enough people dropping by without having to display their wares - I do see ads for such stores, but these are mainly in the line of "new kids outfits have dropped" (and you see a selection on hangers being displayed in a 5-7 interval). Or it could be the Shein effect - people are ordering direct from shein (but considering this requires a credit card not sure how this works - although there are sites that could order on your behalf and you "pay on delivery"). 

Maybe what am asking is - there are ads here and here. Mostly homegrown (meaning shot by the client itself) probably by some skeletal team that does everything from shooting to editing to posting to the caption to the tags and the whole shebang. So where do "agencies" fall in this? Remember, the companies that used to spend like nobody's business - banks and car agencies are no longer in the market. No one wants to hear of banks that robbed people blind and no one has enough cash for new models of cars. So the main actors of the field have pseudo-vanished.

So I am not sure where agencies stand on this particularly that online ads need no booking or price negotiating and that most companies seem to do them in-house. It all feels like a paradox.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Yes, the world is on fire (and yes, we are still buying shoes)

The world is on fire but we're still buying shoes - (here) by Alec Leach. I guess we are all aware of how destructive our shopping habits are to the planet - and we all turn a blind eye. I was reminded of the title of the book when I saw the two ads above, both for shops in Lebanon (one focused on athleisure, the other a very high end concept store) and this is not a hate message for either of the two shops mind you, it just hit me when I saw that many shoes in the hands of the models.

I know this is total hypocrisy coming from someone in the advertising/communication industry. Pushing people to try/buy our products is one of the three main pillars and objectives for any advertising (here), however, as a consumer am very thrifty. Well, sometimes (most of the time!) literally thrifty - meaning I get my stuff, second hand (Depot Vente is a mine of beauties - here) or deadstock (Vintage Something is exceptional - here).

And just buying something sends me into a tailspin of guilt. I mean that. Not only do I follow the rule of one-in-one-out, meaning if I am to buy a new shirt one has to leave my closet, usually either directly donated to someone who needs it (considering how well I treat my stuff, they are usually in pristine shape) or put in any of the Fabricaid containers (here). But truth be told, if I am going to apply the 90-90 rule (am I going to wear this item in the next 90 days and have I worn it in the last 90 days?) then most of my closet is up for tossing. I work from home and most of my trips are just to the pharmacy or to the shops, so basically if I am to apply this rule then little is going to remain.

Still, I am sure most of the readers are familiar with the concept of "Retail Therapy". Basically, when one is having a bad day, or bad patch, or up against circumstances one has little choice in, such person resorts to the only thing they do have control over: Their wallet. So they start buying things (thing that most of the time they do not need) or remediate by doing impulse buying or the like. 

Which brings us to the exchange in the first episode of friends between Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Monica (Courtney Cox):
Rachel: They're my new "I don't need a job, I don't need my parents, I've got great boots" boots.
Monica: How did you pay for them?
Rachel: Uh, credit card.
Monica: And who pays for that?
Rachel: Um, my father.

Actually, the one who pays for that is the planet.

I think what am trying to say is, I have come to differentiate between the "want" and the "need". There are many items I look at online and want - they're beautiful, well made, and generally like the rest of my tastes expensive (that they end up being Hermes is a mystery however) - but the need is what really makes me go and look for things. Due to a combination of diabetes and off-the-chart stress in 2023 I have, again, lost weight (to quote a friend of mine in the US when I told him how much I weight right now, "Tarek, you cannot exist with such a number!") so my pants which were 27 inches have become too voluminous for me, hence "the hunt for the (no, not Red October but rather) fitting pants" with waist about 24 (please, it is rude to laugh).

So, the world is on fire, and I still buying pants.

Sue me.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Hussein Madi (RIP) questioned it best...

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on an invitation to a Hussein Madi exhibition during the 1975-90 war

We have lost Hussein Madi - on January 17th 2024. That he was an immense and prolific talent is not even a question. His career spanned several decades. Apparently in 2018 he said "considering the magnitude of death and destruction that besieges us, I am starting to wonder: Why am I presenting art in front of all this death? It is the question of purposefulness creeping though the cracks of ruin".

 This is a question I seriously ask myself. "Why bother?"... Recently a former student contacted me asking about Ph.D. studies and the like. I told him it all depended on his master's and what he wrote as thesis. He showed me the thesis in question, and my jaw dropped. The work did not comply with any academic standard known as thesis, no university would accept it in the student's dossier, and it was full of quasi nonsense ideas (with "statistics" based on very very biased selection of interviewees). 

I gently told him that, unless he rewrites his thesis based on the international nomenclature of what is known academically as "thesis", and unless he did "select all and delete" the part labelled "statistics" (he never took a course in probability and statistics mind you!) no self-respecting university would accept him. Of course the joke is that he had a very high grade from the university in Lebanon he presented his work to. Go figure.

No, no, I am not going in tangents. I am trying to say that an advisor who is incapable of writing an academic thesis is supervising thesis for students and setting up to fail, just so that he can fulfill his credit quota to remain a full-time teacher at a university in Lebanon. The advisor has a Ph.D. himself mind you.

Why bother? Honestly why bother. How do you tell such a person that he is being harmful to the students. How can people who no longer read and whose last book/article/paper they read goes back to when they themselves were students, be responsible in educating a new generation of students. At Epica Awards where I am a juror a question popped up, "do we consider an instagram post as a print?" - my answer was simple "yes, just move on with the times!". 

I mean as a teacher I allow references that come from Instagram and Tiktok. Yes that Instagram and that Tiktok! If you research "percentage of fraud in academic research" you'll be aghast as to the number. So why not use someone creating new content that could match the thesis (and mind you, anything from urban greenery to upcycling to fashion theory etc... are all present on Instagram - all you have to do is just search!).

So here we are, teachers at universities are incompetent, advertisers only know how to say "el client heik baddo" (this is what the client wants), and the list continues. And among this "ruin", I am writing. The purpose of the writing remains unknown, truth be told. But keeping it in is not helping either.