Friday, September 29, 2023

70 years of Range Rover or how to top an iconic ad

OK I have no way of knowing how official this ad is, even if the still image does come from a moving ad. Still, I could not but be impressed - I mean how can you top an iconic ad? Namly the Range Rover ad "The British have always driven on the wrong side of the road". Please note that the original moving ad is simply the new Range Rover simply pulling up to the image and positioning itself this way. Once more, I have no idea who did the ad (I saw it on instagram on a post celebrating 70 years of Range Rover but there was no official logo at the end of it). Still, I think this is a work of beauty.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Chupa Chups goes AI, and for once it works.

OK so apart from the fact that I am not a techie, ads that rely - almost solely - on technical gimmicks (hacking data, etc...) leave me very cold. Whenever I encounter such ideas I meet them with a shrug. AI is starting to become part of the bread and butter of the ad industry, and apart from results that seem - at best - corny, there is still plenty of effort to be done for me to be seduced and change my mind. Which is why I found myself in love with the new Chupa Chups campaign. It is basically AI based, but the twist - is that it is seen through the major market for the lollipops: Children. Which is why AI actually works. The visuals make absolutely no sense, but this is exactly the beauty of it. It's like being at the Dali museum - with imagination running wild. The end result is a jumble of - too many incoherent things. I experienced this with my nephews and niece. They'd tell you a fantastical story which has no meaning (but to them) but you cannot but be captured by it. So yes, for once AI makes sense!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

After the crash - on memory

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a very strict way of organizing my digital files. So nothing is labelled xxny7 or what not but rather "Ksara - Valentine's 2023" or something like that. So looking through my archives, which I often do if you follow the blog or any of my other digital presences, is super easy. Yet, for a long time now I have been hit with a series of unfortunate events (a la Lemony Snicket). Anything that could go wrong did do wrong.

The latest event in the series involves me waking up the other day to find my PC broken in half. It never happened before, I have never seen it happen before, yet here it was - my PC was broken in half. Before I got to copy any file on the desktop, the screen crashed. Apparently the technician told my brother that the hard drive was kaput to boot. Which means all my 2023 archive was lost. Including the soundtrack of my new film which only had 11 seconds to cut before it was final - considering the soundtrack is 2 and a half hours long you can imagine my dismay.

Still, yesterday I went through the gargantuan task of reassembling said archive from the very few people I talk to via Whatsapp. Personal family photos were shared with my brother - so I got to download these again. And considering that usually the bulk goes to my nephews, and with them growing older, so there was much less photos taken this year. I lost the photos that were taken by my nephew who is an excellent photographer mind you - which I had saved in a special file. 

Well, it helps I rarely attend events so basically the very few photos of me in places were recouped as they were sent to a friend. Actually, come to think about it, I only speak to about 3 people via WhatsApp - my brother (my other brother phones rather than writes) and 2 friends. So basically I got the photos back from the said convos. 

This has been a very bad year business wise, so basically very little "work" was lost. I think the only silver lining was that the major humongous 1994-2022 archive was already saved in a double copy on 2 external hard drives - you know all my work (artistic, advertising, personal creations, tidbits, archival images, family photos and the whole lot.... Just the folder "making of" which is the file which saves how my artistic work was done runs through hundreds of Gigabites).

So basically, yesterday, after all the snooping, downloading, this and that, about 95% of the archive of 2023 was rescued. No mean feat. It helps that I run a blog, so basically all ads I shot this year (or most) were already on the blog waiting to be downloaded. But all of this exercise, made me think about "memory" and what remains. 

Not to stereotype, but for a long time, major photo studios in Lebanon were held by Armenians (even mobile ones were at the Burj square to offer instant photos to people). So my brother labelled me once "Artine" (a common Armenian name) because I used to take photos maddeningly at family events or gatherings. Yet, when our father passed away, both of my brothers wanted his photos - especially those taken with their kids.

As my nephews and niece grow older, there is less interest for them to be taken in photos. But, in each of our houses as a family there is one special photo that was taken of the three of them when they were kids. People who see the image do the oohing and aahing etc.... Except the image has a secret - it is not real. When I was supposed to take it, the kids being kids, when two of them stood still, the third would start fidgeting. And when the fidgeting one would stand still, one of the other two would start moving. So in the end I took a photo of two of them and inserted the third digitally. 

Maybe I am just saying that even our best memories are just reconstructed in our minds. We just build them up and hype them and embellish them, just to pretend we had something to hang on to. Which is both, sad and beautiful at once. 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Milk Innovative gives Fork The Concept a cheeky branding

The other day I was in Saifi Village and I saw a new shop open - Fork The Concept. Something about the logo called me and I had to do a double take. And there it was! A very very subtle gimmick right in front of my eyes. Look at the logo people... The O of "Fork" is open on top.... (To make which letter?) and the top of the R is turned backwards to make (again, which letter?). Genius and so so suave.

A small detective work led me to know that Milk Innovative were behind this smart work (disclosure: I have worked in the past with Milk Innovative but obviously not on this project). OK, just to be even handed, I am not madly in love with the selling line "eccentric living" which whereas it says exactly what Fork The Concept does, it says so bluntly runs counter to what the logo does.

Still, not to rain on anyone's parade, I love the logo. Really well-done!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

So apparently, a diamond is not forever

Here's a small tidbits in economics - the scarcer the good, the higher the price.

So technically emeralds should be higher in price than diamonds due to scarcity.

Enter De Beers and "a diamond is forever" campaign, which basically created the modern engagement ring in the process.

So basically, via marketing not economics, diamonds skyrocketed in value and price. Well, not anymore.

It seems diamond prices are in freefall, due to many reasons. The first is that lab grown diamonds are entering the market in full force. Considering a lot of diamonds have politically questionable origins, well, when you know your diamond is coming from a lab all ethical reservations seem to fall. Also, it seems millennials are diverting their spending more towards events and travel as opposed to jewelry and expensive objects. 

Sure, no one is talking that diamond trading giants are going bankrupt, but apparently prices are in such freefall that India, the place where 90% of diamonds are cut and polished is giving heavy signals for mines to decrease their productions. Also Alrosa and De Beers are both taking precautionary measures - the former stopping all sales, the latter allowing customers to refuse stones they were technically bound to buy.

Sure, if you take the Alrosa logic, you play with supply, ergo the demand will increase along with the price (mind you this brings us back to the beginning and to the fallacy of the price in itself had it not been for the De Beers marketing campaign). 

But hey, they'll always be a girl's best friend. Or a Shirley Bassey enduring gem.

Friday, September 15, 2023

AlAbdalla nukes Zaatar w Zeit on its home turf

Remember the Sandwich w Noss vs Beit Al Mokhtar saga (where Sandwich w Noss acting very petty? here), well we have a new saga developing between Zaatar w Zeit and AlAbdalla. Right bang on top of the ZWZ branch, AlAbdalla announces that "the fanciest chicken in right across" (where AlAbdalla branch is facing ZWZ on the highway). Now seriously, I hope ZWZ comes up with a funny/witty answer other than complaining to Facebook as Sandwich w Noss did. But hey, at least some life on the advertising scene in Lebanon! Do note that Kababji previously took the same spot and advertised above Zaatar w Zeit, when I notified them they answered very smartly with their selling line "love, regardless" (here).

Sendwave joins the club

So here's another service for sending money... At this point the whole economy is being supported by them. What's with the banks financial crash and it wiping people's assets with it, now is the time to deal with different methods and means. So Sendwave has to already fight already existing and well-established brands who already have people's credibility and trust (something banks sorely lack at this point).

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Securite Assurance gets it

"More than covered. Valued" - whomever came up with this deserves respect. They understand what people want from insurance. They know that people seek to be treated as individuals, not just numbers or cases and really want this one-on-one connection where the other person is actually listening to them. Very good. Very very good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Beirut Beer goes Mexican

Interesting, from what I read in their reviews the taste is a fiasco. But still the ad goes "the first Mexican from Lebanon". Obviously Beirut Beer is capitalizing on the Mexican taste beer they came up with... I could see the ad riffing on the old telenovelas that sweeped Lebanon (maybe the younger generation is not too familiar with them but am sure they heard their parents talk about them), but eventually Beirut Beer focused on the line instead.  

Monday, September 11, 2023

Solet Tapis gets ready for winter for the budget-friendly

On the downlow but always there. Solet Tapis gets ready for winter. "September renewal"... Nothing too fancy, but always present especially with people being price-sensitive at this point and wanting the maximum for their limited budget. The idea is that they will rehabilitate old carpets for people who send theirs during September. Once more, the Lebanese are overdrawn financially (don't believe the Instagram hype about everyone being out at clubs or in Batroun or what not, people are suffering and it is real). 

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Malik's bookshop goes back to school.

Hmmm not sure what Malik's was aiming at, but his whole campaign centers around "mahlouli" which is Arabic for "settled" or "the result is done". The idea is no matter what the question is this is the answer because - either they have ChatGPT or alternatively they sell the books for it (with answers in tow I presume). There is even an English version which honestly does not work at all. The back to school campaign are very very meager this year (as with everything else in the market) so at least Malik's tried.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Lebanese Forces annual mass misses the mark this year

I have previously disclosed that at the agency where I was we had the Lebanese Forces account where we had to create an annual mass ad yearly (thankfully, I had a major hit back then). And also I was always very partial as to how they know their audience and what works for them (see 2022, and 2021 which also contains a mix of previous editions). This year, something is off. "For liberty to remain ours" - on paper the idea is good, but think about it: it has nothing to do with the annual mass or with the martyrs or promises anything substantial (compare it to the classic "ta tdall jrasna tde2" - so as for our bells to remain ringing - a rallying cry for the Christians during the war). I think there is just a very "vague" element there. Maybe if they promised something concrete, or if they went back to the ads that worked, they'll know it is about honoring the dead one way or the other.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Al Rifai goes back to the airport....

Photo source
Al Rifai and the airport... the saga continues. They previously lost to Castania (here), then reacted in a petty way (here), Castania did not care (here). Now it seems they are back at the airport, with an ad right next to it. OK, so I said it before "drives you nuts" was one of the earliest selling lines in Lebanon (here), which they seem to have hankered back on (nut/not)... Is this a good ad? These days with the spending being so minimum low any ad is "visible", but visible does not equate good.

IAA Lebanon chapter is launching its hall of fame

The IAA Lebanon Chapter is launching its hall of fame. "This annual event, which starts this year, is a long term project,” says Naji Boulos, President of IAA, Lebanon Chapter. “It will allow us to reflect on the industry's past achievements but also invites us to gaze optimistically towards its future.”
As per the IAA Lebanon Chapter, the criteria for election are: 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.
From what I understood there are already 40 nominees of which 15 this year will make the cut. Boulos tells me that next year, there will be a smaller crop but this year seems studded. The council of judges will meet on the September 14th to issue list of this year's final inductees. And a gala dinner at Casino du Liban will take place on November 25th, 2023. Watch this space as they say.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Betway Sports and Andy Roddick on the serve

So Betway Sports and Andy Roddick (their international tennis ambassador) team up for a funny ad. Roddick who has quit the courts eleven years back still has the tennis obsession... And it translates into his day to day life - he treats the fly squatter like a racket, the grilling for is used for a serve, a trophy cup holds popcorn (side note, this has been done prior in the heartwarming ad by Barilla with Steffi Graf - here), he signs an autograph on his neighbor's newspaper, and - this bit does not translate into Arabic - a car argument goes "you're way out of line" to which Roddick replies "no, it was on the line" (again translating this gimmick into Arabic is impossible). Bonus points for their line "advantage served" by the way.

On the whole, the ad serves (sorry for the pun!) and English or Arabic (apart from the above) it conveys a sense of cheerfulness. See the ad here.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Once more - c'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire....


Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

On January 31rst 2007, on the six post of the blog which was incredibly young, I wrote the following words: 

"C'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire, qu'il faut fermer sa gueule.... It's not because we don't have anything to say that we ought to shut our mouths. I say this because 99% of all blogs abide by this rule. Hopefully this one does not. But let's be honest, most blogs are narcissistic exercises of ego-massage, whose principal function is merely to convey their owner's non-happening life and less-than-interesting opinions. Again, I do hope this one is different. The reason that took me so long to start a blog is 1) My inherent fear of technology, 2) The idea that what I have to say could kill people out of boredom (Is this considered second degree murder?) and 3) Oh well, I always thought email was more personal (Even when sent to a list of people)."

Lately I have noticed I am publishing with a bit less frequency than before. The reason - and correct me if I am mistaken - I have not seen any ads worth mentioning. Not that it is an oddity, but lately it does seem that - really - I could not see anything exploding in my eyes that said "yes, this is it" or "who on earth approved this?".... Maybe I am being biased, maybe there are indeed ads worth seeing but they are hiding so well that I am not able to see them.
But truly, I feel that somehow, we are on the lowest common denominator. I said it prior and I will say it again - in 2005 you needed about 600 billboards for your campaign to stand out, these days three ads on the highway does it for you. 
I do think it is something specific to Lebanon, as other countries seem to be winning awards (even if said campaigns were engineered in Lebanon by badly paid creatives) left and right. Which means that the GCC markets are thriving. 
I know, I know, I seem to be contradicting myself as every so often I say this campaign is good or this one breathtaking. But on the whole, something is severely off with the market. And sometimes I am just ashamed to "c'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire, qu'il faut ouvrir sa gueule".

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

String beans, canned tuna, and other war traumas

From the series "Los Desastres de la Guerra" by Tarek Chemaly

I think I said this anecdote prior in my blog but heaven help me I know not where. Not far from my house (I live in a village mind you), are three shops. All operated and owned by families, so basically, the welcoming is always warm, and the people friendly and there is almost no difference in pricing. So when my mother asked me why I chose to be a patron of one of the specific stores, my answer was "because it faces the sun". Which is as idiosyncratic as they come in terms of answers.
But here's the logic - shops that are away from the sun are damp. Dampness reminds me of the shelter. Shelter is synonymous to war. And war is an open trauma.
Last year I was having a talk with my brother, and he said that it is impossible for him to have canned tuna. In case you did not know, canned products - tuna or luncheon meat or spread cheese were staples in shelter menus. Which reminds me of why I dislike string beans.
The Lebanese war has caused thousands upon thousands of people to be displaced. Many lost homes permanently, so one day - the year is vague to me but it must be early to mid-eighties - a knock came on our door. Do note, we lived on the 7th floor of a building. The knocker was a very old lady. In dirty rags, unclean hair, and obviously homeless. She asked for food and mother gave her string beans in Arab bread (like pita bread but larger). The woman sat on the stairs between the two floors and began eating her food by hand. I am not sure why I had to go out of the house and use the stairs but that image is etched in my memory (I think there was one of those ubiquitous power cuts and I had to use the stairs to go down as the elevator was not working). Which brings us to me avoiding string beans when possible.
Below is a post that dates back to 2013. Strange how much it still resonates today.

Originally published on October 1, 2013:

War is not over. It's a fact. It will never be. Today, in a slip of a tongue my mother said "in case I have to flee" - an awkward small sentence that could have gone unnoticed. But she said it, did not pay attention to it, and went on. But for me there was a sudden freeze frame. The exact word she said was "ehrob" - a word which could be interpreted as "run away", "flee", "save myself".
There she was, a woman secure financially, surrounded by her family in more ways than one, whose tasks have been brought down to a minimum which keeps her mentally and physically active without anything that might overburden her old age. And - subconsciously - she is still stuck in a loop. A loop that should have been finished since 1990 when the "Lebanese civil war" ended.
My first reflex was one of upset - where was she going to run flee? why would she?... And frankly, there was this cynic dismissal, whereas I did not articulate it, I surely thought it. But as I composed myself, I sat there thinking about it. In many ways, she is just a specimen of a generation. They're the ones who explored the Automatique cafe (Idriss) in downtown Beirut, the heyday of the supposed "Paris of the Orient" (what a fallacy!) and they are the ones who have had the dream of normalcy shattered - even if the war had been brewing for a long time under the champagne bubbles of the Phoenicia Hotel before it eventually exploded in 1975.
What struck me the most, was how similar she and I are. What I first dismissed as an outmoded reflex, soon dawned on me how ingrained it is in all of us. I was born on the onset of the war, and so this Capharnaum was all I knew. It was fun in a macabre way, but it was also the only paradigm and frame of reference. Not only this, in 2006, I got stuck in the US during the war which had erupted in my absence. A trip that was supposed to last two weeks ended up being two months long. Add to this that for different reasons - in 2003 and 2010 - I had to change residence twice in record time (once moving from one country to another and another time from one city to another).
And it was those war reflexes that saved me. Whereas everyone around me was panicking as to these swift transitions, I was already doing mental checklists - something you have to do in times of war - organizing things so very efficiently and taking all emotional components out the equation. Naturally, the full blow strikes you where the anomaly of such situations subsides, and this is when the psychological aftermath starts. But when you are still in your adrenalin rush, it all feels so peaceful, so normal dare I say.
And now I realize why my travel carry on luggage is almost set to go despite the fact that it has been a while since I traveled. In that luggage I keep - for reasons obscure to myself until now - a minimum survival kit: Anything from a good pair of jeans, to a change of shirts and socks, some cash and even a travel nail kit.
After all... What if I have to "ehrob" myself?

Sunday, August 20, 2023

What the Sohat ad tells us about today's advertising industry.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
To say I collect old ads would be the understatement of the century. I once watched a 3 hour tv show on a youtube channel merely to extract the advertising breaks. So when the Sohat ad fell into my lap the other day - the iconic 70s ad with the small boy trying to catch the bottle - I was elated.
The issue? The issue is that by no means the ad was brilliant, or very creative, or what we call today stands-out-from-the-crowd. Truth be told, the ad was ... Let's admit it, average. Long time ago I was asked by Ghida Younes on her show "baddak totla3 3al television" (so you want to be on TV) about why such ads remain in our collective memory when they are far from award winning. The answer was very simple: You don't remember the ad, you remember what the ad reminds you of. 
I know it sounds confusing but it is not. You truly do not remember the ad, but you remember "Oh we were watching it when our neighbor came and offered us ice cream", "oh I was watching it when the girl next door winked a me", "this was on television when the big explosion happened in Achrafieh" etc - because you remembrance of anything is tied to an emotional state or event.
The other factor? The campaigns used to run not just for months, but literally years back to back. So eventually what they lacked in super creativity they compensated with hammering people with the same ad over and over.
In a world where all ads seem disposable and transient, it is truly nice to go back to something you know it worked. Something that does not start with "we gather 7 influencers to..." or "after gathering data about drivers". A tiny gem of an ad - one where Tante Blanche did offer me ice cream.
Please watch it here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

What's in a name? Twitter, X, Liz Sarkissian, Iman

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I know am not the first person to write about Twitter becoming X. A lot of people tangled themselves in pretzels to explain how X works/does not work as a brand, how X is a brand/not a brand, how X will become/will not become a super app, how X can/cannot be patented and the list continues.

The good news? X is here. The bad news, everyone keeps referring to X as "formerly Twitter". Well, if you are going to change your name, why bother keep calling you by your former name (I know the trans community is very sensitive about bringing up their "dead names") but this is Elon Musk we speak of, so any comparison to trans people is not really appreciated.

So what does this have to do with the actress Iman? Well, her original name is Liz Sarkissian - she highly intelligent, polyglot (8 languages), studied pharmacy and what have you - so when she wanted to launch her career in Egypt, she changed her stage name to Iman (which means faith). Until it turns out everyone kept calling her Liz Sarkissian. So the anecdote (and sorry I have no original reference to it) is that a friend of hers suggested she'd just put her name as "Iman, formerly Liz Sarkissian". Which obviously reminds me of X (formerly Twitter) in this case.

But truth be told, old names have a way of sticking around. When I used to go to work by bus, I used to pass "Damascus road" daily, specifically the stretch called "Becahra El Khoury" (it's near Sodeco if you want to know). At one point I just had to ask the driver as to why it was called so. Apparently there was a statue of our former president there, which got dismantled during the war, but eventually the name stuck. Another example? Cell phone carriers in Lebanon have changed names since at least 20 years. From Libancell to MTCTouch (then just touch), and from Cellis to Alfa. Yet, the major headquarters of the latter are still being referred to as "Cellis" despite the name change. Well, no one even bothers with "Alfa formerly known as Cellis", just Cellis would do.

So my question is - if X is going to hold as name, not sure why everyone keeps calling it by its other name.  

Friday, August 11, 2023

Persil (featuring Nancy Ajram) vs. Nescafe - Compare and Contrast

So this is super interesting. Remember how I already spoke how Persil and Nancy Ajram are match made in branding heaven (here). Well, after a single one-off in Lebanon in January, now the gates of the campaign have been wide open (were are in August mind you!). So apart from the late catch-up, there's also a very strange element: For their comeback Persil decided to reuse the very famous Nescafe line.

Wait, what? Yes, Persil eventually used "sa7se7" - wake up - which has long been the domain of Nescafe. And no, I am not imagining it, the internet is full of images with the famous line. So how come the mix up? Beats me. Honest, they could have used any line (or no line damn it when you use someone as famous as Ajram). But nope, they had to to do a major misstep. Which honestly makes no sense.