Sunday, September 20, 2020

One Act, normal humans at their best

Why is it some things work, others not? Take One Act - they define themselves as:

"Let's take the time to thank the unsung heroes of Lebanon whose #OneAct has made a huge difference during these challenging times. Let's make sure that their kindness doesn't go unnoticed. Whether it is supporting people during the economic crisis, helping through COVID-19 or providing relief after the explosion, the ordinary people of Lebanon are taking action every day to help the country back on its feet." Apparently they are an offshoot of Search For Common Ground (An NGO working to end the violent conflict in Lebanon through conflict transformation. It’s our purpose — our call to action.)

The One Act ad left me gasping for breath (see here), just normal people talking about other normal people who stepped up to the plate and rose up to their human values. Humans helping humans in their time of need specifically after the August 4 Beirut explosion, without fanfare, without overdoing things. Or to go back to the Atlanta Games Nike Air zoom launch ad: "tell us what us, tell uh s what it does, and don't play the national anthem while you do it" - except what these people did, was heart-wrenching.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Those Unica ads must mean something, right?

Well, in a shining example of what advertising is in 2020 in Lebanon, please meet Unica. The two ads are not a campaign mind you despite sharing a common visual style (one went online in July, one yesterday). OK I could, with difficulty swallow the one about friendship. The newer one about the passage of time is totally unpalatable.

But again, in Lebanon, in 2020, this is what advertising is. Throw it and see if it sticks. Concepts, strategy, and anything else than a visual element (even that is not always there!) are disposed of. Of course the ads could be brilliant and am the one not seeing it. Who knows, even as a juror in two international festivals, perhaps advertising has grown too smart for me (Insert man shrugging emoji here).

Monday, September 14, 2020

Second hand: Is there a paradigm shift in Lebanese shopping?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Are the Lebanese finally changing their consumption habits? Signs are exposing cracks in that picture perfect way the Lebanese liked to portray themselves. A middle class that just spent four days in Turkey, got clothes there on the cheap, and eats at McDonald's while eyeing the new Zara collection as they drive in a Nissan they pay on monthly installments.

For several years, I used to dress exclusively from Souk El Ahad, or the low-income Sunday market (which actually was held on Saturday and Sunday hence the misnomer) - and where I would get second hand clothes. I usually went with a French friend, his girlfriend and his brother. It was really wonderful to get things at such discounted prices. Sometimes we would strike gold, like that Dries Van Noten shirt, and other times it was the thrill of discovery. When I moved from Beirut in September 2010, almost all the clothes in question were donated.

But to many, the idea of buying second hand was a total taboo. Which is why my praise for Depot Vente is still enormous, as Nawal showed everyone that second hand meant rarities, one of a kind, and things that fast fashion stores could not compete with (read here). Whereas not second hand, if you aim for deadstock material (which is not new either), you might want to check Vntg Smtng for their pristine stock of sporty goods (their Iril polos are to die for). But now, with Zara increasing its prices to match the black market price of the Dollar, with many such stores changing prices almost daily (read here), and others quitting the game entirely (Adidas is exiting the market at the end of the year), something has shifted deeply in the remnants of the Lebanese middle class.

The explosion of August 4 only made things worse in the sense that suddenly everyone, from all socio-economic classes were affected (read here). Garage Souk which dubs itself a community financial empowerment tool to buy/sell/earn/learn/swap/thrift has been gaining momentum. It is supposed to empower women and students and get them extra income. But not only this, thrift stores (more like pêle-mêle vide greniers) have been mushrooming all over Instagram with mostly girls and women selling barely worn items from their closets - mostly fast fashion clothing and accessories - at discounted prices. But even higher end online stores exist - some with physical footprints not just virtual accounts (Preporter Luxury, Chic Beirut, or Garage Luxe).

The idea of second hand, with current prices soaring and imports estimated to have declined 90%, previously owned items (barely worn, back when people would buy, show off, and discard) suddenly seem a viable option. Am not saying people will go to Souk El Ahad yet, but many taboos seem to have fallen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Roadster too cliché to be called cliché....

Roadster Diner has a new ad.
Done throwing up?
Wow. Really. Not even cliche. All the pinch-me-to-cry-because-am-patriotic images are there.
The woman playing piano in her bombed apartment, the man cleaning up debris on his wheelchair, the flag, the blond and the veiled woman, and so on. Do note, Picasso used them with dignity and gracefulness engulfing them in a serene and proud ambiance. Here they appear cheap, silly and certainly out of context. Why is it some people do not learn when to stop? Especially when using other people's suffering for exhibitionist-voyeuristic purposes. The ad ends with #sharethelove because you know, the concept of the ad is "we share everything". 
Seriously, somewhere in the museum of cliché ads someone is laughing hysterically!


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

History, Karl Marx, Thawra, Sulta, and Abou Saada

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce - Karl Marx
I wonder at what stage Lebanon is. The tragedy or the farce.
Zealots are on all sides, all sides. What everyone seems to want is a black and white no gray zones in a world where everything is full of nuance. Strange how lately several people called me optimist or full of hope when pessimism and day to day rationalism seem to guide me (side note: I still believe, one way or another the money in the bank - the Lollar - will be given back in the long run, this is not optimism, this is the long view of things).
What is sexily called "sulta" (authority - regime) is clinging on to what is has always worked (and I must stress that not just politicians and warlords made it work, it is the average Joe as well) - a post-feudal, clientage-based (wasta) system, and lately argued that no one found its interest in changing the current equation (read here) no matter what Thawra (revolution) doe-eyed youngsters playing revolutionary games seem to think.
Naturally, the August 4 explosion only added to the impasse. But also to the division. The narrative that people are breaking free from their political affiliation shackles is a fallacy (again, read here), no matter what you read on Instagram. A certain person I know, who holds a Ph.D. no less, read in his far left view, that the people who went out manifesting after the explosion had already burried the old regime, in a scene right out of the Communist manifestations with "power to the people" and what not.
Perhaps one of the most pertinent analysis I have read about the situation was detailed in Charles Al-Hayek brilliant Heritage and Roots Instagram account (here):
In the turbulent mid-nineteenth century years, Halil Pasha, an Ottoman admiral, was sent to inspect the turbulence in Mount Lebanon following the end of the emirate system in 1841.
Before setting sail from Istanbul, he paid a visit to the exiled emir of Mount Lebanon, Bashir Shihab, who ruled from 1788 until his fall and exile in 1840.
After the usual compliments, he turned to the emir and asked how he had managed to rule Mount Lebanon for so long and what could he tell him about the nature of the region’s inhabitant.
He replied: “It is true that I ruled for that long, but every three or four years the inhabitants would rebel, although they never succeeded. I would kill, hang, imprison and beat without opposition to make them submit”. As for their nature, he said “there is a bird in Mount Lebanon called Abu Far, which hunts mice. He is bigger than a falcon and perches on a high tree. When the sun rises, he looks to his shadow and sees it larger than it actually is and so he tells himself, today, I must hunt a camel. But as the sun rises higher, his shadow grows proportionally smaller until the sun looms over his head; then Abu Far looks to his shadow and sees it smaller than it actually is, and so he settles on hunting mice.”
The emir who has two male descendants, was known as "Abou Saada" ("Father of "- the customary nickname for married men, and instead of the name of his eldest male descendant (Amin) he was called after his eldest daughter) was wise indeed. Russian writer Alexander Heren did say "the departing world leaves behind it not an heir, but a pregnant widow"... If there is any transition, it will be painful, and long.
Abou Saada for president!
Case failing, Abou Fouad!

Monday, September 7, 2020

PepsiCo Arabia, low/no budget "relief" ad

Well, Pepsi justifiably increased the price of its products. Apparently it offered a certain relief, but am not sure what kind it was or how much it is worth and to whom it went. Neither the ad (see here), nor its caption mention anything other than solidarity. Now, the ad is a low/no budget  affair. With people supposedly working at Pepsico (Worldwide?) recording incredibly badly pronounced messages in disastrous audio, with - home? - backgrounds. To be clear all my work is done without budget, so the lack of money is not my gripe. My problem is that the whole thing ended a shambles of talking heads with disastrous audio.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

C'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire (Qu'il faut fermer sa gueule)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

On January 31st, 2007 I wrote a blog post with the same name which is actually the name of a French movie (actually it was my 6th blog post ever, whereas this is my 4605th post). The blog was about three weeks old. Back then, the world was so utterly different. Really, different. Yet here we are, by hook or by crook the blog still functions - is still miraculously successful, and lo and behold it did not become some cheap clickbait nor did I morph into some attention-seeking creature.

Lately a classmate who knew me from school reconnected with me on Linkedin and asked about my whereabouts so I recommended using Google. About 15 minutes later he comes back "wow, you're everywhere. No, your work is everywhere but you are almost nowhere!"

All right, there is a point to what saying. For the last few days I had to backtrack through all the posts written in 2020 due to "technical reasons". And whereas this year was incredibly stingy in ads (look here), it is fascinating to see how much I could still find topics to cover.

I mean seriously, in 2007 my post was about how to find a unique take on things. And oddly, that take continues. How I find it is beyond me. And no, for all its success the blog remains the best kept secret. Brands can't buy it, beyond classifiable to many, and still accessible for anyone who wants to put an effort.

Yet what going back through the 2020 posts taught me, was that despite the rather dismal number of ads, I still managed to create engaging content centered around communication. Something which the unwavering number of readers attests to.

But 2020 has been an exhausting year, exponentially so if you were Lebanese. So as we all push to go forward worried about our health, belongings, finances, and what not... And again all this took from our strength, and sapped the remainder of our energy.

Yesterday a certain Thawra (Lebanese revolution) Instagram account tagged someone I respect and care about deeply because she voiced a political opinion. When I messaged them explaining how much of a wonderful human being she is, how generous and kind. I got a barrage of insults and my words were twisted so as to appear as a death threat when I simply mentioned the historical fact that Robespierre who himself was a leading revolutionary died under the guillotine. The discussion sadly reminded me why I unfollowed certain people, the lack of nuance and "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude was too glaring.

Still, onward and forwards, and like any (in)decent politician: C'est pas parce qu'on n'a rien a dire (Qu'il faut fermer sa gueule)."

Friday, September 4, 2020

Lebanon Opportunities goes all Gloria Gaynor

Lebanon opportunities tries to revamp its brand. When business oriented magazines such as Forbes and The Economist went all out to embrace younger audiences with topics that might be of interest to them without losing their core audience, others - Lebanon Opportunities included - stuck to their Guns. Ask any Young person involved in business what they read, if they read anything at all, and Lebanon Opportunities would not be on their list. All this makes the I will Survive Gloria Gaynor approach only too puzzling. I do like the broken glass effect though behind....

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Pampers celebrates miracle baby George Khnaisser

Pampers Arabia celebrates the birth of George Khnaisser, the boy whose mother went into labor literally seconds before the August 4 explosion. He ended up being born at 7:18 P.M. that night. Watch the full ad here. Well, this being a paid ad how about some CSR on the side? Because Pampers insists it gave away a million diapers for free to the children of Beirut.

Now the ad has a nice copy, except for the 'heroes in blue" bit, uses the real footage of the hospital explosion, which adds a nice touch. Georges and his parents are all photogenic and easy on the cam too. OK the whole narrative centers around children being a beacon of hope in dark times, and it actually works.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Picasso and the heroes of the Beirut blast

Pikasso does it again... In a campaign that spans six visuals, from the man sweeping debris on his wheelchair, to nurse Pamela Zeinoun holding three premature babies and running 5 kilometres to get them to safety, to the woman who would not leave her house after the blast, to the one praying, or the Red Cross, or the man standing in defiance in the rubble. Moving, proud images that encapsulate silver linings within that enormous destruction that occurred.

I know finding positive things is farfetched, but this seems to be a Lebanese specialty.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Free Patriotic Movement incomprehensible campaign

To be a Aounist is a pride nit an accusation. So says the hashtag of this incomprehensible, unfocused campaign that lacks a concept, a clear target audience and a backbone. Honestly, it is bewildering. The three visuals follow the same structure, one asks a question only to be given a redemptive answer. And the silly tag beneath.

"What if he did something to you?" "No he is a Aounist he has morals"

"What if he cheated you?" "No he is a Aounist I trust him"

"What if he judged you in your sect?" "No he is a Aounist he has no sectarianism"

Aounist means follower of (now president) Michel Aoun. Or sympathizer/member of the Free Patriotic Movement. If the campaign is redemptive, why does it come off so negative? If it is targeted to the sympathizers why does it miss the mark? 

Honestly, too baffling to explain!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

In Lebanon, the squeaky wheel gets all the media attention.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

International media are gloating. The time has come. People in Lebanon are turning their backs on their leaders, and want change, real change. The magnitude of the August 4 explosion that happened was such that people have changed their lifelong allegiances, and want out. Hezbollah has a very weakening base it seems, an ex member who sells arms certifies it.

Lovely narrative, if only it was true. 

You know the expression, "the squeaky wheel gets all the grease" and the people protesting really do seem sexy....

Here's a burning question: Do all Lebanese people want change?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, they don't.

Lebanon is governed by the 6w6 mkarrar equation. Six and six multiplied, which means government positions are split evenly between Christians and Moslems. When the rule was instated, there was indeed such an even distribution between the sects and religions. Let us see what the demographic numbers said in 2019: "The latest official census conducted in 1932 indicated that the Lebanese population totaled 875,252 people, while Muslims made up 40% of the community and Christians 58.7%. The recent report shows that Christians make up 30.6% of the community, while Muslims make up 69.4%." (Source)

So, with the Lebanese Christians now proportionately, half of the number they were, they are being given a favor in terms of the equal splitting of the official positions because currently, they are getting 50% when they currently make up 30%. Would you, as a Christian, want to change such a system?

Shiites make up 30,6% and Sunnites 30.3% - That is almost even but again, currently double the Christian side.

The Shiites long dubbed "el mahroumin" (the deprived) - and rightfully so - now find themselves kingmakers in the current system. It would be idiotic to let go of such a power honestly. This is an unpopular opinion, but it is based on facts. When there were no schools, hospitals or dispensaries in the Shiite areas, Hezbollah came (yes, with an agenda) and built such places. Then, the government woke up with the house on fire, and for a long time, there was a talk about the state "exerting its power in all Lebanese land" (nice propaganda). Too little, to late. Someone else was there before you. And the people's allegiance is to them. Or to use an expression dear to the Americans "won their hearts and minds".

Now as a liberal and progressive with little or no paranoia, as someone who befriended people from other religions long before it was "cool" and (instagram) photogenic to do so, I have zero threat about who rules me (how is sexier for me). Naturally, this is not the case for many. Lebanon is a country not just à deux vitesses (on two speeds) but on a hundred different speeds all at once.

I have been hearing so much about anticipated parliamentary elections. Great, but.... Without educating people about new possibilities, the same lot already elected will come back, with a vengeance. Now, famous singers Elissa and Zein el Omr disavowed respectively, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement after being staunch supporters of each. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Normal people, seeing their visual and emotional references vanish in the explosion gravitated closer to what they previously knew: Their political alliances and likes.

At the end of the Ottoman empire, a consultant was brought by the French to assess the case of Lebanon. At the end of his long report he ends with, "Ca marche, n'y touchons pas" - it works, let's not touch it.

My fear is that it still works (with all its defects and issues), and we are touching it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

IKEA between mistake and masterstroke

IKEA just wrote under its English ad "same thing but in Arabic" for their mattresses and bedding.... And it went viral. Some say it is a marketing ploy, others an honest mistake. Jury is out in this one. Because the next day they scratched the Arabic headline saying, "this is what happens when you do not get a good sleep. Get the perfect sleep".

To those wondering it is possible for a full agency not to notice such a mistake? The answer is a resounding yes. How do I know? Let's say the large phone number in bold on an ad we published was the art director, originally placed there as a dummy until the client gave us the correct number....

In Lebanon, what back to school?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

In certain countries, the back to school spending is one of the biggest non-holiday spending times. In Lebanon a little less so, but still, between books (often imported), clothes (often dictated and issued by school), stationary, and the ever increasing tuition, the money spent is gob-smacking. Am thinking mostly of non-governmental schools. For those attending government schools, the task is a little easier, but not by much. Usually these schools are frequented by a lower socio-economic class to whom the symbolic tuition and books make - proportionately - almost the same percentage of spending as those in the non-governmental ones. Do note, this is by no means stereotyping, because a good student is a good one, and a student wanting to learn will find a way to learn.

But between spiking Coronavirus rates, between the schools that vanished in the Beirut explosion (am hearing 130 schools), between the local currency that lost 80% of its value, between parents who either completely lost their job or are working for a meager pay or one which now means peanuts, I wonder what back to school season do we talk about? To go on, continue, and still be productive, is a colossal challenge in Lebanon. And sometimes, no, we do not have that energy.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Pilcrow Architects offer a Beirut memorial design.

 Pilcrow Architects just came up with a concept for a memorial to the Beirut dead of the August 4 explosion with a design based on the now damaged silos which used to be a visible landmark of the port. The batons are opaque during the day and light up at night. The names of the victims are supposedly to be inscribed on the sides as well. A laudable effort for sure. Most likely not to be built or executed to be honest. Still, the thought is interesting. Even if we tend to sweep things under the rug.

Friday, August 21, 2020

ABC Mall and that wonderful post-explosion ad


ABC mall has taken a gigantic building facade overlooking the sea to put an ad that says "min kalbi Salam li Beirut" (from my heart a greeting to Beirut after the Fairouz song - words put to Concerto Aranjuez music), but with everyone using the same ploy the ad came a tad used. But may I remind you if the great ad the mall issued in 2007 right after a bomb exploded in their parking lot? "It was a black night but we are open" which doubles as "it was a black night but we are on the lighter end if the spectrum" - how genius was that.... 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lebanon, the international tribunal and rogue elements

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Never a dull day in Lebanon. Severe uptick in Coronavirus cases? Check. Explosion listed as third powerful in humanity's history? Check. Unofficial banking controls? Check. Social unrest? Check. Crumbling structure and infrastructure? Check. Do I go on? Oh yes, international tribunal that cost and arm and a leg (800 Million Dollars to be specific) pinned on a member of the Hizbollah but not on the party itself with the incriminating evidence being the use of multicolored phones? Check. During the war, when a ceasefire would be declared yet sporadic skirmishes continued here and there, the blame would be put on "rogue elements" or in Arabic the more poetic "3anaser ghayr mondabita". In essence that is what the whole international tribunal was about: One specific individual who happens to be a member of a party a la 9 to 5 but has outside hobbies on his own, to which, like luxury company Hermes, he is allowed to use the company logistics and hardware so long he does not sell a competing product. Never a dull day as I said.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Al Wadi Al Akhdar in the post-explosion scene


Al Wadi Al Akhdar is right in the post-explosion scene.
As such, they are giving their support by collaborating with NGOs Beit El Baraka and Smile In A Box through which they will be donating more than 20,000 Al Wadi products to the families in need.They are also partnering with the talented Grace El Gebeily AKA Chef At Heart who has been offering home-cooked meals using Al Wadi products, having -so far - fed more than 100 families in the regions of Beirut and other parts of Lebanon.
Interestingly, their ads were dipped in a creative sauce which says "from our heart" a wink to their often used line "min alb El wadi" (From the heart of the valley). At least they are creatively consistent.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

French government offers poisoned gift as consolation prize to the Lebanese


Let me begin by saying that Israelis do not need Schengen visas. And that to enter the Schengen space one needs to apply the same papers to all concerned embassies. The papers include: a letter from employer, bank statement, copies of previous visas and passports (with current passport having two additional blank pages and three months valid beyond return date), family civil extract, plane ticket (with return ticket) and hotel booking, the usual travel insurance, 2 photos, means of subsistence (65 Euros per day minimum),  a completed application of several pages, and honestly all this needs to be translated. 
Last time I went in a business trip to the Netherlands that was already 60 papers.
The communique above from the French government offers visas, ability to fly and return and what not... Brilliant one might say. But the devil is in the details. The detail in question? 
"Sans autre restriction que les conditions habituelles d'admission de sejour".
"With no other restriction but the usual conditions of admission for entry".
The conditions I just listed above. Oh and with unemployment rampant and money stuck in the bank, what employer letter and what bank statement do we talk about?
A poisoned gift as consolation prize, don't you think?

Is fatigue starting to set on news from Lebanon?

Do you remember the Lebanon war in 2006? I do.
I got stuck in the United States and instead of spending two weeks divided in half - one half workshop one half vacation, I ended up spending two full months there.
CNN was covering the war non stop wall to wall. Interestingly one of their footage featured a burning building with civil defense people trying to end the fire with their scroller indicating the scene happened in Israel. As one member of the civil defense showed his back, turns out it was written in Arabic, so basically that was Lebanon - but I digress. Then, as war still raged, and after days and days of coverage, suddenly the war was relegated to simple occasional news flashes. News had broken that the killer of beauty queen JonBenet Ramsay had been caught.
Lebanon was suddenly on the backburner - pardon the pun.
Oh and the man who supposedly killed the Young Ramsay turned out to be an attention seeker, but - again, I digress.
If I am telling this story it is because, despite the enormous destruction, and even considering the scale of what happened, little by little fatigue us creeping in about the news from Beirut. How many times can you see or rewatch the explosion and still be amazed/shocked/petrified? With disturbing images being relayed on all possible media, little by little interest starts to wane before it disappears.
Famous British singer Morrissey (ex-lead singer of the Smiths) once said about Sir Bob Geldof (some months after the release of "Do they know it's Christmas"): "One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England." And sadly, by replaying the videos of the explosion, the same sinister images - even if the intentions were well 
meaning - the end result is slowly backfiring.
It does not take a Ph.D. to know that since 2006 attention spans are growing shorter and shorter. And that people are getting more fidgety about new information they can go to now that Beirut is starting to be depassée.
The image above says "don't stop talking about Lebanon" yet am afraid "it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of" the world.
Many people, despite what happened in Lebanon, are already moving, or are ready to move, to the next story. You know, something like the real killer of JonBenet Ramsey getting caught. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Happy Supermarket - now sad

Post Beirut explosion, few brands advertised anything from the usual "we will rise" or "like a Phenix..." etc... Interestingly the legend of the Phenix has nothing to do with Beirut, or Lebanon. Which makes the Happy Supermarket a rarity - but a welcome one. The ad says "it's ad, but there's still hope" but the smartness is to simply flip the logo which used to say "happy" and now indicates sadness. Minimal, smart, and effective.

Beirut explosion: The great socio-economic equalizer

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

The area in the port is divided socio-economically. First there are the low income neighborhoods, the old renters, the middle class or what remains of it, but also - and this much more recently - the uber wealthy living in gentrified neighborhoods. Gentrification of neighborhoods - Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael, the outskirts of Badawi has been going strong. Next to two or three-storied houses, dilapidated, old, crumbling recent luxury building and skyscrapers have been mushrooming. A celebrated Lebanese actress spoke how she went down, bloodied and barefoot, from her 22nd floor apartment (and had to hail a car to go to the hospital) while another comedian-actor is seen on the remains of his balcony overlooking the port.

Downtown Beirut, mostly a ghost town anyhow on any given day (splattered with empty, unsold buildings), had some of its very luxurious apartments inhabited by politicians, stars and extremely well to do people, is now literally a shell. Few people know that the currently upscale area of downtown Beirut which was rebuilt in faux rustic mood used to be an incredibly popular area and that women would avoid going there alone for fear of inappropriate touching.

Many stars posted videos of their downtown Beirut destroyed homes. Actually, even the tall buildings overlooking the sea on the corniche, also lost their glass facades and apartments there suffered significant damages. These buildings also cohabitate with smaller houses around them, remnants of a different social order.  

I have written extensively in the past about how income inequality was one of the triggers of war, most recently here. But the Beirut explosion has - excuse the bad choice of words as it might be read as a silly pun- leveled the field. Oh you might say, the rich do not care, they have other properties, the poor only have their destroyed homes. Not true, when you look at the images of these people's houses from what they put on Instagram or elsewhere, you realize that these places are also primary residences, better yet, their "homes". And by hitting these areas the explosion managed to touch everyone, from all socio-economic classes, the dead and wounded include people from all such classes.

As someone who escaped death that day - twice - please note am not gloating. News broke that cronies are already visiting people with destroyed houses convincing them to sell so that a new glitzy apartment buildings would replace them built by copy/paste developers. More gentrification am sure.

Yet again for all the images of Roche Bobois, Frau Poltrona, Fendi Casa furniture I saw in the Instagram stories - the result is the same. The explosion has Hurt people of all classes, and in weird, sarcastic, strange way, it became the great equalizer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

In Lebanon, not all deaths are equal (UPDATE)


 Look at the photo above. Moving and very pertinent. Full of names of people who died in the horrific explosion if the Beirut port.

Thankfully, it does include some foreigners. Not sure which nationalities though. But in Lebanon not all deaths are equal. 43 Syrian workers died in the explosion, no one even knows their names. The port area is a hub for migrant workers. So the fact that many people of foreign nationalities died is a normal statistical fact. I do not know if these people are being included in the official death tally. But this would not be new.

In 2014, when the Sawt Al Mahaba happened in Jounieh, late Patriarch Nasrallah visited the place since the radio station was owned by the Maronite patriarchy and thanked God there were  no deaths. The problem? A woman had died. The bigger problem? She was Sri Lankese. The much bigger problem? The words came from a leading religious figure who could not fathom that all lives are equal. That a woman - a human bring being - died, no matter her nationality. 

Oh an isolated incident you say? Try this for size. In 2010 when the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed, leading television station LBC was interviewing a Lebanese parent of someone who was on the plane. In the background, an Ethiopian woman was crying over a friend or relative who was in the same plane. Suddenly, a hand pulls the woman so violently, she disappears from the frame (she was not trying to be in anyhow) and her crying is heard no more. 

Do I go on?

Oh and did I tell you 43 nameless Syrian workers died?


The list of the names of Syrian workers has been issued. Am in awe someone had the decency to do it!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine, who bought Jennifer Lawrence penthouse gets backlash in NY.


Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine, who bought Jennifer Lawrence penthouse gets backlash in NY. The penthouse, at 9,9 Million Dollars comes at a time when Lebanese people are unable to retrieve their money from the bank. Already local faith in banks is at its lowest with people moving to cash rather than savings. Kheireddine's house is but another example as to why. "With the blood, sweat and tears of the Lebanese people" as the pinned flyer attests.

Picasso, Nadia Tueni and the rebirth of Beirut

 "Beirut: dead a thousand time, to be reborn one thousand more..." Nadia Tueni"

And this is how Pikasso the billboard OOH company celebrated Beirut, a city which has been documented to have been erased seven times in history already (excluding the 1989 anti-Syrian war led by General Aoun currently our president, and the inter-Christian war between the Aoun fragment of the army and the Lebanese Forces in 1990 - which both wrecked havoc in it), but which following the massive explosion on the 4th of August is truly beyond devastation. The initiative by Pikasso is admirable certainly, whether this is what the population needs is another matter.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

And what if it is not ONLY the government's fault?

Photo credit unknown

Dan Azzi (a friend, full disclosure) put it best: "Unpopular Opinion: Blaming our problems entirely on the political leadership ignores the issue of a cultural flaw when it comes to civic responsibility & ability to look at collective rather personal interests. It’s not just Killon yi3ni killon. It’s also Ni7na yi3ni Ni7na."
Yes, I am as tired, exhausted, frustrated as the next man. But the difference is, easy and simplistic answers do not do it for me.
Here is my question, with the tag #علقوا_المشانف (hang the nooses) trending (side note: am against capital punishment) - and the government gets toppled, then what? Hiba Yazbeck also nailed it in twitter: "What’s worse is that every time we face a tragic event, polarization increases among Lebanese, rather than solidarity. Perhaps we don’t deserve to have a country..." In times of crisis we tend to gravitate towards those who resemble us, those who share our beliefs, those who are "like us" rather than "like them" - sure, I am in awe in front of the volunteers who took brooms and went on cleaning streets, or those youngsters I saw yesterday who were gathering food and water and supplies, or the many initiatives that people are doing on a small scale. But let me go back to this theory I was discussing with my teacher at AUB in 1996, about why is it that people are clean in their own homes in Lebanon but are dirty in the street. Turns out the answer was that going back to the colonial mentality, because someone will pick up after you.
Picture this scene, I was at a seaside cafe in Tripoli. A young family was near me on the next table. Their daughter, about two years old, started throwing the content if the ashtray into the sea,then at one point seeing her mother giggling, she was encouraged to throw more objects. Until she tried to throw the ashtray itself, her mother sternly told her: "La2 3ayde 3ayzina" (no, this we need).
The image of that man sweeping glass debris on the street while wheelchair-bound is moving beyond words, yet I feel him to be the exception rather than the rule. But hey, there could be a silver lining, my friend Rachid Aschkar, says (in reference to the above-mentioned colonial theory) "maybe this time, the perimeter of "home" has changed to include whole country".

InStyle recreates Ormond Gigli masterpiece for its September issue

I spoke about this before.... Yet always a pleasure to see this image recreated. The famous Ormond Gigli photo "Girls in the windows" was redone at a building in Brooklyn where only artists live for the September issue of InStyle as a tribute to the enduring energy of New York City in quarantine. Actually, this might not be the first time the Gigli image was celebrated, my theory is that the whole Jean-Paul Goude ad for Egoiste was based on the photo. Apart from the clear "women in the windows" there is a Roll Royce cars identical to the one in the Gigli photo that pass by at the end of the ad as a "wink". Too many coincidences if you ask me. The proof is in the photo below.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

How an advertising billboard tells the story of a post-explosion Beirut

Credit: Hasan Jaber
You can always count in advertising to tell you the story. Always. Lately there was a campaign spreading, for better or worse, to entice people to place ads under the tag #اانا_اعلن which doubles as "I declare" (for the centennial of Lebanon's creation) and I advertise. For personal reasons, I made it a point not to talk about that campaign which ran under the umbrella of the Advertising Association. One of the billboards, in the campaign which tried to remediate to an estimated 90% drop in ad revenue, said "I declare my faith in a better future" - what is left of that billboard after the massive port explosion, is something that is torn, broken, defeated, and humiliated, only shows what it feels like now in a bitter twisted (literally) irony. 
Better future? Which one? People are grappling with the magnitude of the devastation no longer riding under the wave of adrenaline. The loss, in souls but also in material elements, can only add to the strain of the many problems the country is living in. And please don't anyone say "pity the nation" it is rather "pity the nations" - divided, fragmented, with each fragment following its leader. "Deux negations ne font pas une nation" as George Naccache brilliantly put it in 1949. A million negations will not make a nation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Truth, versions and cheating death in Beirut

So I escaped unharmed. Of all days when I could go out, I decided to do it yesterday. 30 minutes before the explosion, I was stuck with Michel in a traffic jam in the port area because he needed to run an errand at a shop there. Then we went to a mall in Verdun and the glass wall nearby shattered and broke but we were about a meter too far so we escaped unharmed. This would not be my first time cheating death in Beirut. It happened to me prior in the war. Not just to me, to many other people as well. To offer heartfelt condolences for the families of the dead and speedy recovery for the wounded is decent, but also hollow.
Did Beirut, and in extenso, Lebanon need another tragedy to add to its growing pains? Certainly not. But as Bill Farrell, the New York Times correspondent in Beirut during the war said "There is no truth in Beirut, only versions" - there are too many versions about what happened already circulating. Anything from an Israeli strike to flammable material to a ship carrying fireworks. Still, the result is the same, dead and wounded and disappeared people. I got lucky with my friend and we both cheated death.
Here's to another round. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Ksara - Army Day in brilliance

Army Day came and went without a whimper this year, thankfully. For a while, any company that could dip anything in camouflage did so and bragged about it. Which makes the low key Ksara ad "teslam ya Askar Lebnan" (may the Lebanese Army people be preserved) even more punchy. The line comes from a popular song, so nothing new there, but the trick was finding that KSARA and ASKAR are anagrams. Cue, just flip the logo. Easy? Yes. Smart? Without any doubt. Why it took so many years to find it? No idea. Note the Ksara logo is so well known, that the ad did not need to be signed. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

#YouCantStopUs - Nike

Brilliant and heart-stopping ad by Nike. Watch here.
Let me first say it's been done before. The mix and match technique of two images. But Nike does it brilliantly and perfectly, the way images go from one shot to the next is impeccable. The copy, said in a natter of fact way only makes it better, straight to the point, and completely credible. The film goes from pro. To amateur, to invented and new lockdown ready sports, and makes them all worthwhile, and whereas tailored to the American market, it can easily resonate worldwide. You can't stop sport #YouCantStopUs indeed.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

With regards to that article about Lebanon being fourth most prosperous nation in 1963

Recently many people were sharing an article about Lebanon that dates back to 1963 which qualifies it as the fourth most prosperous nation in the world after Switzerland, (West) Germany, and the US. The barometer used was how much money was in the banks per capita but also with regards to the country's geographical area (it helps we are a tiny nation I guess). Interestingly, the money in the said banks did not have to be for Lebanese depositors. And it wasn't. Also interestingly, all this came three years before the Intra Bank bankruptcy due to lack of liquidity compared to money deposited. 
Poverty was (and is) rampant in Lebanon and those not aware about how social inequality helped fuel the war that ended up erupting in 1975, I ask them to check their history.
Photo Rudolf Dietrich (1970)
Under the Al Shams building, one of the most celebrated jewels of modernist architecture (by architect Joseph Philippe Karam) and in the pathways that made way to the sea, lived people in extreme Poverty, in makeshift houses. Literally at a stone throw from one of the most luxurious buildings of Beirut at the time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Advertising revenue is down 90% in Lebanon

At the beginning of the year, trusted media and advertising personality Naji Boulos forecasted that the 2020 expenditure in Lebanon was going to be 100 million Dollars or 25 Dollars roughly per person. How wrong he was.... In a private chat with him he estimated the figure will be around 20 million by the end of the year. COVID, lockdown, inflation, devaluation, capital controls, all played a part - add to that the digital migration of advertising (seriously, why would anyone use OOH anymore? I explained that here). Agencies estimate that the revenue is down 90% now that we passed mid-year. Numbers are unlikely to get better or increase with the impeding factors here to stay. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

FabricAID the timely initiative in Lebanon.

I am not someone prone to easy superlatives, but without any doubt the crisis currently hitting Lebanon and affecting people so totally drastically is one for the books (notice I did not say "unprecedented"). Still, if this is not the time to stand by one another, then I wonder when is? FabricAID is a great initiative, which gathers clothes and resells them at an abysmally low price to people in need.we all have pieces. We lost or gained weight, we made impulse buys, we grabbed something as a retail therapy and the list continues.... The FabricAID bins are strategically placed and as their ad says "little can become a lot".... Visit their site here.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The history of Lebanon: Simulacra and simulation. (Official release)

Based on the philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard. This art project is an attempt to retrace the history of Lebanon through signs and signifiers.
Simulacra are defined as copies that depict things that either had no original, or that no longer have an original, whereas simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.
Lebanon has not had a common official history book since before the war, students still study in archaic books that end somewhere around 1972. The reason for that is simple, since history is not the real version of the events but simply the narrative dictated by the winner, and since there was no clear winner of the Lebanese war at the abrupt end of it, then the saying by Bill Farrell - the late New York Times reporter in Lebanon - "there's no truth in Beirut, only versions" still holds.
To make things worse, the same political families which ruled Lebanon during the war, are still there and refusing to look at their past and be able to understand what they did wrong or assess their legacies in the bloody events. Still, all is not lost, for - no matter in which shelter one was in the Lebanese war - we were all listening to the same ads, jingles, watching the same soap operas, using the same products, going to (different) cinemas which were showing the same movies, enjoying the same heartthrobs - be they in roman photo (translated Italian photoromanze) or singing sensations, and the list goes on.
Only the signs and signals of pop culture of Lebanon will be able to join us when "politics" divides us. Politics stems from the two Greek words, "polis" and "ethos" - polis or the "heart of the fortress" and ethos which means ethics. So the original meaning of the word meant "the ethics of living in a community" and if that had to go through advertising jingles, then so be it. 
The project aims to use pop culture, in terms of symbols, names, catchphrases as a way to unify the Lebanese around the same concepts and ideas, and using the said elements as emotional triggers to help preserve memories both personal and collective.
Baudrillard has said about the iconoclasts: "One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn't conceal anything at all". Should this be true then the images of this project do not conceal anything either.
The project is composed of "episodes" each being a video art 13,5 seconds long, with each video containing 9 high resolution related images (thematically, geographically or time wise) with a total time of 120 minutes. Along with a two-hour long soundtrack which explores the Lebanese collective memory in terms of audio rarities and songs (specifically related to the war era).

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

USAID and protecting water in Lebanon.

At a time when any new ad is worth talking about due to their scarcity, this USAID ad about protecting water in Lebanon "no matter what" with the cedar (of the flag no less) in a fluid form is up to my knowledge the only new campaign in town. Campaign is also stretching it as it is just a few unipoles on the road. Long long ago (mid oughts) one needed 600 billboards for a campaign to be simply visible in Beirut. Now only a couple can do the trick.

Friday, July 17, 2020

SMS Money counter - a solution to a new problem

Well, here is your solution to when counting large amounts of money - presumably Lebanese currency. Because if you were that awash in cash you'd probably not be Lebanese or at least average Lebanese. But again, exchange offices aside Lebanese are buying mini safes and perhaps counters as well since trust in banks are minimal and everyone is keeping stashes if cash if late in safe places at home. There you go, new problem? Improvised solution!

The Epica Awards 2020 are open for entries

The only global creative award judged by the press goes ahead with its €100 “early bird” discount until August 31st.
As they face rocky economic times in the months ahead, the press and the advertising industry need each other more than ever. The press benefits from advertising revenue, while giving brands a platform for their paid and earned messages.
Epica allows the press to celebrate creativity – so we felt it was essential that the competition went ahead in an effort to thrive and survive despite the crisis. Our international jury of editors and senior reporters from titles such Adweek, Campaign, Creative Review, Horizont, Stratégies and Shots are all on board. Epica covers advertising, design, PR and digital.
From July 1 to August 31 there’s an early bird discount of €100. Entries will close on October 31, but the period may be extended if we decide to hold an online-only jury. The date of the ceremony has yet to be confirmed.
At the request of jury members, we’ve introduced a free-to-enter category for campaigns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. All proceeds from this category will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
Epica Awards editorial director Mark Tungate commented: “We know this is going to be a tough year. Agencies are suffering. But it’s also true that there has been an explosion of creativity as governments and brands communicate messages concerning health and safety, support and solidarity. The journalists on our jury are keen to honour this work as well as the other great work from the preceding months.”
They’re also keen to write about it, reinforcing Epica’s natural PR advantage. Creativity is working harder than ever. Let’s spread the news.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Elissa introduces her fans to Magritte

An Arab Child reads an average of 6 minutes a year. Compared to 12,000 minutes to their western counterpart. Am not inventing this, this is the result of a study in 2012. With this in mind, likelihood of non reading, non museum attending Arab child-teenager not knowing Rene Magritte is indeed high. Enter Uber successful Lebanese singer Elissa in the promo for her new album. Bam! "Not to be reproduced" by Magritte redo ("Mirror impossible" in French").
Just to be clear I am all for! Elissa enjoys such a wide following that Magritte and surrealism are suddenly on the lips of every Arab fan of hers I bet!!

Ramco is recruiting Lebanese workers - stereotype alert!

Ramco, the company handling the sweeping and cleaning in Lebanon wants to recruit Lebanese workers.
Copied verbatim from here:
"Remember when Sukleen got launched a billion years ago? They did that with a cute good looking Lebanese actor and the joke was that he was the only Lebanese working there. Why? Because (oh Tarek you and your stereotypes!) all the people in Sukleen overalls on the ground were Syrians.
The other stereotype? That Egyptians actually work at gas stations (Egyptians do the filling and the Asians are more delegated to the car washing bit).
All right, how about this stereotype? A Lebanese would rather die from hunger than work at a gas station... (... in Lebanon. He could easily do it in any other country where he would pretend to be CEO because no one sees him on the daily job).
This post is full to the brim with stereotypes.
Here's a riddle: Is it still a stereotype when it is actually true?"
Now that Lebanese people are facing real and true hunger, will they let go of their social image? The "bteddayyan ta tetzayyan" theory. I personally doubt but here's hoping.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Natgaz an ad for the current times in Lebanon

Natgaz sells incandescent lamps and gas lanterns.
Repeat: incandescent lamps and gas lanterns.
With fuel problems, electricity shortages and power cuts, with private generators proving too expensive. We are back to the war days rationale of.... incandescent lamps and gas lanterns. This is truly an ad for the current times in Lebanon.
Really, zero steps forward, ten steps back.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Shtrumpf cooks up a nice ad

Well with ads so rare and in between these days it is great to see anyone doing anything, and so much the better, anything good. So it is a pleasure to see Shtrumpf, our local diner, dipping its ad in the current events sauce. "Well done quality, medium rare prices" - not just one wink, two winks. And they are both so effortless they actually work. Actually, with so many restaurants closing or shooting up their prices to cope with the current devaluation crisis, seeing Shtrumpf thrive or trying to keep abreast is actually a pleasure.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Hope Mars Mission #العرب_الى_المريخ

The UAE Mars Mission called Hope Probe (nice name), will launch on July 15 - the Emirates produced a rather predictable ad to accompany the launch. The copy is noble but a tad too insurance company/bank, the shots well done and in a very gallant move, the UAE includes other Arab nations n th e shots(Qatar excluded) - KSA, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon are all there, even the Arabic tag translates into #Arabs_to_Mars whereas the English went  #HopeMarsMission also this will be the first countdown in Arabic. Watch the film here.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The PHNX festival winners are out!!

Three months later, the AdForum PHNX Tribute is a reality, with a list of Grand Prix, Gold, Silver and Bronze winners. They were announced during an online event in partnership with the UK Advertising Export Group (UKAEG) and the International Advertising Association (IAA).

The Grand Prix winners were:

Watch here

Film: Lacoste, “Crocodile Inside”, BETC, France

Explained here

Digital: Burger King, “Stevenage Challenge”, DAVID Madrid/DAVID Miami

Strategy: Burger King, Moldy Whopper, INGO Stockholm/DAVID Miami/Publicis

There were no clear Grand Prix winners in the Print and Design categories. Overall there were 41 Gold winners, 97 Silver and 191 Bronze, from a total of 4,000 entries. Out of the 35 countries that won awards, the United Arab Emirates came in third with 29 awards, while the most awarded agency was Impact BBDO Dubai with 10 Bronzes and 5 Silvers, but no Golds. The jury was a uniquely diverse gathering of creatives, strategists, consultants and journalists – a total of more than 430 people. Together, they gave over 270,000 scores, which amounted to more than 2,800 hours of voting – or 117 days. Surely an awards show record! My own clam to fame is that seems I clocked 44 hours of judging, more than any of the other jurors...

AdForum CEO Philippe Paget, said: “Congratulations to all the winners and of course a huge thank you to everyone who entered. You rose to the occasion. I’d also like to thank our jury, of course, and the Grand Prix panel. I’m hugely grateful to the UK Advertising Export Group, which became a valued partner in the event. As intended from the start, the AdForum PHNX Tribute showed that creativity grows even stronger in a crisis. Perhaps the PHNX will rise again one day in the future.”