Wednesday, January 13, 2021

1972 Zajal competition ad unearthed

Image credit Lebanon Dikkene

Lebanon Dikkene on Instagram has unearthed one of those super rare gems! An ad for the Zajal competition that took place in the Kamil Chamoun sports stadium on June 10 1972. Now truth be told, all my references indicate that the duel happened on June 10, so why the ad indicates June 10-11 is beyond me (maybe the people got to vote on the 11th?). Still the rarity of the ad and the sleek typography plus the 7UP sponsoring the whole thing is truly incredibly rare. If you like Zajal please head over to this link to see the whole duel. The duel by the way is one of the landmarks and the more I research it the more information comes up - basically the creme de la creme of Zajal poets were pit against one another (Zaghloul el Damour, Sayyed Mohammad Moustapha, Zein Chaib, Moussa Zghaib and the list continues!)....

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

In Lebanon 2021 picks up exactly where 2020 left....

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Wherever we go (and we are not going anywhere), there we are...

In Lebanon, 2021 is starting exactly where 2020 left off. 

Saluting the medical staff which is fighting covid (wait, haven't we done that enough?).

Cases of covid surging to unprecedented heights (haven't we gone to such heights before? Actually, no, with people being reckless after an original super tight respect for the law - as I predicted here - the number of cases is spiraling out of control).

We are heading towards our umpteenth total (?) lockdown with our (incalculable?) exceptions (again, haven't we seen this enough in 2020 - the best part was the nightclubs open but without dancing).

Banks are still running totally crazy. To begin with there is zero coordination between them. No bank is acting the same, and when a new policy is enacted, clients (remember it's the clients' money in there) are told after the fact not before it. Mind you all banks are acting this way, meaning, a client comes trying to withdraw money only to be told that no, this month the amount changed (usually decreased!) or what not.

We still do not have a new government (what else is new?). The political discourse in Lebanon is still very stagnant at this stage. Interestingly, everyone is waiting for outside signals to come by (mainly the US transition of presidency, which astounds me, because - in case you have not heard - the new administration has bigger fish to fry!).

The advertising scene - the focus of this blog usually alongside with communication - is still in, literally, the death throes. I recognize there are some campaigns running on billboards but this is no indicator that things are picking up. 

Many agencies are either handling their MENA accounts from Beirut (if they have international affiliations), tried to establish satellite offices somewhere in the gulf, are creating systems to avoid having to deal with banks when it comes to payments, and are trying to pick up the debris (literally) of the August 4 Beirut explosion.

Freelancers are really being hit hard. To begin with, companies are recruiting them on the cheap (very very cheap) under the guise of "fresh Dollar" (which means they are paid in new Dollars as opposed to "Lollar" or Dollar already stuck in the banking system in Lebanon) and considering the difference of value between the two, companies in the gulf are recruiting them to do work from Lebanon while abusing their need to survive here. 

Also, banks are blocking all incoming money which these freelancers have gained - the excuse is usually "fear of money laundering", and this only leaves companies like Western Union as a way of payment (the payment is deducted by 2% upon arrival by the way, unless it comes from an American bank). Interestingly, companies cannot send by Western Union, it needs to be individuals - which added a further layer of trying to jump through hoops!

If so far you are not dispirited just by reading this, try living this on day to day basis. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Massoud "Poussy" Achkar RIP

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Massoud "Poussy" Ackhar has passed away from covid complications. He leaves behind what every Lebanese politician wishes to leave - an excellent name, a legacy unharmed by bribery or theft, and a untainted history of patriotism which no one can dispute, and better - he transcended the murky water of politics, machinations, to become a symbol everyone agrees upon across the Christian aisle. May he rest in peace. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Burger King goes back to the future with "new" logo

Burger King just went back to the future with its logo, which is actually a small change on the logo it used between 1994 and 1999 (which the brand update on the one it was famous for between 1969-1994). Actually, there is an element of why-bother-come-up-with-something-new-when-we-have-this-jewel-in-store. With everything going retro these days, it is no wonder Burger King went back to a safe territory - "woke" millennials will be happy, older customers will see something they recognize too, and design aficionados will relish the new (is it new?) identity. I always wondered why Burger King went astray with its logo it used between 1999 and 2020. But hey, with that small enhancement on the older element (yes, it is the name inside two buns!) all I can say is "groovy, baby!"...

Thursday, January 7, 2021

SuperJoe by Samah El Kadi, authenticity in the age of one-size-fits-all

SuperJoe by Samah El Kadi. Films keep coming (and coming, and coming) about the aftermath of the Beirut explosion on August 4th 2020, most of such low quality they are somewhere between one-size-fits-all and "seriously?". Which is why this film, for all its authenticity, seemingly low budget, very authentic lead (Joseph!), and basically what seems to be real (non-scripted) intervention by the protagonist, actually works wonders. This is how the film is presented:
"Joseph Sleiby escaped the Beirut blast miraculously and heroically at his grandparents house in Karantina. This film is for him and all the other kids who are still traumatized by the blast and on their way to psychological recovery. Berytech Foundation is raising funds for the benefit of the entrepreneurship ecosystem and those that have been severely hit by the August blast. For those who can, please visit the link in bio to donate. Beirut Keep Rising films are created by Balkoon TV, produced by The Talkies, in collaboration with Wondereight."

US: A third-world coup in a first world nation

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on Calvin and Hobbes

Oh come on. It's like everyone saw it coming, and when it came, everyone was surprised. It is interesting as I write this, not from a political standpoint, but rather from an observing one, how all this was foretold in the US. These things do not happen overnight, they breed for a long time. Some people I know say I got the erroneous view of the US after being there for 5 times - including a very lengthy accidental stay during the 2006 war in Lebanon where I got stuck there. But, also, all this could be seen, bubbling under the surface, simmering quietly, for all the time it took to get to be shown. And so here we are, now it exploded.

I am not sure how the US can still call itself beacon of democracy, or preaching (as a very-staunch US supporting friend said) for "the hearts and minds" (no, seriously) of people, or how they can actually call out other nations on their laws, or the way they are behaving when images of - DC, no less!! - show what a third world coup looks like. I am not the one who invented the word "coup" when describing what happened, this is circulating everywhere in the press (in the US and abroad).

Well, there you go, feed people biased news, breed your wrongful seeds in gullible souls and soils, and this is what you get. Of course the police and security agents were overwhelmed and underprepared, because everyone refused to believe how big it would be. 

Much bigger than the inauguration crowd of Donald Trump. 


Much, much bigger. And much, much angrier (through maybe not angry for the right reasons). 

But of course, over at Fox News, Tucker Carlson is afraid "Capitol Hill chaos will be used to strip us of basic freedoms" because, of course, the best way to ignite the crowd even further is to actually invoke things like "second amendment" of the constitution and "the right to bear arms" and "give me liberty or give me death". Well, at least Twitter and Instagram suspended Donald Trump's accounts as Facebook barred him from posting till Jan 20th (Joe Biden's inauguration day) - unprecedented - but at least a little calming (even if too little, too late). But hey, arms manufacturer Smith & Wesson stock climbed 15% due to the ensuing chaos!

"This is not who we are" - the sentence was repeated many times. Not least by Donald Trump Jr. - it's rude to laugh! - but again, are you sure this is not you? This is not what was barely "hidden" prior only to be incited and unleashed for the whole world to see, and from how it looks, the world is laughing at?

Naturally, the worst part? All of this was predictable - except to those who were optimistic, or looked the other way (willingly or naively) - but it was there all along, I can assure you. But my sincere question is: Next time the US will play policeman to the world, it will be shown its own images and be told to go stuff itself. Then what? How can it ever reclaim its credibility.

Karen, over to you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Rebird Vs. Marni Compare and contrast

So as an addition to our "compare and contrast" series, let us see on the right designs from the Marni collection, and on the left the original design by ReBird (or the very talented Rayya Morcos). Again, will leave it up to you to judge, but could the Marni people have been inspired by Rayya?

Monday, January 4, 2021

Elias Rahbani RIP


Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Elias Rahbani passed way. Really I cannot even begin to state what this man did to popular Arabic music. I am not a musicologist but I am a researcher in pop culture and his influence cannot even begin to be measured, and no, not just the Fairouz repertoire - I am talking everyone else, the whole artists he fostered and those whose careers he pampered, or the greats he collaborated with (many of the late Sabah songs were his compositions!) not to mention advertising jingles galore (Barilla anyone?), or the songs he made for children (3ammi bou massoud) or the eternal theme songs (Allo? Hayete) and the list goes on!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

On that "their" cedar video, and patriotism in Lebanon

Today a can of worms has been opened. A video is heavily circulating of two young men, putting their (deceased Iranian major general in the revolutionary Guard Corps - who was assassinated in Iraq exactly a year ago) Qasem Soleimani's photo in the heart of the Cedar which represents the Lebanese flag (the video is not clear where this happens) but what is clear is that - apart from one of the men saying whose photo it is - the other man says "yes, plaster it on their cedar" - emphasis mine (see video here).

Which naturally brings the "their" to the forefront. It might seem shocking that these two men - or at least one of them - does not feel any belonging to the symbol present on his country's flag (and that the other does neither as he also tends to think it is fine to put such a photo there). But - and here is the big but - the cedar has been mentioned 103 times in the bible. And whereas yes, Lebanon is indeed known for its Cedrus libani species, and for its forest trees (which were much more numerous than they are now), put yourself in the shoes of the Moslem MPs when the first Lebanese flag was drawn.

In 2009, and within the realm of me teaching a class on current events I asked my students (about 35 of them) about what makes us Lebanese. What these youth, which came from different backgrounds and places and faiths, agreed upon in the end were two things "tabboule and Fairouz". The rest which included the flag, national anthem, dabke, Rawche, etc... did not make the cut.

Once more, oddly I am neither surprised nor angered about the "their" cedar reaction (presumably, that of the Christians). One should place things in their contexts. And by the way, please let us not file this (the flag, the presence of the cedar in the bible) as something "from the past" (and ergo no longer up for debate or opinions at this stage).

Nothing is from the past. When Abbas al-Moussawi was assassinated on February 16, 1992, there was an Egyptian ad during the news for Lord Shave (a brand of disposable razors) which aired on (Lebanese TV channel) LBC and which ended with "na3iman ya Abbas" (hope you had a good shave/cut Abbas). The ad showed barely a few minutes after the report on al-Moussawi's blown car (and his assassination) in one of those innocent mistakes that happen without premeditation. The sentence "na3iman ya Abbas" became a catchphrase among certain Lebanese (of course, the Christian part). Please watch the ad here.

When Lebanese politician Gibran Tueni was himself assassinated on December 12, 2005, there were at the time heavily manifestations in downtown Beirut (among which certain manifestations of shiia demonstrators) and on one of those large banners was written "na3iman ya Gibran".

As I said, nothing is in the past. All is today and nothing is forgotten. Or to better quote William Faulkner, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past".

Just to be clear again, "patriotism" is incredibly complicated in Lebanon. And the more you live here, the more you understand how nuanced it is.

Zaatar w Zeit goes exploring (where others preceded it).

Zaatar w Zeit has a gorgeous new ad.

Imagine this: A bunch of youth go and become adventurers in Lebanon and discover its beauty (and forget that this is the exact same scenario Byblos Bank used, as well as Almaza and countless other brands probably using the same VW Camper van). 

OK, Zaatar w Zeit does play for its audience, uppity well-to-do Gen Z boys and girls shielded from the current financial crisis by their parents and who somehow think that a Manoushe at this price is the norm (it is not). But to be fair to Zaatar w Zeit, they know their audience, they know what they like and how they behave, heck, they even included a guitar campfire night (hello Crepaway!) and a dog for a good measure (you know the kind that offers "fresh" Dollars if it is ever gone astray).

Just to be clear, the ad targets exactly who it wants to target, it is well shot, beautiful, and emotionally resonates with the people it wants to resonate with. Has it been already done elsewhere? Yes. Is it full of cliches? It is. Will it matter? Well, some youth are already planning that campfire with some uber expensive juice bottles.

See the full ad here.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Barilla and a vintage new year ad!

Is it a bird? A plane? A firework? A Barilla ad with pasta masquerading as end of year festivity? No matter, this beauty from Barilla - which dates to a few years back - is wonderful to see and appreciates. And yes, I still long to the days when Barilla used to make ads with Steffi Graf as she used her Wimbledon prize as a replacement for a broken pasta serving dish or wore the penne as a necklace.

DSC (Donner Sang Compter) and a fresh ad.

And we start the year with a fresh (ooops!) ad from DSC (Donner Sang Compter). Well, we all know, Lebanese are now obsessed with Fresh Dollars.... So the ad riffs on that but argues that fresh blood is even more important. Honestly, the ad is timely, refers to all Lebanese worries, but also trumps them and puts them into perspective. A good one. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

We Stores, more is more.

We stores simply asks "don't you miss it?" with a Benjamin Franklin popping up from behind the torn grey design (which could have used of a bit more visibility on a billboard). But still, the ad does catch the attention, my issue is that sadly it took me forever to understand the logo behind the ad (We Stores), of course there are a billion phone numbers (OK fine, 5 numbers). Also note that they charge you the Dollar 1500 LBP (with now the Dollar soaring at more than 8000!), and in the end there's the "Open an online portal and sell your products internationally). Yes, pity, too many things happening in an ad one needs to literally stop to understand (though obviously it could have gone more minimalist!).

Securite Assurance, or the never-ending Beirut explosion saga

Securite Assurance is "covering damages from the Beirut blast - because we're here for real" and then in much small font "terms of initiative apply" - because of course, there is always a smaller font! Still, whereas the world has passed on to new crises, Beirut is still reeling from the effect of the August 4th blast. Also, the image above of the house whose ceiling was lavishly decorated but which has basically bore the brunt of the explosion only testifies to what there is on the ground. That this ad comes right bang on Christmas/New Year's week only joins other such ads (I already spoke about this prior here and here). With too many problems Lebanese are drowning in, even those affected by the blast might shrug at the sight of such an ad.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

NYE ads: The lackluster end of a lackluster year

Well, a few years ago, hotels, clubs, cafes, restaurants would be competing as to book the biggest stars of the Lebanese artistic scene (singers, dancers, entertainers, one-man-show performers, etc...), this year the two or three ads only add to the macabre feel of the whole year. I only took one, showing Casino du Liban with two stars performing - there were as I said a couple of others, but this year (and NOT just because of COVID-19) has been a very tough year. Actually, there is an urban myth (which could probably be true) that sometime in the mid-80s factions agreed on a ceasefire on New Year's Eve to allow popular singer Raghab Alameh to cross from Western Beirut to the Eastern part because he had a contract with two restaurants on either sides of the divided city.

But as I said, 2020, was the perfect storm on Lebanon on all possible fronts. 

Allianz SNA goes back to the beginning of photoshop

Remember when Photoshop started? You don't? Well, let Allianz SNA remind you. Ah those mid-90 years with rudimentary typography, hit or miss layout (more miss than hit), sophomoric concepts (well, playing on phobic ideas in a country like Lebanon is a bit edgy!)... You know, the exact Allianz SNA ads have graced us with (and they also "animated" them - check this "beauty" here). On second thought, since the purpose of any ad is to attract attention, maybe it worked for the insurance company, yet for the wrong reasons! 

Disclaimer: SNA (prior to being Allianz) was a client of a company I used to work for, and I did ads for them in the past (thankfully, good ads). 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Poule d'Or and the Arab dream - no, seriously!

Do you remember "The Arab Dream" (Al hilm al Arabi)? (Look here and here). Well, in short it was done by Arab artists riffing on themes of Pan-Arabism and in support of the second Intifada in Palestine. OK so what do the lyrics "generations after generation will live upon our dream" (which is the opening lyric of the song) have to do with Poule d'Or and their 5XL sandwich (which takes three to carry the ad boasts). And most importantly, will anyone of the newer generation actually understand the link?

Don't look at me, I have no idea!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

ARAMCO Christmas and a Santa on a camel!


Apparently the sleigh broke down, or NORAD did a mistake in its tracking, or maybe Santa wanted to explore local traditions, or it could simply be the ARAMCO staff in Saudi Arabia celebrating Christmas through the years, but honestly - the sight of Santa Claus on a camel is a joy to behold. Even on boxing day! 

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Christmas that changed me (after The Guardian)

The Guardian newspaper is running a superb series about "A Christmas that changed me" as written by people who had epiphanies at Christmas. Well, though the newspaper never invited me to write one (cough, ahem) I do have one such recollection.

It was 1983, so I was 9, and I remember distinctly it was a weekday so it must have been December 23rd. Believing in Santa was never a huge thing at our house. So basically we knew it was parents who got the gifts. I had seen a GI Joe at my (older) cousin. And really, really, wanted one. The one store who would sell them was Toyland barely a few minutes from our house (but of course, as children, our notion of distance was blurred so going anywhere especially on foot, was - rather far).

Naturally, as a kid I did not know that my father came early on a Friday (government employees tend to end their work at 11 A.M. on Fridays because their Moslem counterparts are supposed to have time to go pray at Mosques). And so indeed my father came early, and I was already on my Christmas break from school. And my mother announced that I was to go with father pick a gift.

Naturally, I wanted the Toyland GI Joe. And so we went. It was at 50 Liras. I am not sure how expensive it was at the time (as compared to my father's salary). But it seems it was so because he dissuaded me from getting it. Surely as a child, it was a bit of a blow. But we did go to another store - called Snoopy - which was right next to the Gitawi public park (don't be fooled by the name just a few benches and a slide) and we got a BMW (battery operated) at 25 Liras. Half the GI Joe price and my father thought it was a convenient one to pay.

I kept that toy till I moved from Beirut in 2010. You might ask how this Christmas changed me? Well, to begin with knowing I could not get what I wanted was a first lesson. Knowing my father thought the BMW was better priced was another (that I would excel later at economics could have stemmed from there). Weirdly, even as a child, I recognized spending time with my father was special. Because these were rare occurrences. 

My father expressed his affection in a rather traditional way. Not in a physical affection kind of behavior. More like - "All right, I am the father, I provide to the household, you are getting a good education, you have a roof above your head, and things to eat, this is the love I can give". And if I remember the BMW car (whose box you will see on this post), and if I remember the GI Joe toy, even at that age I was aware that I got to spend time with my father, alone and without my brothers - was something so uncommon.

I am not making some grand statement here, or some revealing some deep psychological fact, but as you grow old, your relationship to your parents changes, and it is you who becomes the person in charge. And I always remember the last thing my father said to me when I asked him - on morning of the day he passed away - "do you want me to go teach at university today?" (he was obviously unwell since the day before) and he replied: "rou7, Allah yorda 3aleik" (Go, may God be pleased with you) a local expression to bestow gratitude on someone.

Interestingly, I never got a GI Joe. Nor was I interested in getting one later. But that Christmas did change me.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

That Toyota Christmas ad....

Hmmm I have no idea when this ad came out, could be this year, could be earlier, but - it is brilliant!! Yes, I know to wish a "Merry Christmas" while in Lebanon is hypocritical, and to say "count your blessings" is also nasty. But, there you go, we go on by hook or by crook. At least try to be safe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Rise Up Lebanon, the initiative that goes local.

For someone who about 99% of the time buys from small shops, my immediate reflex is to wonder why there are campaigns pushing people to buy from such places. Until I remember the supermarket. Sure, once every two or three months I go to the supermarket to get a list of things - but mostly, being in a village I go to the shops here and buy day to day items - funnily the other day I actually went so early. I helped the shop owner lift the iron door as she was still opening. The Rise Up Lebanon launched their Christmas project: Bundle of Joy. By purchasing this bundle for 150,000LL, you’re supporting 11 small neighborhood shops. You can pre order on 70413205 (see the ad here). Truly at this stage, it is beyond commenting on the ad - which is quite nice mind you - the two shop owners (real shop owners!) are incredibly nice (I am not going to say well casted, because well, they are real shop owners!). Today, Lebanon needs people sticking to one another more than ever, such initiatives do help people remaining in the market.

2020, the year of small joys

Was this year horrible? By all  measures it was.

And yet, we survived it. Only a few days and it would end. Of course, when one remembers it, maybe the most striking day would be that of the August 4th explosion, if you happen to be a Lebanese (I almost died twice that day). I previously have cautioned how to survive 2020 - the trick is simple - suspend all comparisons (here). But if I choose to remember a day of this wretched year, it would be September 11, the day of the Ethiopian new year.

You see, A., our househelp was invited to a sleepover. Her mother in Ethiopia firmly banned her from going because of all the Coronavirus cases popping up. To say the young girl was disappointed was an understatement. So I suggested she would host a party at our house. At first she thought I was joking, but I doubled down with "so, who do you want to invite?". Whereas she did not answer, I knew she was plotting it in her head.

And so indeed, on September 11, day of the new year, she went about cleaning the house and cooking and what not. Then early in the afternoon, I smelled something being baked. I went to the kitchen to check what the smell was, and A. put her finger on her mouth to indicate secrecy. It turned out to be a cake. 

So indeed, nuts were fried the Ethiopian way, leftover Lebanese roasted nuts and potato chips were assembled in small dishes, pop corn was popped, cola bottles manifested themselves (including a Mirinda which is the choice drink for celebration in Ethiopia), a small low table was decorated with flowers and an incense diffuser (with coffee cups for after the food and drink), and A. changed into a nice dress and high heels which she had ordered from an internet shop and which had arrived the day before. All this happened without my mother noticing as she was sitting in her Morris chair in the salon.

Two girls who worked in neighboring houses came by, and A. invited mother to preside on the celebrations. To be honest even I did the effort of actually wearing something that was not my usual house shorts. And there we were, eating cake and having cola drinks, mother was bestowing well wishes on the girls and they would repeat with "Amen" after each one in unison (health, wealth, prosperity, peace of mind and so on....). I made sure to take photos of everyone and send them to A. on whatsapp who immediately sent them to both the girls there but also to her parents in Ethiopia.

About three or four hours later, A. changed into jeans and trainers and went with the girls to the house where one of them worked for dinner. At about 8 in the evening she came back all smiling and giggling. I asked her if she had fun during the day. And she answered with a resounding "eehhh" (Lebanese for yes), and if she thought this was better than the sleepover - again she agreed.

Actually, we are a very low-key house in term of celebrations. Rarely do I invite people over (by choice mind you), and we do not hold extended family celebrations. Even Sunday lunches are a 15 minute thing. In case you did not know, Sunday lunches are Marathonic affairs in certain families that join lunch to dinner and go well into the night. So hosting a party was totally out of character.

But hey, 2020 was indeed a year of small joys. And the day of the Ethiopian new year was one of them. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

AUB: To have WHAT more abundantly?

La lil 10% la lil imperyaliye
(Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series Abou Fouad)

Well, the AUB motto is (and it is etched in marble on its main gate): "So that they may have life, and have it more abundantly"... The title of this post comes from an article in the sadly now dead Campus Newspaper when there was an open clash between the students and the Internal Security Forces (circa 1994) at the AUB grounds due to tuition hike. Yesterday the same scenario happened it seems. This time the clash was with the riot police.

Like everything, there was the students' version (inflammatory in tone), the AUB version (completely antagonistic and exonerating to the University), the armed forces version (no official statement), and the truth. Do note that 800 AUB employees were sacked not long ago, although some of the said employees did go back voluntarily after the August 4 explosion to help with the massive scale of the hurt people (without pay mind you).

This being Lebanon one cannot isolate problems, the devaluation of the currency, while some bits of the economy still work on the 1515 Liras peg while others are dealing with the banks' 3900 and others with the black market rate of more than 8000 makes it a total Capernaum. That the economy is not just teetering at the edge of the abyss but rather being in the total abyss makes any decision - even if financial survival depended on it - very politically tricky, and no doubt, want it or not AUB is politically connected on all levels (see here and here).

To be clear though, although AUB is my Alma Mater, I am - apart from giving the occasional lecture there based on kind invitations - very far removed from the atmosphere. But what is certainly true is that - with MEA only accepting fresh Dollars for their tickets - the point of no return has been reached in Lebanon. 

Interestingly one of the most famous protest slogans "la lil 10% la lil imperyaliye" comes from the famous semester long the AUB students held in 1974. No for the 10% no for imperialism....

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Leo Burnett Beirut x The Donation Container

Now here is an initiative from Leo Burnett Beirut this Christmas! How about being the Secret Santa of someone who really needs it. The idea is so simple, no one thought about it before... Teaming up with The Donation Container - on the 22nd and 23rd of December you can contact to pitch in.... Again this is a very very difficult year for many people on all levels, and if you add the explosion, on top of the financial disasters one can only see how bad the situation is.... And Leo Burnett for good measure added their codework "humankind" (which is how they like all their campaigns to be dipped in that). See all info on this link....

Friday, December 18, 2020

Rim el Assal - International Arabic Language Day #Flashback

Originally published on June 8, 2011:

Rim goes out and about defending Arabic language and assuring everyone – specifically the youth – that is a “cool” and “contemporary” language… She took the association fi’il amer (which exists in real life to promote and safeguard the Arabic language). She designed a new logo for them, created the selling line “Iltafit nahawi” (which means both “look at me!” and “let’s see what the literary Arabic is all about” (Nahawi is the Arabic used by newspapers)).

To make the whole thing look cool she used Magritte but with a twist. She goes on to ridicule all those who do not know the difference between “z” and “Zein” or “Daaad” and “dad” (two different letters in the language) and then attacks all those who use the Latinized version of Arabic (2 is not a “Hamze”!, 7 is not “Heh”!)…
And then, she blows a major strike picking words and sentences from Arabic luminaries (Oum Koulsoum, Ziad Rahbani, etc…) puts them in a visual pop art sauce and tries to translate them into English… All the poetry, mystique, humour, double-entendre is suddenly gone! You see, some sentences simply out to be said and written in Arabic!...
And she did the whole presentation without uttering ONE word in any language apart from Arabic!
Smashingly well done!

Emirates NDB - the wise ones indeed.

Now that we established that banks are not the favorite institutions according to the Lebanese.... It seems the Emiratis have a totally different perspective about them there. 48% of people said they had no issue sharing their data with banks as long as they use them ethically. Well, good for them because it seems Emirates NBD, one of the leading banks in the region wanted to pamper those who put their trust in them! In an incredible association of data and creativity (praise goes to the concept, data, more than the creativity truth be told), an ad (which was shot in 12 hours owing to COVID restrictions!) shows "the others" (annoying truth be told, but I am sure it was meant to be so!), and "the wise ones" - they know where they put there money, and they know how to take advantage of what the bank has to offer with other institutions (free hotel rooms, great shopping deals, sending money across borders without a charge and the list continues...). 

Sometimes ads benefit from COVID restrictions (like the mighty Stories of Mecca!), sometimes a bit less so (as the current case of the Emirates NBD ad). But still, as I said, when it comes to combining data with storytelling is the ad's strength (maybe the casting or direction though could have benefited from a second opinion!)...

Still, that granny on Tiktok is something to behold!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

List of the Epica Awards Grand Prix winners...


• Network of the Year: Wunderman Thompson

• Agency of the Year: INGO Stockholm/ David Miami/ Publicis

Well... This sounds like a broken record (sorry for the pun!!)....

And excellent result for INGO Stockholm/David Miami/Publicis (look below and you will understand why!!!). Burger King and its "Moldy Whopper" simply swiped the board!


• RESPONSIBILITY: “Through Your Eyes”, INCUCAI x Sony Music, Wunderman Thompson Buenos Aires

+ Special Mention for “The Last Present”, Canary Islands govt., Mientrastanto, Spain

• PR: “The Moldy Whopper”, Burger King, INGO Stockholm/David Miami/Publicis

• DESIGN: “Heinz Ketchup Puzzle”, Rethink, Canada

• DIGITAL: “Swipe Night”, Tinder, 72andSunny Los Angeles

• PRINT: “The Moldy Whopper”, Burger King, INGO Stockholm/David Miami/Publicis

• FILM: “The Moldy Whopper”, Burger King, INGO Stockholm/David Miami/Publicis

Pam Nasr - a brilliant film for Versace Jeans Couture

This indeed, is a match made in fashion heaven. Superb film director Pam Nasr (from Clams Casino and very in-demand model) is out with a bang for Versace Jeans Couture. Nasr's 80s esthetics is only too compatible with Versace, as both go for "less is bore" and dial the volume to 11 with "more and more". The story, believe it or not, could indeed have happened. Well, it draws on Lebanon's Christmas traditions of dinner on the 24th (which takes precedent to lunch on the 25th) with friends going to their dinner. Well, with an old Mercedes with a tendency to breakdown, friends clad in Versace Jeans Couture, and some helpful people met along the way - what could go wrong? Actually, "what could go right?" is a better question. The film is - honestly - exceptional. Quirky, smart, well-written, and - ahem actually this is a praise - very kitsch. Oh and this is not a spoiler, it actually ends with a party! Watch the beautiful film here!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Logi does a convincing comeback tour

Remember Logi? The Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative? Well, they got themselves some heavyweights for their new ad. By order of appearance: Alia Moubayed (emerging market specialist), Dan Azzi (Global financial markets expert), Albert Kostantinian (Journalist and economic consultant), Pierre Saade (Senior Mena Regional Coordinator of Publish What You Say) - please note I copied their titles exactly as they were written in the ad, capital letters and all - and each of these protagonists came and sustained the case on why oil and gas is indeed the future of Lebanon... Provided of course (and these pillars and values were written on the palm of their hands) - participation (also could be involvement), transparency, citizenship, democracy, and trust were all insured (the last word was written on the palm of the hand of Diana Kaissy who is the executive director of Logi). Interestingly, without being falsely over-creative, the ad makes its point clearly and gets its message across. Of course, we all wonder in Lebanon at how much such initiatives actually procure real change on the ground. But Logi is apparently not here to play. Please see the ad here.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Purell - the campaign that says too much in too little of a space

Well, back when I used to teach, I always told my students: Do your ads in such a way one can see and understand them in a split of a second as they drive on the Dbayeh highway. Whomever did the Purell ad was not my student. It really says - too much. In too little of a space, even if the art direction is well done. But... 

OK hang in there: "Avoid the catastrophe" - it means do not shake hands or else 1) the titanic tattooed on one hand will hit the iceberg tattooed on the other 2) the cat tattooed on one hand will bounce on the bird tattooed on the other 3) (not present in the above photos) the shark tattooed on one hand will hurt the surfer tattooed on the other. Wait, there's more: there is also a disclaimer "stop cross-contamination sanitize your hands".

All this - as I said - to be understood, grasped, dissected in a split of a second. My two cents is that there has been too many meetings between agency and client, too many opinions went in there, and too much back and forth thought injected. For a much simpler campaign, yet one that works without being too much complicated, check the Santell ads (such as this one here or for stills this one here).

Traces of John Le Carre in Lebanon

Now that John Le Carre, the man who gave us masterful works of literature (and one orphan non-spy based work which was derided by the literature clique but which I dearly loved "The Naive and Sentimental Lover"), has passed away. I have proofs he passed by Lebanon. The first one above, is his signed copy of The Little Drummer Girl (part of which happens in Lebanon) which was signed to the late British journalist Robin Mannock.

The other less obvious? A welcome drink at the Commodore Hotel (where journalists would stay during the war). I found it in Robin's archives which were handed down to me. At first I did not pay much attention to it. Later I discovered that in The Little Drummer Girl, the author says he (or his main protagonist) stayed at room 607 at the Commodore. I immediately remembered I read that number previously, where else but in Robin's card (the man Robin was meeting was staying in that room!). The card is referenced as 11/2/1982 and the book signed in 23/4/1983. I will let you do the math. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Helem trans study and Lebanese entrenched values

I shall begin this post by a parallel story. When men's fashion bible, GQ, set out to elect the decade's most stylish men, it came out with some incredibly stylish men: A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, LeBron James... But the winner was... Roger Federer. Yes, the boringly suited, with the occasional limited edition watch Federer. If I am relaying this story, it is because - for all GQ's gutsiness - the people who voted this represent its readers: A chunk of the male audience which remains quite conservative.

Which brings me to the Helem statistics about trans people in the Lebanese society. Lebanon has always been touted as some sort of progressive beacon in the Middle East. With our women's rights' laws still lagging, with issues of homosexuality still up in the air, with our pseudo-feudal system still deeply intrenched with religious authority figures (I really, really, wanted to know the reaction of the local clergy about Pope Francis declaration about him endorsing same-sex civil unions), with youth still quasi-indoctrinated by either their parents, their peers, or the religious upbringing (recently a meeting for "Thawra" factions ended in blows with the participants still not able to agree about civil unions in Lebanon). 

And to go back to the said statistics: Only 21% of the people who participated in the survey were able to complete their desired level of education (a misleading figure to be honest as it does not say if the transition happened before or after completing the said level of education - what if they finished their education prior to transitioning?). 

Apparently 50 trans people participated in the survey of whom 46 consider immigrating or requesting asylum, and 38 of whom corelated that to difficulty of finding employment. 25 out of the 33 employed trans people (in what sectors? with what salary brackets? can their employment rate equal the national level of unemployment?) say they encountered physical abuse (32%), verbal abuse (72%), bullying (68%), financial exploitation (44%). 

Again, without trivializing the numbers financial exploitation is rampant - specifically these days with the advent of the notion of "fresh Dollar" where international companies are recruiting people at ridiculous salaries. Bullying is the bread and butter of the advertising industry, trust me I know and I paid dearly for standing up and basically not having it (once more this does not make it right, but again, how does this compare to national averages if there are any - LinkedIn is full of stories of bullying at work).

88% said that discrimination was the cause they did not find work. Ask any qualified actor, and they would tell you that their years of training at college has come to naught after being replaced by the beauty queen/model du jour. Once more, not trying to shade the numbers, but this is not some isolated case - it is known statistically that thin people make more money than people who are fatter for the same positions, same applies to women (who are estimated to earn 81% of men's salaries for the same positions).

Now here is my two cents: I am an extremely liberal person, I would not give a toss about your sexual identity (I clearly recall an incident which happened in class where one of my students was married and already had a child, at the end of the course she approached me and said: "ever since I got married, I became "wife of", when I had a child I became "mother of", in your class this is the the first instance where I felt I was simply a human being), how you present yourself socially (though to be honest, I voted for Federer in the GQ survey), and all that.

But I also realize that in a society like Lebanon to be trans is to threaten people in their masculinity or femininity (Helem is mainly composed of queer men and women, and even such people can feel under attack - I am not inventing this: Antonella, who at one point was Lebanon's most visible trans (who is currently residing in Canada) said so on television long ago on NTV with presenter Rania Baroud). But let us be honest, is Lebanon really the forward-thinking country that people like to think of? Can you see a trans person in the customer care department of a bank? Would a Lebanese feel emotionally safe if the marketing director or welcome desk attendant of a hotel was trans? And the list continues.

As I said, I am too liberal to give a toss. But again, perhaps our country is not as progressive as we think it might be. And not just our country, the US elections gave us a very clear idea that more than 70 million voters still thought Donald Trump deserved a second mandate of four more years - and the idea of having Harry Styles in a dress on the cover of Vogue sent conservatives into a frenzy (as if David Bowie or Marc Bolan never happened before, or the video for "I want to break free" by Queen was never broadcasted).

People still revert to classical and stereotypical gender assignments. It makes them safe you know.

Oh here are two shocking facts before I go:

High heels were invented for men to better be able to position their foot on the stirrup of their horse.

Up until the 50s any respectable man had a pink shirt in his closet - that pink became color coded came later.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Christmas? What Christmas?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series "Lebanon's history"
2020 just claimed its latest casualty - Christmas. No, no, am not inventing some "war on Christmas" as right-wingers love to pretend in the US. Really, nothing looks like Christmas. Sure, you might say it has been so for a few years. But that is not true, everyone was still capable of entering the mood - merchants played the game, fake snow was on the shop windows, santas were in malls, animations for kids, you know - the whole she bang. Oh, and advertising on the billboards, quite a few advertising on the billboards not only for Christmas, but mainly for New Year's Even in restaurants and hotels, even if last year it was mainly C and D listers.

But this year, it is full blown crisis. A perfect storm on all fronts. Sure, we put Christmas trees with flickering lights in our houses. But between the coronavirus (with people avoiding visits), and the general mood of tiredness, disillusion, and all around defeatism after a truly horrible year on several levels - be it economic, political, personal, oh and add an explosion which ranked sixth largest accidental explosions - definitely no one is in the mood to "celebrate".

The weather is still clement at this stage, which is oddly positive as many people no longer have roofs above their heads - both metaphorically and literally. The percentage of poverty has increased sporadically due to the severe devaluation of the currency. And understandably, no one has the strength to play-pretend anymore.

Not sure if these can count as silver linings, but there indeed many initiatives to care about the people, from the people (Beit El Baraka and FabricAid come to mind, and am sure there are others...). I am not defending our government's total haphazard response from top to bottom (not sure anyone has a plan, no matter how vague!), but that regular people are stepping up to the plate where no one else did is truly impressive and commendable. In the end, now is the time to agglomerate as a population and to stand by one another.

Weirdly, if this is not what Christmas is all about, then I wonder what is.

Arak Farid: Brilliant packaging and excellent selling line

Arak Farid is truly - as Farid means in Arabic - unique. Already, it defines itself as 54% alcohol, 46% stories - beat that for a brilliant selling line. In case you are wondering whose image figures on the label, it is that of president Fouad Chehab. Sure, they do everything by hand there, and though I never tasted the Arak, the packaging alone is worth contemplating and appreciating. And they even have a special edition infused with wild thyme (in a collaboration with The Good Thymes). Whomever did that branding did an excellent work. Apparently the product hails from Ain Jouaya, Ghbale in Mount-Lebanon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

A Medco Beirut tribute that actually works.

Ah the Beirut tributes! After the explosion so many brands rode the bandwagon of sending tributes to the city - most bland, several of them not sincere, others bordering the horrific (here's looking at you Pepsi!). Which is why, at times, the low-key ones are actually the one that work best. Take this spectacular Medco example - blink and you'll miss it. Medco still sticks to its Arabo-Latin transcription. Which makes the two flags read "forwad! for the sake of Beirut" - the 2021 has a peace dove in it instead of a zero. I personally really love it - maybe the idea they did not plant it in front of everyone's nose is what it makes work, as it comes off sincere rather than show-off. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Sanwdwich W Noss - a double ad that works

Sandwich W Noss (despite being petty in the past!) has a nice double ad on the highway. Actually it starts with the one on the bridge. "Taaaake! Your right"..... And what is there right after the bridge? Blimey! A Sandwich W Noss branch. "What are you waiting for - slow down". Well, it does work - first as a notifying sign and then an outright invite. Actually whereas the image above is a composite, they both can fit in one image from far enough. See below.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Bell's - the Christmas ad that got away.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

And that's one of the ads that got away. I never managed to find it. It is the Bell's whisky Christmas ad.... The ad was incredibly simple. At night, a is pouring a glass of Bell's in front of a snowy window (we only see his hands though). In the distance we hear the church bells chiming, and the voice over goes: "what would Christmas be without Bell's". The ad would only run on Christmas week in the mid 80s on TeleLiban, but that was enough for me to remember it. Pity I could not find it anywhere.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Ksara - it ain't broke and they didn't fix it.

You remember the Ksara campaign from earlier this year? Well, it ain't broke so they didn't fix it. Actually they retooled it for a bit more into a winter scheme. Interestingly, it could have become a second degree touristic postcard thing (because it mentions many Lebanese areas) but thankfully, including the bottle so prominently saved it from ending up so. Naturally, enticing the Lebanese to "hold their cup" in a gesture of patriotism really requires a lot of guts, which sadly is quasi empty right now in the land. But then again advertising is now inspirational for nothing. And well, if we can dream a bit at the end of this year, then why not?