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.”

Bonjus/Tony Maalouf nail the mood of Lebanon's summer

And sometimes it just works! You can turn it, flip it, analyze it, dissect it, etc.... The end result is something you identify with. Oh that's amo Kamil/Bahij/Hussein's store or this is when tante Latife gave me the money, or when I was with Toni/Siham/Anis... OK seems the shop is actually the very very famous Lebanese ice cream maker Hanna Mitri in Achrafieh. But Tony Malouf still nails the mood of Beirut and its scorching summer in his illustration.... Pleasure inside indeed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

On optimism and the one-handed economist in Lebanon.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on Albrecht Durer

Lately, I have been accused of being an optimist - specifically due to this piece.
Trust me, I am innocent of all charges.
I am impulsive, at times reckless, perhaps naive and gullible, but certainly am not an optimist.
The piece in question was based on experience and a rational thinking. Thinking short term is going to complicate matters, even though I realize asking to do so would be too much for someone who has their nose in the daily grind.
Another word that also gets on my nerves is resilience. It is that said resilience and our way to find short term fixes that got us as Lebanese where we are today. Had we really demanded and executed change along with accountability we would not have ended with B systems that work instead of the original A (the official recognized one).
Look am  not predicting easy, populist fixes, and my nephews tend to dislike me when my answers tend to be complex. Thankfully, they hear them out. And end up activating their neurons in the process. Which reminds of this old story. 
An emperor asked his chief of staff to find him a one-handed economist. The man rummaged the land and found none. Back to the palace he asks the emperor why would he need such a person, and the emperor answers, "because all their answers end with "on the other hand"..."
I know it seems am giving a convoluted answer to a simple question. But without being optimist or resilient, I still think we will pull through in Lebanon. In the long run.

Monday, July 6, 2020

On the price of things in Lebanon

With the Dollar exchange price varying daily here are some cases I witnessed:
A store owner I know is opening his shop haphazardly with no fixed hours because the price of the merchandise is increasing constantly.
Another store owner who is seeing things fly off the shelf knows it is because she priced the goods at 2600 Liras to the Dollar and openly warned her customers this was not a sustainable strategy. She privately told me "sales are through the roof but [monetary] gain is "batata" (potatoes)".
An apartment owner prefers to keep his apartment empty rather than rent it and lose value in the short-middle run.
Another just rented his at the old rate of 1500 Liras because he fears an empty apartment will not be looked after.
International chains such as Zara are increasing their prices accordingly for their new collections.
Others such as Adidas are exiting the market (at the end of the year).
Another children clothing chain labeled its goods from A to Z each with an increasing price point. Interestingly, only labels G and above existed in the store.
Barter is starting to become acceptable as a strategy between people though the practice not taking off yet.
In the example above (in the photo) a high end sports store is offering a new model at 1,145,000 the comments - now deleted - include:
"Does it come with a passport?"
"The price includes registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles?" 
"Are kidneys accepted?"
"When I will buy it I will give it and ID card, send it to school, right? Maybe give it a name, teach it how to drive...."
Whereas the comments run as jokes, it is obvious that there is no clear strategy as to how prices are being set. Suffice to say 60% of the butcheries in Lebanon closed down due to meat price becoming out of reach to the populace.
The plot thickens sadly, and the belts are tightened.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Concord - on staying home and patriotic slogans

Concord, the Lebanese white good manufacturer, has an ad that combines staying at home and patriotic slogans. "Stay home and shop online" has obvious meanings and roots. Now the patriotic bit I have blogged about before but may need repeating.
بتحب لبنان؟ حب صناعتو
You love Lebanon? Love its industry

The slogan which was coined when slain Minister Pierre Gemayel was Minister of Industry, has firm roots in an old poster by the Phalangists (which were created by his own grandfather - Pierre Gemayel after whom he was called), the poster in question (circa 1976) is below:
Photo taken from Maria Chakhtoura's book La Guerre des Graffiti
You love it... Work for it.
The analogy between the two slogans is uncanny once you think about it.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Lebanon made in China: Barbarians at the gate

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on a Chinese cultural Revolution porcelain statue
Never a dull day. Right after news broke that talks between Lebanon and the IMF broke down, it transpired that China is interested in our electricity company and railway system - or what's left of both. Before anyone goes about the Chinese human right abuses, those enamored with Saudi Arabia, Iran or the United States (the three most popular allegiances excluding Germany-Brasil in football) should do some basic checks. 
A Lebanese saying goes "min ma akhad emme sar 3amme" - whomever marries my mother becomes my stepfather. And well, seems the Chinese will become Mao stepfather. It is really a deus ex Machina situation saving the situation in extremis. But hey, the Chinese are certainly not doing it for the meager money that will come out of our electricity taxes or our now defunct trains. 
As I said, never a dull moment in Lebanon. Am sure the IMF is baffled.
黎巴嫩中国制造 - that's "Lebanon made in China" for you.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thinking long term will get us through in Lebanon

Scars mean you survived - Hussein Hajj
(Artwork by Tarek Chemaly)

I shall begin with the old adage: "This too shall pass". Well, I did survive the Lebanese war, several family financial crises as my late father was a government employee which meant at times his salary became peanuts when devaluation occurred in 1988, or when we were three kids at university concurrently or when this or when that. My own life was not a straight arrow either. I jumped ship from a very stable government employee career and a flourishing consulting gig to work in advertising and communication. The practical definition of insanity. I took too many gambles, some paid off and some did not. 
I know telling someone who does not have enough food on the table or money to go to the end of the month to think long term is hypocrite and basically careless. But, believe it or not, this is the only way to get through. Taking the long aim is the only way. And to do that - paradoxically - is to try to make it one day at a time. 
Considering the blog is focused on communication, brands should think the same. It is often said that brands that invest in advertising in downturn will reap the rewards later. But to survive this, perhaps brands should continue to think day to day, cultivating their links to consumers online through social media. Yes, the times are very bleak. Inflation, devaluation, riots, COVID, capital control, haircuts, you name it, it is there in a gigantic perfect storm. Are we paying the price of living above our means as Lebanese? Of course we are. But - step by step, day by day, keeping the idea that we will pull through is the only way to go.
One day we will talk about this in the past tense.
"Scars mean you survived" as Hussein Hajj said. We will survive this. Scarred. But, hopefully, wiser.

Monday, June 29, 2020

On the joys of being a juror at an ad festival

The PHNX festival just closed its jury grading window. I must have graded more than 2500 ads.
The PHNX was a bit of an anomaly though: Being free to enter some people plugged their portfolios to the cringing reaction of the jurors, there was an incredible mismatch in the categories which also sent the jurors over the edge, and many entries were not eligible due to their broadcast date being earlier than was stipulated.
To be a juror means either you are a masochist or you have enormous dedication. Remember, you need to finish the category you started because either your vote will not be counted or you will skew the average if you do not fulfill the whole category. With around 250 entries per category on average this becomes a drudgery.
Yet, again, in my case not only passion but dedication is there. For the PHNX, I was given a full day head start in judging because I am incredibly fast at doing so (when I used to teach at university level I immediately knew if I liked the creative idea the student was presenting or not), and because I was able to pinpoint technical errors and immediately report them.
Just to clear though, the PHNX which was a one time only festival and the Epica Awards where I have been judging since 2016 are no walk in the park. Both online and as a physical juror. When you sit about 16 hours in the same room putting grade after grade, or when you do that at home doing the same amounts to pseudo-insanity. The problem? An ad which is a total disaster in the film category actually has a great use of sound, one with a horrible activation strategy is excellent in its branding, hence the need to be alert as to what category you are judging and to combat mental fatigue.
Another issue? Peer pressure.
Many ads fellow jurors fell in love with left me incredibly cold. At times I would throw another glance at the ad in question only to say - "nope it still leaves me cold". It really takes a lot to make me change my mind. But again, you need to really hang on to your opinion and not say "Oh so-and-so-head-of-agency-liked-it-so-must-I". You have your opinion and head-of--agency has theirs.
Of course, one also needs to be fair. Normally as a juror you are denied voting on work from your own country. But work for the Lebanese market is often presented from Dubai so I end up judging it - often poorly - without playing favoritism.
With all its folly, the excitement of finding the next great ad overcomes all the insanity and frustration. And this alone is a tremendous joy!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Al Hurra goes against stereotype in New ad

Al Hurra TV goes against stereotype in a new ad. Part of this new wave of short-destined-destined-for-internet ads, the Hurra output crams a lot in a short while: A man dancing professionally? A woman riding on a motorcycle? Throughout the copy makes it easy to understand. "I am free in my expression" on the dancer and "I am free in my orientations/destinations" on the woman. Then the words "I am the free one" (Hurra means Free in the female form). The effort is part of a larger campaign by the chain to (re)position itself with its potential audience. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

We are the hope - saving Lebanon with sports

For a long while this was the only new campaign running practically everywhere in town. The idea is simple, Lebanese (rather well-known, or award-winning) sports people were photographed each in his/her discipline. With the minimal layout (almost absent actually) there is the line "we are the hope" (which also doubles as the campaign name). From what I understand there was a song written by sports activist Michel Bou Abdo (the mastermind behind the campaign) and composed by Ziad Boutros - and that 64 athletes participated in the campaign. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Malak Al Tawouk - the franji generation

Malak Al Tawouk has certainly been branching out and revamping its menu away from the "tawouk" (chicken skewer) which made its name (literally). It did burgers and variants of them, even their decoration became funky, it went digital for a different audience, had a phone line for ordering, and now has a new line of sandwiches away from the traditional Arabic bread or what is called "Franji" (literally "western" or "non-local") and the ad truly goes for the jugular: "jil el franji" (the franji generation). Well, image wise Malak Al Tawouk is certainly under a strict efficient strategy away from middle-aged workers gulping sandwiches on their lunch break and family lunches where one could get a lot of food for a buck (which is where/how it started).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

SKeyes explores censorship with "freedom is not a number"

SKeyes (SK stands for slain journalist Samur Kassir) gets director Roy  Dib to speak of censorship in Lebanon. Dib whose work was exhibited worldwide, and whose thematic I really like, is indeed candid.
Who can censor? The army
What can you talk about? Not much (everything is seen as devaluing women or inciting on debauchery or homosexuality)
And the list continues. With all his frankness Dib only scratches the surface of the iceberg.
I was once at the opening of a movie festival in 2010 and 5 mins before the movie starts the organizer shows up and says "we still do not have an answer from censorship, sometimes no answer is an answer" (the movie in question was "Chou Sar" by Charles de Gaulle Eid). At times the reasons given are too vague or obscure but irrevocable and irrefutable.
Watch the SK Eyes Roy Dib here... Worth it. Freedom is not a number indeed.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

NMHP - mental health and the Coronavirus

National Mental Health Program (NMHP) in Lebanon has a beautifully shot, well done film related to the Coronavirus. The film plays on paranoia, then on people helping one another the Lebanese way (a woman pulls her filled grocery bucket with a rope, etc....) - it does fall a bit into cliche, but when cliche is reality it is forgiven to do so. Still, a bit schmaltzy but the film works. Did the lockdown and the disease take a toll on mental health? Yes without any doubt. 
Now - if you have not watched the film The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock maybe this fragment is relevant. The townsfolk accused the newcomer (played by Tippi Hedren) as being the cause of the bird attacks. "I think you're the cause of all of this. I think you're evil. EVIL!"
Well the Lebanese are no different. Any scapegoat will do - the newer the scapegoat the better.
Watch the NMHP film here

Home Centre - an emotional father's day ad with a major plot twist

How can I tell you how great the Home Centre father's day ad is without revealing the plot twist. The very moving plot twist. Suffice to say the ad starts linear - well shot, a bit emotional, slightly predictable.
Then boum!
Really, the scenario becomes so unpredictable. It moves you and really surprises you making the earlier scenes exponentially more emotional. I am trying to convey the beauty of it without spoilers.
Please admire the film here.
PS: handkerchiefs advised.

Floward - hands down a perfect father's day ad.

The Floward father's day ad starts as an ode to mothers - who gave the baby the milk bottle? Who gave him his lunch to school? Who chose the items at the supermarket? Who attended his graduation? So far a perfect replica of the Nido ad. Then comes the father: Who prepared the milk bottle? Who drove the kid to school? Who pushed the caddie and paid at the supermarket? Who missed his son's graduation because he had to find a parking spot? - Floward comes as the cute revealer In the end!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Carrefour - pledges that the consumers need

When times are a tough as they are today in Lebanon - economically, socially, politically - any small bit helps. The other day when shopping at the supermarket, the woman in the same isle as I am was checking something on her phone - I thought it was some shopping list. Her daughter brought  an item and the woman said "no that's too much" - the item was promptly returned. It turns out the woman was calculating on her phone how much her bill would be at the counter and did not want to exceed her budget. 
This practice is something the head marketing of a major supermarket told me was happening, people wanted to benefit from supermarket offers but also wanted not to exceed their pre-allocated budgets especially that now a lot of people pay cash because card payment ceilings are incredibly limited.
Which is why the Carrefour pledges above truly matter to the end consumer. 
"If you find an item outside at a lower price, take it for free"
"If you find the price on our shelf lower than the cash register, take the item for free" 
With consumers from all socio-economic classes trying to save a penny - and I mean from all socio-economic classes - such pledges are what distinguishes one place from another. And could truly create a new loyalty when the consumer is chasing the lowest paying denominator.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ksara plays the optimism card.

Ksara just played the optimism card with an ad that goes "keep your glass raised" (khalli kesak marfou3) a riff on the typical Lebanese resilience, pride, and upbeat thinking no matter how bad the situation - and this situation is indeed incredibly bad. Whereas I am not questioning the timing of the campaign which is an essential morale boost, it did remind me of a campaign in the 90s for Almaza beer whose teaser was "rfa3 rasak"- keep your head high - and the reveal was "Almaza bterfa3 el ras" (Almaza keeps the head high (because duh you need to raise your head to drink beer) - or figuratively, "Almaza makes you proud"). 
I know, I know, this is not the same slogan but at some point the figurative analogy came back to my mind. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Common sense would be popular in Lebanon - if it was imported

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series "History of Lebanon"

Next to our house in Beirut (Achrafieh) in the 80s there was something called "Al Ma'amal" (the factory), which as the name indicated would manufacture and sell clothing. That place was not unique, I also remember Anitex and Jonitex and other such labels.
I reveal no secret that Lebanon is importing much more than it is exporting, making the economy dangerously lopsided. Here's a story: My nephews came today and said that a bag of chickpeas costs 4500 Liras today, when it was 3000 when the Dollar was back at 1500 liras (the current value of the Dollar is all over the place but let us estimate it at 4000 Liras), so they said that the hummus was now cheaper than it was even if it was more expensive. I probed them as to why? They constructed the answer and discovered that it was because it was "made in Lebanon" ergo, not imported.
Lebanese have always been cosmopolitan. Story goes that major corporations would give their products to ambulant merchants on pushcarts in Beirut in the 50s and 60s and if the product did not sell they would not bother export it to the region because the Beirutis were the barometers of taste. But not only Lebanese had taste, they also love brands - or if they cannot get the original then made a good local copy.
Long before we had any McDonalds or Burger King, we had our own Winners and Juicy Burger. No points for guessing where the Winners logo got its red and yellow colors. But we also had our own Adams Chicklets factory, our own Gada shaving cream (which was infinitely more popular than Gilette), our own Amatoury (I am one of those who still use their shower gel religiously and still think their original perfume smells incredibly nice - though when I revealed that to someone who complimented my smell, he retorted: "What? You never heard the joke, "you still wear Amatoury?" as imply someone is too retro in their taste" and I replied "well, you just said I smelled nice.").
Lest I be called a hypocrite, I too wear imported branded items - but there is nothing wrong with consuming Cortas jam, Al Wadi Al Akhdar hummus or chickpea dip, Sanita products, and the list goes on. But there is a national complex that "franji branji" (foreign items) are nicer, sleeker, better-made, more socially-boosting and status-elevating than their local counterparts.
Actually, common sense would be popular in Lebanon - if it was imported.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

On kindness in advertising, rule(r)s, exceptions and Ali Rez

#NotABlugSplat - Reprieve
A well-known, multi-multi-awarded creative director at a Lebanese agency would go inside the junior art directors' cubicle where about six of them are packed like sardines, would look at them with disdain, sigh audibly, shrug and turn his back and leave - not once guiding them or correcting their creative output. I met him once, he looked at me, and - with a tone between sarcasm, indifference, merged with haughtiness - he uttered: "Oh, you're the one with the blog". Mind you, believe it or not, he was trying to give me a compliment. But as far as compliments this sounded more like "for someone this obese you don't sweat much", which is backhanded at best.
Another one, adopts Calvin's theory (to quote Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip), "if you can't win by reason, win by volume" - that man finds everything infuriating and a cause for screaming. And I mean everything! When he wanted a junior to go fetch a file from her desk, and the elevator did not show up like immediately, he screamed so hard at the girl she quit the next day - and that agency was actually a revolving door of talent due to that reason.
Oh, and trust me on this: The higher you go in the echelon the less creative directors are ready to share credit. I was consulting once on a project with an advertising agency on a project and the brainstorm was eerily, eerily quiet. During the lunch break I said so to the creative staff, and someone quipped "why bother say anything, the creative director will steal it anyhow and claim it was his idea."
If you think these are some isolated incidents, do think again. Advertising is rampant with such cases and yes, I experienced many myself - the difference was I stood up to myself because by the time I moved to advertising I had transitioned from a successful career in engineering and consulting. Ergo, I had many years behind me in my career and honestly did not need that to put up with such behavior.
Naturally, not everyone was as lucky. I saw many juniors being laughed at or being paraded in front of others for their lack of creativity (though oddly their "uncreative" ideas would be appropriated later by the higher ups with no credit). I apologize I am inserting this quote when race issues are burning in the United States but I once read a quote that said, "what a slave needs more than freedom, is a slave of his own" - which is why those who remain in the industry end up bitter and release this bitterness on younger, less experienced people once they go up the chain. And with this, they repeat the pattern of abuse and risibility they were subjected to on a newer, fresher generation of advertising people.
Oddly, all this post was inspired by the exception rather than the rule. Yesterday, I read it twice in one day, how Ali Rez - who is currently at BBDO Dubai (serving as Regional Executive Creative Director, Middle East & Pakistan) is - not just nice - but "one of the nicest people" one could meet (to read that twice in one day is truly surprising!). 
So Ali, please go on being the nicest. You are an exception that proves the rule. And sadly advertising is not only a land of rules, but rather a land of rulers.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

There are much fewer corny ads in town.

Artwork by the talented Jad Chidiac
For a blog whose main material is talking about ads, the fact that there are no ads to talk about should be devastating. Prior to Coronavirus, the estimated per capita ad spend was 25 Dollars per Lebanese citizen for 2020 or the (dismal) sum of 100 Million Dollars - the virus (and I stand being corrected) has certainly pushed this figure lower.
Mother's Day, Easter, Ramadan, Eid el Fitr all came and went without a whimper in adland. Normally these occasions would send the market into a frenzy of pseudo-idiotic output. Everyone who thinks is creative would emerge with a silly thing to paste online. Which is why the absence of such superfluous ads is more a blessing than a curse.
Make no mistake, yes, jobs are being lost and unemployment among the youth is said to be at 35% (when the national average is 27% - though to be honest, I think the real figures are much higher). And considering people who work in communication or agencies are rather young (this is no age discrimination, just a fact), then younger people are more hit than other age categories. Actually, a year ago I was in a jury at a reputable university grading final projects and one girl did not show up. I told her friend to call her to check up on her lest she be sick or had an accident. Her friend came back saying "she says she did not bother show up, not that she is going to find a job anyhow."
At one point though, there was too much advertising. Worse, there was too much bad advertising that came and went and was utterly forgettable and those who think they can create a ruckus around their brands by doing "controversial" ads, do think again please. A furniture store and a jewelry store (both handled by the same agency) closed down when - only a year back - both were banking on ads that supposedly stirred the pot.
That the Lebanese consumer is trying to decrease spending is now a given. That brand loyalty is out the window is also a fact. I met a couple I know, him an engineer and her a teacher, while shopping at the supermarket, she sent him down the oil isle with specific instructions: "bring anything medium size and avoid brands X and Y - with the price difference I will buy cans of hummus." And that is supposed to be the middle class. Or what is left of it.
I know it seems I am gloating at the social repercussions of this. I am not, and no, I am not being hypocrite. Whereas I am glad there is much less corny advertising that masquerades as creativity, the downside is that this falls as a domino. The only silver lining? The only youth that hanged on to their jobs (be it copywriters, art directors, planners, or client servicing people) are the really talented ones. I am in contact with many of them as ex students and take pride in having taught them (and who knows, maybe unlocked some of that creativity by pushing them to the edge of the cliff, knowing they will fly rather than fall).
"Wasta" (or the clientage system where unqualified people could take certain positions due to who they know) can only get you this far. When a company's survival fate is in the balance, they hang on to talent.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

I have more pressing problems than George Floyd.

It has emerged that worldwide, there are murals celebrating George Floyd. Including one in Idlib, Syria.
I mean I applaud the effort, truly. A war torn country where the economy is almost non-existent, is standing up to racism. That's truly commendable.
Naturally, problems related to human dignity should be on top of our list. Or should they?
Hmmm, two days ago my bank chose to break our agreement we had together and whose maturity ends in one year (2021). My financial consultant did all the necessary contacts and it turned out that yes, legally, the bank can break the arrangement at the end of every year. No, I did not know it could do so.
My consultant swiftly advised me about a new strategy and now I am waiting for the bank to answer the email I sent them to fine tune the strategy in question.
Meanwhile, prices of goods are soaring, the IMF is knocking on our doors (plural, as there are too many doors behind which lie contrasting numbers), the social unrest is rampant (again, the figures are scary but the reality one could palpably see is too striking), the post-feudal political order is still going strong, oh and there's the Coronavirus leaving the country in a lockdown limbo (not sure if we are in lockdown or not, it is all too confusing).
Now about that racism problem, here's what someone posted yesterday on Facebook:
"If anyone has an Ethiopian worker he does not want anymore, I will take her. Please DM privately."
I am trying to translate verbatim. When I was working as a consultant at a very reputable university in the mid aughts, a professor was walking by the main door. Then a woman of dark skin followed him. The security stopped her, to which the professor turned and told them "hayde ele" (she's mine/she's my property) not "hayde ma3e" (she accompanies me).
Up until a few years ago, one could still purchase a product called "ras el abed" (abed means slave - and ras el abed means head of a slave). The product was rebranded into "tarboosh" (fez) but guess what people still call it? And at the supermarket, one could still purchase a product called "sif el abed" whose name in English is "Negro" (they are cleaning utility pads if you want to know).
I do understand saying that I have more pressing problems than George Floyd might seem being racist or xenophobic - but try living in Lebanon today. The daily pressure is unbearable before we get to the problem that the Ethiopian embassy closed its doors in the face of girls wanting to be repatriated and not affording it (as they need to shell 770 Dollars to pay for their two-week quarantine as soon as they land in Ethiopia as they need to be stationed in hotels because the government owned spaces are now at full capacity).
As I cheer on Aziz Asmr and Anis Hamdoun, the two Syrian artists behind the Idlib mural, I wish either one of them could answer the email I sent to the bank (because the bank still did not yet!) - yes, racism is a major problem in Lebanon, but there are more pressing daily problems that need to be tackled.
The George Floyd issue needs to wait in line.