Friday, November 27, 2020

Aromate - a jewel of an animation

Now that is a nice, lovely, well animated ad (see here why animation took over 2020). Aromate Mayonnaise delivers a cozy, warm, and extremely easy on the eye ad. Sure, concept-wise nothing groundbreaking but then again, should there be? Basically it is a factory run by sunflowers. Which selects the best ingredients to give you the best mayonnaise done with 100% sunflower oil yet rich in Omega 6, Vitamin E and containing no cholesterol (they make sure to say that). The animation is flawless, the rustic charm is fantastic and the whole retro feel totally captivating. See the ad here.

Thankfully no more Black Friday

Sigh of relief. No more Black Friday in Lebanon. At least for this year.

Like other "traditions" or rituals imported from other cultures (the Halloween and St Barbara mix still astounds me), we bastardized everything. Black Friday came to Lebanon sans Thanksgiving. But with the full regalia of the discounts and the "opening of the festive season" (the earliest postings point to 2016 the last right after the crisis started in 2019). With the Lebanese cash strapped this year, with the advertising so exceptionally down (Independence Day was a good indicator) and with the whole mood of the land particularly morose, the Lebanese are - understandably - no longer trying to pretend. 

So how come I seem upbeat about it?

Well, I am not against rituals and traditions, far from it, and I often argued it is rituals that agglomerate communities rather than faith. But it would be nice not to import cultures and just shove them in the face without understanding where they come from. 

With open shops and shoppers who are buying too few and in between, with Lebanese people are driven to the edge, with cash too spare for most families and middle class being tested to the point of vanishing, perhaps - if you have faith - now is the time to delve into it, and if you enjoy rituals, to accommodate them to the size of this all out horrible year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What Nescafe Gold says about Lebanon

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly as part of the "History of Lebanon" project

Nescafe Gold is missing from Lebanese market.

Nothing alarming, just another product to add to the list.

Panadol is missing from Lebanese market.

Nothing alarming, just another product to add to the list.

As per Executive Magazine:

"Since the start of 2020, the poverty rate has increased in Lebanon to an extent where the middle class is practically dissolving, and the lower class has been pushed further into poverty. According to Khalid Abu-Ismail, a Senior Economist at UN-ESCWA, and Vladimir Hlasny, an economic affairs officer at the UN-ESCWA, the moderate poverty head count in Lebanon is projected to have nearly doubled, and extreme poverty, to have tripled. According to the authors, to close the extreme poverty gap, would only require the richest 10% of the Lebanese to levy around 1% of their total assets toward a solidary fund."

The social solidarity thingy is of no interest, we all know it will not happen. A friend of mine who recently started working with an NGO was amazed, "Tarek, no one talks to anyone in these organizations, I though other organizations would share data with me, or would give me pointers. They seem me as a competition and a threat!" - and that is NGOs.

But to go back to Nescafe Gold, one of my very few indulgences I kept. Well, no more. I am, by hook or by crook, one of the remnants of the Middle Class in Lebanon. Growing up, as a family, we always hovered in that category, sometimes falling to its bottom, sometimes rising up higher (anyone who wishes to dumb this down, C- to C+). As time passed, and with all three children having thriving careers, we certainly went to B in terms of socio-economic classification.

Getting my money stuck at the bank was not part of the plan.

On the outside, the façade did not crack. I still dress nice (well, within my style!), but now avoid indulging in new items hanging to a core closet of items after giving away many in successive collects (to poor people, to people hit by the explosion in Beirut and so on). Like everyone else, I spent most of this year indoors. Which helped using the clothes less and keeping them intact. 

I live in a two-storey detached house, but certainly did not anticipate to do the major chantier which imposed itself this summer (sewage, heater, tree which was causing structural problems to be cut down, etc....). But again, am still holding strong. Whereas unsurprisingly work dwindled enormously this year, I resorted to the other best option: Cut down on spending.

Apart from Nescafe Gold that is.

Scratch that.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Lebanese Army stresses independence for Independence Day

As someone who used to do ads for the army, I can tell you this is something difficult. To do ads this good is a whole other level of difficulty. You see, to portray sacrifices can sadly be a bit cliche. Easily, and sadly, emotional. The Lebanese Army ads this year stray away from the usual, while keeping the dignity element in tow. And yes, these are real uniforms of actual soldiers. And to clinch the whole thing conceptually, the tag goes "independence is the protection of the independence" stressing of how remaining at Bay the military institution can fulfill its role. A very good outing indeed.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Independence Day, almost without an advertising whimper

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series "No truce in Beirut (only virgins")

And so Independence Day came and went almost without a whimper. Apart from the ads I spoke of yesterday, I saw some posted here and there but nothing to write (home) about. The projected number that advertising will fall by 90% this year was obviously optimistic (Naji Boulos who came up with the number corrected it in July to 20 million, and that was before the August 4 explosion). The banking issues and the multitude of ways of presenting bills to clients only exacerbated the situation (this includes anyone who still takes contracts priced at 1500 to the Dollar, or those who accept Lebanese Pounds, or a mixture of Pounds and Lollars, or any combination thereof), without mentioning recruiters trying to snatch local creative talents for, literally, pennies under the guise of "fresh Dollars". Add to it the cost of reconstruction that fell on agencies following the Beirut explosion and you have the recipe of a total disaster. 

Notice I did not even mention Corona, which, despite a major spike in cases, still does not factor in (though technically we are on lockdown). Agencies within international networks are managing pan-Gulf accounts, independent ones are hanging by a thread, some migrated to other countries, others are still here but still unable to reopen their offices. On average, I speak of 40 ads on my blog during events such as Independence Day (from a much bigger pool I archive), this year companies almost did not bother. 

No one is to blame though. The public fed up, the economy imploded, the banks are laughing all the way to the bank (yes, I notice the irony of the expression), the mood is somber and morose. Beirut, even pre-lockdown (yet post-explosion) is a ghost town. Major shopping streets are empty, both from shops and shoppers.

All this, when Lebanese are even wondering what "independence" means. Log on to Twitter, follow the tag, and discover the schizophrenia of a country with multiple identities, affiliations, each antagonistic to the other. So here we are, a nation just like the puzzle above (made from two criss-cross puzzle maps of Lebanon found in a junk shop), we are unable to disengage, yet when the puzzle is put together it makes no sense.

I Stand For Women goes the superb route for Independence Day

All right, everyone can go home. I stand For Women just killed it with a superb showing for Independence Day communication (see the post here): "77 years since our independence! Lebanese women are still leading the way and are the backbone of our country. Never forget the important role played by Lebanese women in our Independence journey and the crucial part they are still playing today all over Lebanon and in all walks of life! Lebanese Women led by Zalfa Chamoun marching against the French Mandate calling for Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Zalfa Chamoun, Laure El Khoury, May Arida & Asmahan: 4 women who marked Lebanon’s independence."

Bakalian paints it optimistic for Independence Day

Bakalian paints it optimistic... Well, good to know someone is. The ad though is thankfully not overdone - just goes to the point and says it as is. Somehow, we missed these lowkey ads.

Via Roma and Roman World set the template for Independence Day ads

And Lebanon's Independence Day ads are starting to trickle in! Via Roma and Roman World already set the template for what we will be seeing. Flags and maps dipped in the brand's area of expertise. Everyone will do it but few will succeed. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Lebanese Banks are shamelessly advertising again

Lebanese banks, currently some of the most hated institutions in a land where many others are vying for the title, are actually advertising again. Want some of the usual CSR? Fancy some promises about new/fresh money tucked in the bank you can spend freely? Miss some of that pseudo-periodic thingy dipped in a flag? And - with most if not all - banks bring in bed with the political class, some are actually talking about rebuilding Beirut. Considering the patron figures these banks protected, and facilitated their money movements, honestly the word "shameless" comes to mind. 

To say that the Lebanese are now in a cash economy is not an understatement, anyone with no bank accounts is considered lucky. I already spoke about Lebanon's economy being cadh-centered, and financial institutions have a very long way to go before reclaiming any sort of trust from the public they willingly and consciously deceived.

My advice for the banks: Shut up.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Ramsay Najjar passes away

Ramsay Najjar passes away. There, another advertising giant from the Golden Era vanishes. I have worked with him under different titles and guises throughout the years, and he certainly leaves a large heritage behind him. Perhaps what Claude El Kal should be read today... May he rest in peace.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Kfar Sama - On faith (new video art by Tarek Chemaly)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Are these rituals? or faith? Or does it really matter? Mixing Derek Jarman's quotes from his masterpiece Blue, to a hymn from the ubiquitous Monseigneur Mansour Labaky which bathed my childhood, this video tries - but perhaps fails - to answer the said questions. Watch it here.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Pepsi, a Lebanon tribute goes horribly wrong

Wow, now that's.... Archaic? Old? Out of tune? Ugly, but not ugly enough to be kitsch?....

Am at loss of words in front of the new, useless, not called for, new Pepsi packaging. I presume, this is supposed to be a hollow Beirut tribute, no one is interested in, and whose practical implications on the ground are pointless. Is any money going to those who lost their homes in the Beirut explosion? Is anything being distributed for free? Will there be any pro bono kiosks? Will they decrease their price which has more than doubled? No, no, no and no. So what is the point? Apart from looking totally altruistic yet not offering anything in that altruism? Nothing much. 

On the plus side, these figures are close to the Gandour Dabke rebrand they can almost dance together and no one would be the the wiser....

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Coca-Cola Christmas 2020 - a paint by numbers Almosafer replica

Coca-Cola 2020 ad.... OK, the ad has everything going for it. Remember, Santa Claus as we know it is a Coca-Cola creation. The director is Taika Waititi, the production is enormous. Everything in it is truly up to scale until the last frame. Sadly it made me feel as if it was a paint by numbers: What can we do to make it more exciting? (Add a whale) What can we do to add a twist? (Open the letter) What can we do to make it more impressive? (Add a snow scene). Watch the ad here. And then compare it to the beautiful, authentic, heart-wrenching Almosafer Ramadan ad (watch here). On the bright side, the Coke Santa Claus truck is back.

What happens when I believe Michel Hayek more than Riad Salameh?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Michel Hayek can be best described as "psychic". Usually he limits his presence to an audience-shattering once a year interview on New Year's eve. The man gives predictions related to the local and international scene and dips them in a very camouflage sauce - if he mentions that so and so politician will "fight till the last breath" and said politician dies, the media goes into a frenzy: See? Hayek was right. "Last breath" means death. Now, if said politician does not die, the media still goes into a frenzy: See? Hayek was right. Said politician did not budge from his opinions/positions. "Last breath" means he was the last man standing in the negotiations.

This year Michel Hayek broke his New Year's Eve rule by giving one interview to the L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper, and one for Neshan der Haroutounian. In both he made newer predictions. And by God, the man is optimistic. He still maintains that depositors' money in the bank will reappear, Dollar will go back to being available at an acceptable price, and that two miracles await Lebanon: One man-made one from heaven/the sky (all these are verbatim translations of things he said).

Now imagine where I stand: My money - everything I made - is stuck at the bank. Am trying not to flip my cash Dollars which I hoarded at home, am trying to still be able to insure my meds and those of mother are available, while every trip to the supermarket now costs me about triple what it used to, all while having had incredibly little work since the beginning of the year (I am not an economist for nothing though, am exceptionally good at money management so miraculously am still holding strong).

Now, Central Bank governor Riad Salameh is still saying we have gone through the worst but now the situation is improving all while refusing to answer the legal audit's questions (OK, not all questions, just 150 questions remain unanswered), issuing directives which definitely need clarifications (if anyone is reading this at the Central bank, am a communication consultant and an economist, so I can write clear directives that you do not need to clarify ten minutes down the line!), and generally engaging in something that suspiciously looks like a Ponzi scheme.

I mean honestly, who would you believe? In my case my mind is made up. Michel Hayek all the way!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020 Vision and the quarantine marvel

Long ago Ghida Younes asked me on her TV show how come we remember old ads when they were not the award-winning or super-produced or anything. The answer was simple, because you do not remember an ad, you remember what was happening when you saw the ad. Were you in the shelter? It maybe driving with the radio on to check the latest shelling? Were you with friends? And the list continues. The other element that was crucial, was repetition. The average broadcasting period of an ad, was literally, years. Which is why people who deal with old ads like me are at a loss to put dates on ads: Was that 1980 or 1983? Yes, three years was indeed not unheard of.

Which brings us to the 2020 Vision ad. They are delivering during the quarantine/lockdown. But the ad is timely, cute, and really inserts the brand's expertise (glasses!) in the context. Whereas lockdown was Oxford's word of the year, the probably of repeating the ad is nil. But it is a very good ad, I admit to it.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Riachi single malt whisky. Yes, it exists!

Did anyone say Lebanese single malt? Apparently, yes, the Riachi winery said so: "This pure malt release is made from imperial brown malted barley designed for high quality porter beer, which bestows wonderful toasted notes of chocolate, toffee, and toasted coffee after it is double distilled in our copper gooseneck still. It is then aged in virgin white oak, which complements the malt spirit with notes of vanilla, condensed milk, and comfitures." 
The description reads more like a high-end exclusive perfume, but the packaging and logo scream Traditional Irish whisky. Still, one can only appreciate how, in a country falling apart at the seams, someone is innovating, and working business as usual. And yes, we all could use a drink right now. Make mine Lebanese single malt please.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Suzuki helps you release Lollars

There you go, as with everyone in the market, in all sectors combined, Suzuki Lebanon in s accepting banker's cheque. This obviously helps you release Lollars stuck in the bank, allows you to buy a new car, perhaps replace the old one that got blown in the August 4 explosion, and help even if a little bit, with the economy's cycle.

Of course, many argue this is monopoly money, and that Lollars are a fictional entity - but hey if they can get me a new apartment, a new car, specifically one of those Suzukis, then why not?

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Good news from the US: They don't care about us

Artwork by Tarrk Chemaly, a rework of the Michael Jackson song sleeve

Unpopular opinion: The US presidential nominees do not have Lebanon high on their agendas.

Oddly, almost everyone I know spoke to me about the opposite. How Lebanon is super important, about how everyone in the Us political sphere have their eyes on our political machinations, how Lebanon plays a pivotal role in the region (no, seriously), and so on.

Needless to say, am on the opposite camp. I sincerely think they have bigger fish to fry, more pressing problems, internal issues that need addressing, international treaties to rejoin or renegotiate. Basically, we are not in the top 100 of their concerns.

But hey, we are not egocentric Lebanese for nothing. As we say in Arabic "sheyfin el shams sher2a min tizna" (we see the sun shining from our butthole), so yes, in our mind we are the center of the universe. So we are indeed, the people on whose opinions the whole universe hinges.

Get over yourselves people. They don't care about us.

In Lebanon, when in doubt, go retro or go home.

When in doubt, pretend the 80s and 90s never happened. Well, at least this is what the advertising scene in Lebanon does it seems. Case in point, the two ads above. 

Pepsi capsule offer? Is there anything more 90s? Those offers were all the rage back then... Actually, at the time the prize was a Jaguar E type (spoiler: the person who won the car was a Syrian worker on a gas station. The man owed some debt to his employer, the employer forgave the debt in exchange for the winning capsule).

Now the other ad is for SMS that recently did the electronic money counter campaign (here) and now it is advertising an iPad and phone holder for the car with slapstick that was super popular in the 80s with a side order of women objectification, because why not?

So there, go retro or go home.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The 2020 vaccination campaign

Vaccination campaigns in Lebanon have a gold standard to compare to. A very old 80s jingle, which for years was all the rage - yes, the لقحو اطفالكم لا ينفع الندم (see here and here) immortal line. So this new campaign which is based on a Lebanese idiom does the job well, but in my mind, falls short of the most known line. The idea is simple "btefro2 3ala nakze" means "depends on something tiny" but literally means "depends on a puncture", so the line becomes "our children's I munity depends on a puncture" - smart and effective. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Abdécation, of journeys not taken.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
“But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love will return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Thornton Wilder

Sunday, November 1, 2020

2020 has been the year of animation

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Is it just me or every other ad this year was animated? Seriously, not just in Lebanon. Elsewhere in the world the boom in animation has been unparalleled. First let us talk locally, the ad spending is expected to see a 90% drop this year. Actually, am under the impression the figure must be steeper. To keep their Beirut offices open, many agencies are letting their skeletal staff (no surprise that many people were let go of) work on Pan-Arab accounts, or work for other Arab countries from Beirut directly (either in offices or remotely). The explosion of August 4, with many agencies located in downtown Beirut, only added to the conundrum. 

Naturally you might ask, what does this have to do with animation? Think about it, have you ever been on a shooting set before? Have you seen the astronomic amount of people that need to be involved in front and behind the camera, then later in the editing and post-production part? Worse, social distancing while shooting is a fallacy. The creative director is about an inch away from the director, the actors are too close for comfort, the amount of machinery involved makes the biggest space feels cramped, and the list continues.

How can one remediate to this. What is the one form that is both very-cost effective due to dwindling budgets, which does not require casts, which does not involve a full army of people to execute, which can be adjusted remotely, which can implicate people solely in front of their PC in several locations?

You guessed it. Animation.

What bothers me a little is how little attention to copy and concept is being given locally when animation is involved. Local agencies or freelancers rarely put any effort in that perspective. Which unfortunately means that storytelling is almost nin-existent, which is a shame really. Because animation is really the medium where one can tell a very creatively interesting story to support the visuals.

But then again, here's hoping. Who knows where this can go. I myself feel optimistic as I have always been an arte povera proponent in advertising. Work with what you have, extract the most out of it, and tell a brilliant story while doing it.

Friday, October 30, 2020

She's Mercedes! - The story behind the Bertha Benz ad

Remember how enamored I was with the Mercedes Berta Benz ad? Now, thanks to our friends at Epica Awards we can have the behind the scenes scoop of how the genius ad, which one last year's Grand Prix at the Epica (where am a juror).

The story of Bertha Benz had been told before – but not like this. Those of you who are familiar with the history of Mercedes-Benz may have already heard of Bertha. The wife and business partner of Karl Benz, she invested in his company and supported him as he began to work on his first “horseless carriage”, ultimately known as the Benz-Patent Motorwagen.

Bertha felt the prototype motorcar had great potential, but Karl himself was apparently less convinced of its commercial future. To prove him wrong – and buoy him up – Bertha decided to use the car to visit her mother, which would involve driving 66 miles (or 106 kilometres) from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Such a trip had never before been attempted by automobile.

Without informing Karl – or the authorities, making the trip technically illegal – on August 5 1888 Bertha took her two sons Richard, 13 and Eugen, 15, and set off. Many of the adventures she had along the way made it into the award-winning commercial that brought her story to a wider public.

For example, Bertha really did stop at a pharmacy to buy ligroin, the car’s fuel. She also unblocked a fuel line with a hat pin and used her garter for improvised insulation. One event the film doesn’t show is the failure of the car’s wooden brakes. Bertha then visited a cobbler to fit them with leather, thus inventing brake pads.

But the essence of Bertha is all up there on the screen. In the hands of the agency Antoni and director Sebastian Strasser it becomes a vivid costume drama, full of conflict and incident.

Even the little girl who watches when the car rolls into town, initially proclaiming that it’s driven by “a witch”, has a mini character arc and becomes a Bertha fan.

To find out more about the film’s genesis, Mark Tungate -editorial durector of the Epica Awards - spoke to Damir Maric, head of global campaigns and product content at Mercedes-Benz AG

When and how did the idea of telling Bertha’s story on film first arise?
Part of our approach to becoming the most loved luxury brand is to tell great brand stories as well as product-centric communication. It occurred to us that while Bertha’s story is well known internally, there was little awareness externally. Since it is a true and exceptional story, as well as a bold statement for our brand, we decided to draw attention to it and spread it. The video features a powerful female brand icon who represents our DNA. It seemed right to link the launch to International Women’s Day in 2019. Now it’s been proven: “She’s Mercedes!”

How did you, the agency and the director manage to create such an authentic atmosphere in the film?
From the very beginning it was the overall goal to create a cinematic atmosphere. We wanted to get a look that recalls popular series more than traditional TV commercials. We were very impressed by the director’s interpretation of the story and strongly believed in his vision. Following his idea demanded trust from everybody involved, since the mood of the world he wanted to create in the film was raw and unpolished. In our opinion, it’s exactly this rawness and the contrast between back in time and now that makes this production outstanding.

Automotive advertising has traditionally targeted male consumers. What encouraged you to take a different approach?
In my opinion, the days of male dominance in our industry are over. It’s just not the case anymore. Mercedes-Benz will be transformed into a sustainable modern luxury brand and therefore appeal to anybody who shares our passion for design, craftsmanship, innovation and tech. Moreover, our successful initiative “She’s Mercedes” outlines the importance of female customers for our brand.

What has been the reaction among audiences?
There have been great responses: people have been surprised, inspired and impressed by this true story. A lot of the viewers thought this is a trailer for a new Netflix show and we got lots of requests for sequels! We take this as a compliment and are proud of our history – great brands not only inform their customers but entertain and inspire them. We used a similar recipe for the other long formats we made for the car models GLE and CLA.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

AUB goes horror movie for Halloween

Now that is a pleasant surprise! AUB (my alma mater!) has gone full horror film for Halloween. On their way to a Halloween party, the dressed and masked students start freaking out, running away from... The killer? The great reaper? Chucky? Freddy Krueger? Nope! From the maskless student... Really well done film, with a threatening atmosphere, and a believable setting, till the final denouement! Refreshing to see a new treatment on a stale topic. See full film here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Gmail has a new lovely logo.

Gmail has anew logo. And am really in love. Remember when Instagram had a new logo? Everyone basically hated it, and well, what is the point of arguing with a behemoth like Facebook (parent company to Instagram) so I thought "we will end up getting used to it". And just like Youtube changing its logo, thus on too works beautifully well... The colors, the way they interlock, and yes, the "idea" of envelope (though less visible than before). And looks also lovely on the app too!... Apparently plenty if people are whining about it. Personally I think it is lovely and on point.

Monday, October 26, 2020

My Beirut Chronicles shuts down.... (le roi est Mort vive moi!)

So there! (or rather voila donc!) Claude El Khal decided to shut down the very popular My Beirut Chronicles. Well, the bloggers in Lebanon are now down one (and not just any "one"). That Claude decided to shut down the blog with its enormous readership can tell you are hopeless most of us have become. It still comes as a surprise to me that many people still read my blog - honestly the numbers are always pleasantly perplexing for me. 

The other day though, I thought, "who cares?" and almost went hara-kiri deciding to shut everything down. To be honest, why bother? The change we do is minimal. The same day, I saw someone putting about 27 likes on as many different posts of mine on Instagram. Moments later he likes my Facebook page and I see a message from him. It turns out it was a student who had not taken university courses with me, but had heard about my reputation and a two-hour discussion ensued. 

Naturally, by then I found my calling again, remembered why I do what I do, why I am so dedicated and always so full of energy as everything around me seems to fall apart. Claude will be missed, but rest assured I will still be guarding the temple.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

How LinkedIn became a facebook/Instagram hybrid

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series "Tanaklogia"

LinkedIn used to be certainly interesting. Seriously, it was worlds away from the constant bombardments of Facebook and its silly updates from "friends" and holiday greetings from "our family to yours", and far from the braggadocio of Instagram where everyone is #nofilter handsome/beautiful, dressed in their logomania attires, and living their best lives.

Just last week on LinkedIn, I saw about 15 people putting certificates of courses they just finished. I congratulate them wholeheartedly, but a closer inspection of the names of the courses and - worse - the governing bodies issuing them, leaves me cold. There were also about four copy/paste versions of the same story about the guy in shoddy surroundings who got interviewed by an HR (but he got the job, yay, because "don't judge the book by its cover"), three other identical stories about companies hiring someone with no experience but who ended up getting promoted twice (twice!), about two other people promoting conspiracy theories (one about the deep state in the US, another about Carlos Ghosn replacing Riad Salameh as governor of central bank in Lebanon). 

Oh and of course, there were half a dozen stories about people who opened a business and failed and opened another one later and succeeded. And a tone of the customary motivational quotes, and several from Brigette Hyacinth. And by the way, all those saying, "if you do not like your place, change it, you are not a tree" (original quote by Jim Rohn) let me remind you as an agriculture engineer, that changing the place of a tree requires moving its primary ecosystem with it to survive (which involves the soil it was planted in - or your previous working experience/rolodex for that matter).

Thankfully, there is a mute button. Or unfollow or whatever they call it.

But yes, it is alarming. All right, we all knew men were using the the platform to privately email women about non-business issues (and at times women posting such messages to fight back), but the amount of info on LinkedIn - serious, business-like, educational - was still abundant.

Lately though, I cannot but worry. If I wanted to see shiny happy people, I'd have gone to Facebook and Instagram.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Lebanon, deja vu, and reloading the matrix

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Oh you know the drill. When you experience deja vu, it means they are reloading the matrix. Well, here we are a full year after the thawra, with the old familiar faces back in tow. No need to name them, you know the names. And that, much like the incredible Patrick Berberis film about the year 68 in the world, is a testament of how people favor what they know to the risk of a new scary possibility of total change.

Is change coming to Lebanon? Who knows? All I can say is that for all their good intentions, I see no concrete results on what thawra did. To be clear, am not blaming them for the financial mess (it was a matter of time before things exploded), and considering we tried before them in 2005 somehow the result was predictable. Now of course, if Saad Hariri manages to form a super stellar government which will boost the economy, create 900,000 jobs (his words not mine) among other promises, then who am I to argue?

Meanwhile, if he - or any other politician for that matter - manages to find the meds am looking for to insure the daily doses my mother takes, then am all ears and two hearing aids on top. I said it before, and will repeat it again:

"Il faut cultiver notre jardin" (we must cultivate our garden) said Voltaire at the end of Candide. No better, he said "Oui, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin" (yes, but we must cultivate our garden) in reply to Pangloss demagogic statements.

Right now, regardless which politician is in a position of power, what am doing is trying to build a financial policy for 2021, all while knowing the parameters are changing (yes, this includes the now reversed decision to stop Lebanese Pound cash withdrawal), and securing meds and preparing the house for winter and what not.

And if any politician wants to pitch in on the med list, feel free to contact me. Blue/Red pills not included.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Pantone creates "period" red for Intimina

Well, I almost never share a press release but I could never put it in better words:
Presenting “Period”, a new red shade created to break the stigma around menstruation and promote period positivity. Swedish healthcare brand Intimina came to Pantone Color Institute to develop this custom color in support of their global campaign to make menstruation more visible and normalize this most normal of bodily functions.
Pantone Color Institute collaborated with Intimina on the Seen + Heard campaign to create a red shade that is inspired by a steady menstrual flow. Pantone and Intimina worked alongside a gynecologist and consulted research published in Medical News Today to develop the shade, but by no means is this supposed to be an accurate depiction. Instead, a visual identifier of a red shade was created that would help Intimina leverage the power of color to share their story.
“An active and adventurous red hue, courageous Period emboldens people who menstruate to feel proud of who they are. To own their period with self-assurance; to stand up and passionately celebrate the exciting and powerful life force they are born with; to urge everyone regardless of gender to feel comfortable to talk spontaneously and openly about this pure and natural bodily function."

Bio Oil goes cancer awareness with a sincere story

Bio Oil strikes gold with a sincere, low key breast cancer awareness advertising. Watch here. The idea of the ad is simple, a woman experiences rebirth after she is inflicted with a body scar due to breast cancer. Which is why Helene, the woman in the ad, is five years old (and so is her wound/scar). Speaking from first hand experience, Helene talks about how she is ready for life because "life is beautiful". I honestly think that the copy was not scripted because Helene says it with the conviction of someone who truly believes in it without appearing fake or contrived. 

Gandour Foods excels in tags

Gandour Foods aces when it comes to hashtags. Now am not a believer in the power of tags, still, at least this one is interesting copy wise. It all started with Gandour foods deciding to team up with coach Adam Khoury to entice its clients to take better care of their health. Health in Arabic means "so7a". And well, when one eats, instead of saying bon appetit, we say "so7tein" (two healths - Arabic, like Slovenian and a small part of the Serbian language has singular, dual, and plural). Which gave rise to the Gandour tag #الصحة_صارت_صحتين - health becomes two healthy. Again, not sure how effective but at least well done. See video here.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Oil & Gas 1 - United

Hmmm difficult brief. How do you associate oil with cancer awareness? No matter how you turn it, does not work. United cane up with: "take care of your body same way you do with your car" - a pink refill hose in the shape of the cancer awareness completes the idea. Seriously, when one gas such a complicated brief, no winder the result is surrealistic to the limit. 

Oil & Gas 3 - IPT

Smart ad. "Quality is the most cist-effective choice"... In Lebanon there is a proverb that goes "el ghali rkhis" (what is expensive is cheap - meaning you could get more for your buck by using the product longer). IPT plays on the same theme, in a very convincing way.

Oil & Gas 2 - Coral Oil

Please read here and here first. I will again be accused of stereotype, but seriously people, this is real life. No, Lebanese people do not populate gas stations. Live with it. The rest of the ad is about the car being sterilized after washing for free. PS: hats off for Lia Nurpetlian.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A year ago... Seriously?

"A year ago" artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Oh spare me! I know everyone and their mother is writing about "a year ago".... You know the thawra and all that. Good for them. Me? Me I go back to Robert Frost's eternal words. 

“You’re searching, Joe,
For things that don’t exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings—there are no such things.
There are only middles.”

We all like to commemorate things. But honestly last year was but one of a full decade, decade, of problems. Problems that beget problems, and were started by other problems, and came wrapped in problems. "Am still standing" as Elton John eloquently put it. But honestly take your "a year ago" and shove it where appropriate.


The management.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lollar, Bira, and Lebanon's cashless economy

Bira logo design by Patrick Chemali
Concept coined by Dan Azzi

First was the Lollar. Now the Bira. If it seems am talking gibberish, then welcome to Lebanon.

Both terms coined by Dan Azzi, both logos by Patrick Chemali (disclosure: Both Dan and Patrick are friends).

Ever since, a year ago, Lebanese banks closed for two weeks when the political tumult started (known as thawra), and saw people's trust in them nosedive, Lebanon went steadily into a cash economy as people mostly tried to avoid having their money in banks and exchanged everything with cold hard cash. Throughout this year, I only used my bank card (which is in USD) only once. Pay on delivery stores proliferated everywhere. Once I was at a fancy store and picked a steeply discounted jacket, when I tried to pay for it, the system repeatedly declined my card. I told the assistant something was wrong as the card had a lot of money in it. She shrugged and said "I know, it is our bank machine going insane!". Another design store had a sign that said, "please pay cash or in Lebanese cards, our machine is declining Dollar cards".

Sweden is on its way to becoming a cashless economy, and yesterday, the Banque du Liban thought Elias the grocer and Ali the barber and Fatima who sells Islamically compliant scarves and Carole who sells fake perfumes are all equipped with credit/debit card machines. Basically, and understandably, BDL was unable to get the fuel, medicine and bread un-subsidized, so trying to stretch its meager reserves as much as it can, it capped the Lebanese cash withdrawal from banks and suggested using cards would be just as fine, thank you very much. Elias, Ali, Fatima and Carole beg to differ.

Well, I might be stretching my logic, but it still stands. People have zero faith in banks at this stage, they want to avoid putting their money there. So the idea of cash under the pillow was truly comforting for them. "I Like My Money Right Where I Can See It. Hanging In My Closet," said Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City. Many Lebanese would agree. Though the money is not hanging, but rather hidden in the green jacket's upper pocket or in the second shoe box to the left.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Picon does a one size fits all post explosion ad

Picon just pulled its post Beirut explosion ad, emphasizing to how many NGOs and associations it gave its products to. Mind you, being a spread cheese which you can easily roll in a sandwich or an Arabic bread, it makes sense for it to distributed. The ad though, is filled with predictable visuals, which is fine. But honestly, the faux sentimental copy which accompanies it (with truly silly references to "teta" and "jeddo") is beyond irritating (for comparison for a staggeringly beautiful copy please refer to One Act). Honestly, the copy is so one size fits all it could have been any brand, not just Picon, since the majority seem to be adopting this pinch-me-till-I-cry tone. See the ad here.

Launching Archewallogy 8 by Tarek Chemaly

Cover artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Today marks the release of the 8th and last volume of Archewallogy, the study of cities through their walls, as opposed to digging beneath the ground as in archaeology. The first images date back to 2005 and the last ones right before the August 4 explosion. Archewallogy 8 can be viewed free of charge here.

Those if you wishing to view older volumes please see here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

In Lebanon, brand loyalty is out the window

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Do the Lebanese like to brag? Do they like to show off? Do they like to live above their means? Oh, is the pope Catholic? If I ask these questions if is because there is a palpable shift somewhere in the Lebanese consumption pattern in Lebanon (see here). Maybe one of the first signs that Lebanese use to mark how they went to an upper socio-economic class is the "signé" attitude (or the branded - naturally, it could be a knock off or a counterfeit, and only logoed garments are used - hence no discrete Hermes but more like a stamped Louis Vuitton all over, in the end, if it is not visible, why bother get it?). "Ana ma bechtere ella min 3and..." - I only buy from (under brand name, fancy store), used to be a catchphrase so overused and abused. But again, the parameters are shifting. 

When I asked students to give me a luxury brand in class (back when I used to teach), several thought Zara was one. When estimating the price of a Louis Vuitton bag, a girl thought that 100 Dollars was a good guess. Paul, the French brasserie one finds in metro stations in Paris is marketed here as a high end brunching destination, same applies to Gap (which shuttered its store in late 2019) and Benetton.

But again, the financial squeeze hit Lebanon incredibly hard. I said it before, brand loyalty is now out the window"Did you know that between 1968 to 1990 Coca-Cola was boycotted in the Arab world by order of the League of Arab Nations since it provided "financial help for Israel" in the 1967 six day war?" Well, we were a household that exclusively bought Pepsi. Sometime in 2001 I went back home with a bottle of Coca-Cola, my mother looked at it with amazement and asked what it was, and if it was available everywhere?

As long as I can remember since the mid 90s we have used Persil washing detergent (why we made the switch from Ariel is beyond me!). Then a few months back, the washing machine got clogged. The repairman said the washing powder was stuck in the tube, so we switched to Persil gel. Last time I went to the supermarket though, I went back with a Lebanese made Sanita washing gel, which was so much cheaper, and it had 30% free. Oh and I also bought a large size frying oil gallon from a brand I had never heard of, which was (again) substantially cheaper than the one we were accustomed to. Our house-help said that both, the Sanita and the frying oil, washed and fried just as well as the ones we usually bought.

It is said that the pandemic has taught us that we have already enough as it is in our closets. How correct and true this is for the average Lebanese is still a debate. Though shops are closing like crazy in nearby areas, there were still very few people who shopped. How this is representative of the population is not something I can answer (due to COVID-19 self-imposed restrictions I have not been to many malls as of late and even that (malls) might not be indicative to the general population movements).

But am still sticking to my guns. I still believe people are now buying more budget friendly than the brands they used to know or believe in (because brand loyalty is about allegiance above all). The other interesting aspect is that, it is known that in time of crisis, brands are encouraged to advertise, so as to remain top-of-mind in the consumer's mind. This, however, is not something am seeing in the local market. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Facebook #lovelocal

Facebook is inviting us to "Love Local"... The campaign is a brilliant product of today's world. Shot a la va vite most likely with phones (or professionally but made look like amateur), it highlights institutions (Hachem in Jordan, Chez Maguy in Lebanon,...) in the MENA region. See film here. I honestly love the visuals, and it seems Facebook is placing webinars to help these institutions or companies benefit by being online. Now let us face it though, would people of a certain demographic want to get back to square zero and relearn how to put their name out there? Remember the recent "Stop hate for profit" Facebook boycott campaign? Major multinationals were on board, but that made only a small dent since Facebook makes its money from small companies and individuals, not international heavy weight accounts. Now if it works or not, #lovelocal is still a campaign of lovely imagery.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Malak Al Tawouk hilariously opens in Paris

"Bonjour, Bonsoir, tres bon, oh lala, magnifique! Frensewe top! Fikoun tkhabro 2raybinkoun l honik la belle khabriye!" - Can you top this announcement? Franco-Arabic gibberish that any respectable Lebanese polyglot can understand, though French people might want to abstain from understanding it having it translated. Oh and Malak Al Tawouk is now gloriously now in France (though I doubt it can name its products the same way it did in Lebanon). And if this was not enough, their headline has a whiff on the famous "his dad's fez is hanging on the Eiffel tower".... Self-depreciating and funny? Am all for....

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The assassination of Bachir Gemayel (and parallels with Donald Trump's health)

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

When, on September 14 1982, an explosion rocked the Phalangist party headquarters in Achrafieh where president elect Bachir Gemayel was holding a meeting, news - which was not like today, a 24 hours wall to wall coverage - started to trickle that Gemayel survived the blast and dusted himself, rising from under the rubble and started to direct the cleaning and evacuation efforts. As the day progressed, the story was slightly modified that he was hurt but doing well. Then, once more, his injuries got more serious. Gemayel's disfigured body was later to be identified by his octagonal wedding band and an emotional (late) Arafat Hjazi announced his death on the evening news.

If am relating this story, it I because today one does not know who or what to believe about President Trump's health. Several variations are coming from different sources. Past indicators (sample: “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”) do not set a good example as to what to believe. He tested positive for the virus, and he is at the Walter Reed hospital. But... Everything else keeps changing and morphing and getting corrected from one individual to another (some on, some off the record).

Born in 1974, am old enough to remember the tumult that resulted regarding Gemayel's death with the story being twisted and turned to be made more palatable. Already the credibility of the white house is at steak regarding too many details about the president's sickness and his current health. Some people are already launching their paranoid views claiming the president was never sick, and the list goes on.

The more I read about president's Trump heath, and its contradicting news, the more I see Gemayel rising from the rubble and dusting himself....

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A trick on how to survive 2020

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

Am going to start this post with an admission: I have had it with my European friends and their first world problems. Only yesterday a friend in Vienna was complaining that he had to show his ID at the border and answer questions as to why he was travelling. I wanted to tell him about how last time, after grueling bureaucracy I got my work visa to Europe only to be put in a glass chamber in front of all the airport for no reason at all for 45 minutes. But honestly, what is the point? 

Europeans have no clue how bad 2020 is for Lebanese people. It is exponentially bad. I have called it before, the "perfect storm" (whereas I was talking about the advertising sector, same can apply to the country at large). 

Capital controls? Check. Political meltdown? Check. Devastating explosion? Covid-19? Unemployment? Poverty? Check, check, check. The list is astronomically long. And all elements in it feed on one another. I spoke to someone the other day, and he asked me if the Dollar was going to go back to 1500 Liras. I tried to make him understand that we are currently paying that peg with the current crisis. His brother was certain that we were going to get money - as in huge quantities of money - from Europeans, particularly France. I did not have the heart to poke his dream. And again, the more you talk to people the more fallacies you hear, and the more the scenarios are outrageous.

Yet one thing I learned about 2020, is that, by hook or by crook, one needs to survive it. Like everyone else, my money is stuck at the bank (unlike everyone else, I believe long term thinking will solve it). Like everyone else COVID-19 has changed my daily routine (unlike everyone else, due to diabetes and common sense, am taking it very seriously. Or as I mentioned earlier, it was not the original hysteria which broke out that got me worried, but rather what would happen later.) Like everyone else I was about to die (twice) on the day of the Beirut explosion (unlike many, I escaped unharmed). Like everyone, I have made it to October pseudo intact (unlike everyone else, I know how taxing this is on mental health, admit to it, and have tried to to amend to it as much as humanly possible).

Well, so what is my magic trick to survive 2020? From the get go, I stopped comparing it to previous years. Everything: The Dollar exchange rate, the bank withdrawals or lack of it, the new normal (or rather abnormal), the price of things, etc... I keep reading all these people ranting on Instagram - two specific people come to mind - who have zero economic vision, no financial knowledge, and yet who act as moral arbitrators and assign the blame on anyone who is anyone, not understanding their ranting - though popular on Instagram - is actually hollow.

But once you stop comparing, once you go on living as you used to (within one's means), once you do not see today's pricing in the view of last year's economy, once you accept that this is a tricky phase where one must "make do and mend" (literally, I found, not one, but two great tailors in a city nearby), once you understand that subsidizing the fuel must end because it is eating away what is left if the central bank's Dollars... Only then will 2020 make sense to you.

But again, once you stop comparing. Once you readjust your expectations to reality, you will end up surviving 2020. With three months to go, that is no mean feat.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Annahar subverts women's stereotypes

 Annahar is subverting stereotypes about women. Boldly and smartly.

"Girls should not stay out late", "Women talk too much", "Women should know their place" - the respective images tell the other story. The long copy, which trust me is exceptionally hard to do, tells the fuller story. The ads are really good. The problem? What is their target audience? To whom are they addressed? Are they done for the awards season or do they have a real target in mind. If I ask, it is because Nayla Tueni (CEO of Annahar) went to Cyprus to have a civil marriage instead of fighting for civil marriages here in Lebanon (when she was a member of the parliament no less!), which prompted me to write the piece that made it to her Wikipedia entry "what's so civil about this marriage?" - so Mrs Tueni Maktabi cannot have it both ways. My verdict? These are ads made for awards, no more, no less.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Optique et Vision nails the post Beirut explosion

Optique et Vision nails the post Beirut explosion ad. One of the hardest things to do for any brand is to insert is product in any event. Worse, when the event is as catastrophic as the August 4th Beirut explosion, the treatment needs to be delicate and very subtle, as otherwise it means the brand is profiting from other people's suffering. Optique et Vision rose to the occasion brilliantly with their "hand in hand we will r-eyes again". Simple, dignified, winks to their area of expertise all while being uplifting and upbeat. Seriously, what more can one ask for from an ad?