Wednesday, March 22, 2023 - or what not to do on Mother's Day

Mother's Day came and went and as is the tradition ever since the markets crashed in Lebanon, it created nothing but a whimper. Which is why anyone who did not "just-paste-a-flower-and-say-love-you-mom" got noticed. Sadly got noticed - but to me for all the wrong reasons (here).

Well, some jokes work. Some land with a thud. Guess which one this one falls into? Well if it took me all day to write this it's because I kept mulling it in my head - what if this is funny and I missed the joke? But every time I looked at it, the ad irritated it me further. In case you do not know, MILF is Mother I'd Like to F***. But ahem, the ad turned it into "Mother I Love Forever". Look I know I might sound too "woke" from my part... But damn it, this isn't funny and the ad does not work.

There. I said it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Spinneys remembers Ramadan

So the month of Ramadan is upon us (starting March 23rd apparently). Spinneys supermarket, remembered the occasion - remember, a supermarket like Spinneys should be making a killing during such a month with daily iftars in families. Well, the ad tries to sell too much - first it uses the catch-all "nawwaret" (it brings light) but applies it to discounts, and then there is the sentence which apparently it is dressing its ads "the goodness of Ramadan on everyone". But all this aside, a simple calculation would lead you - for a simple family of four - to get to the number of 4 million Liras per iftar. The minimum wage is currently 2 million Liras in the private sector.

Even as simple entree of the Ramadan iftar of fattoush - which should technically include lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes radishes and fried Lebanese bread (which is a little akin to pita) - makes it a luxury at this point. Small hint: the bread "rabta" which keeps diminishing its loaves - currently is at 50,000 liras.

With acute poverty at 65% of the Lebanese population and poverty hitting 80% all I can say is that the math is not mathing people, believe me.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

We are fine in Lebanon, set our mind at ease about you.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

In 2021, I wrote about the fact in Lebanon, problems shared are not problems halved (here).

But 2021 seems like a different life altogether even if problems were still going strong. Because now we got turbo-charged and the whole country seems completely adrift on all levels, specifically economical level - oh mind you, the fact that we have no president, a caretaker government and a parliament which is hanging by a thread seems like something "in the background of the photo". If you have not bought anything as of late, you might be excused not to understand, if you did, you might be excused to be too exhausted to lament.

Still, I often wonder - is a problem a problem? No matter the magnitude, the scale, the proportion? I keep hearing from people I know in the UK that tomatoes are no longer present on the shelves in shops. A friend in Brussels wrote about how people are renting a bed in a room for 750 Euros a month. Oh yes, and the French are up in arms because of what is supposed to be the retirement age going up from 62 to 64. And the list goes on.

Why am I writing this? I honestly don't know. I mean, a friend in Germany tried consoling me saying "oh just have a mug of hot chocolate" - until I linked him to the page of a local supermarket and translated the prices of the said hot chocolate options. His eyes popped.

I mean seriously, I am sure there are parts of the world where the situation is worse than Lebanon. Hey, even in Lebanon, you might say I am remnants of what used to be the middle the middle class (for an analysis of the middle class go here) meaning I still have means of survival when others do not (ergo, "why are you complaining?"). 

But again, it is like we are drowning in problems, yes, even the remnant of the middle class is. A person I know - who prior to the crisis was extremely affluent - had to forego his rented apartment and moved back to the villa of his parents and he has to readjust the basement floor to fit him, his wife, two children, mother in law while his mother and househelp where in the first floor - honestly I felt for the man as his wi-fi kept breaking in the basement as he called me as he does periodically and explaining to me that he is adjusting the screws of one of his children's beds.

This is where the "but there are people worse off than you" kicks in. Or - what a very wise friend "Dusty" said lately - "Tarek the rich man is not the one who has the most but the one who needs the less". Well, I have always been frugal, I have always needed very few things. Then why is it that when going to the store it looked as if I robbed Fort Knox while leaving home? I was carrying a wad of cash so big it was embarrassing.

I am reminded of the wonderful satirical song by Khaled El Habr "we are fine in Gaza, set our mind at ease about you" (nahou bi kheir fi Gaza tamminou ankom). So, I guess we are fine in Lebanon, set our mind at ease about you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Cola-Cola goes for a day at the museum

Remember Ben Stiller's "night at the museum"? Well, make it "day at the museum" for Coca-Cola.

Here. It animates works of art - anyone from Warhol (who included the bottle in his iconic series) to Van Gogh (who did not) passing by anyone and everyone including Vermeer and Turner and a hoard of others. The ad is certainly ambitious. It centers around a bored student in a sketching class (falling asleep no less) and then all hell breaks lose with the bottle being taken by another painting and getting thrown over from one artwork to the next.

Just getting the licenses of the artworks must have cost a fortune. Animating them that way another. The concept is "real magic". But let's be honest here, for all its technical prouesse.... to me it fails to deliver. The ad is too technical, magical yes - but not in the way it was intended to - because the emotional bit is lacking. It does not make me aspire or want to be part of that universe - and take it from someone who loves being in museums.

It is just too sterile to make me believe. But hey, what do I care? Coca-Cola exited the Lebanese market again (here).

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Ronaldo comes cheap as a propaganda instument for KSA

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

So superstar footballer Ronaldo (and his family, including companion Georgina) are in Saudi Arabia after his deal with Al Nasr club to the tune of 214.5 million Dollars. Well, to begin with there was a special rule for Ronaldo allowing him to live - without wedding (gasp!) - with his partner, something unheard of prior in KSA. Here's what is interesting, the footballer is actually coming off as a cheap propaganda machine for KSA.

Forget the NEOM project, the real attraction are the shoes of Georgina displayed in a row in from of her shower - the image made the tour of every other instagram page reporting from the region. His children are "speaking Arabic 2 months after being in Saudi" - again, another video that made the tour. He celebrated founding day dressed in a local attire (you guessed where it came from), and the list continues. A Saudi "blogger" (or was that a "youtuber"?) who is considered "chabihat Georgina" (the doppledanger of Georgina) had a nose job for the comparison to be more complete, and Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri has been accused of copying the photos of Georgina (same poses, same outfits, etc...) on her own social media pages.

If you wanted a cleaner, more polished image for a land that is otherwise different in reality, 214,5 million Dollars are getting you an excellent deal. As I said, when it comes to a propaganda machine, Ronaldo - and in extenso his family are the perfect instruments. Everyone is obsessed with their every move, every outfit, and believe it or not Al Nasr actually lost a match recently but hey football is just a "side game" in the bigger echelon of things.

So is the Salvator Mundi on the royal yacht of a major Saudi royalty? Is NEOM some silly delusion in the middle of a desert? Who cares? Because did you see the 4th shoe to the left in Georgina's photo?

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Almaza confuses doing ads on the cheap with cheap ads

Source: Mahmoud Ghazayel

All right, we all did it. Anyone who says they did not is a liar.

The "it" in question? Doing ads on the cheap. Oh come on, the client always has little or no budget, the whole thing is a shoestring operation, the budget was blown on booking, the budget was blown on a new bag for client's mistress or wife or both, the client is idiotic, the client is stingy and the list continues.

But doing ads on the cheap is not the same as doing a cheap ad dear Almaza. Many thanks for Mahmoud Ghazayel for pointing this out. Again, I understand that Almaza just won the Pikasso d'Or grand prix (for - and I am going to say it as is - one of the most underwhelming campaigns ever (see here)). But - here's an idea - why not do some proper photography with a phone camera which today has the highest of high resolutions bringing in for-free models (family members etc).

Once more, we all do that. I know an advertiser who brings his son to all his shoots (I tend to think putting the kid in the ads is some sort of a contractual obligation!), and as I said everything can be done on the cheap without being cheap.

Almaza missed the mark on this one. But perhaps the budget was blown elsewhere. The photoshop fail gave it away.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Kintsugi and Rumi: Of living in Lebanon today

From the series Free Fall by Naji Zahar

Do you know Kinstugi?

Here. It is part of the Japanese repairing ideals - like Boro when it comes to clothing (here) - or how to mend broken objects with gold. It is a way of elevating the day to day, to hang on to older pieces, to perpetuating the memory, and just like boro, it makes something repaired more valuable because it is a testimony of survival, of shared memories, of things used and abused but ultimately still functional.

Do you know Rumi?

Here. Well he said some very wise things (such as here). He, apparently according to the internet, also said "keep breaking your heart until it opens". Not sure if he said that or not, because internet is not a very reliable source sometimes.

So what does this have to do with Lebanon?

Well, everything keeps breaking apart. Daily. No matter how many times you rebuild, you wake up and it is broken again. You rebuild and there you go, it breaks again. There are days where honestly it is so exhausting to be here - mentally and physically and on all other fronts - one just does not see the logic of any rebuilding. But what do we do? We rebuild again of course, because this is who are and this is our specialty and this is our stubbornness and this is our stupidity.

We rebuild because this is the illogic of it and we are illogical people. We rebuild because we know it is going to break, but isn't the "golden joinery" beautiful? We rebuild because nothing makes sense and we are the masters of not making sense (no president, a caretaker government, a parliament hanging by a thread, soaring inflation, skyrocketing prices and - expensive restaurants filled to the brim!).

We make no sense. Living in Lebanon makes no sense.

But rebuild we do, because our hearts keep getting broken - on daily basis, but it seems they are not open just yet.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Lux goes to the therapist with Yara Bou Monsef and Pimo

Lux goes to the therapist with the help of  Yara Bou Monsef. Bou Monsef is telling her therapist about how she thinks of it "him" (eventually "it") all day long, how he makes her feel strong, confident etc... The therapist seems to take note and agree, until Bou Monsef goes to the bit about "essential oils". This is when the therapist is bewildered and asks who exactly her "patient" is speaking of. This is when the revealer shows Lux. Actually the most interesting part of the ad is that as Bou Monsef is leaving her appointment she meets with another woman in the hallway and they both are transported by each other's scent, only for the other woman to have a Lux in her bag - all to the therapist's dismay. Watch the ad here. And yes, it does work. I liked more the second twist in the hallway than the one inside the therapist's room but the ad is quite nice. Hot on the heels of their much deserved Pikasso D'or win, Pimo seem on a roll.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Chicken liver who? Malak Al Tawouk goes for asbet djej

Well, after years of shops not calling the Christian fast by its name - with fast food outlets advertising fish meals for no "specific" reason, suddenly shops started doing so (here), which is why it was a little surprising that Malak Al Tawouk was launching a super meat sandwich in this time frame. Still, the ad is interesting in its angle - instead of doing the usual "English" they went for the jugular mocking those who do. Because their sandwich is not "chicken liver" but rather "asbet djej" (which is chicken liver in Arabic).

Now asbet djej is a delicatesse in the Lebanese kitchen, so Malak Al Tawouk is continuing to work exclusively on chicken but rather went a bit upscale with it. The ad is interesting in the way it is portrayed though, anchoring Malak Al Tawouk in its immediate community.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

February's empty billboards in Lebanon

With regards to those empty billboards. Whereas it is January that is considered the dead month in advertising, considering companies spent their marketing budgets on Christmas and New Year's, and they are coming up for new strategies and budgets, it is actually February that hit the mark in Lebanon. It is strange to see billboard after after billboard with torn ads, revealing previous incarnations, some of them going back to the elections last May, or to the World Cup, or to campaigns already gone by. But here they are, layers on top of layers of old, sun-beaten campaigns, which intermingle on top of one another. With little or new additions, revealing more and more the depth of the crisis and yet advertisers seem either willingly or unwillingly oblivious of this (as show in my very long editorial for ArabAd here). When just two new small campaigns hit the streets in a full month, it tells you how bad things are - despite the upbeat messages advertisers want you to believe.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

DGCS - the other new campaign

As I said, there were so few new campaigns hitting the streets last February, that anything actually stood out.... In this case, meet the DGCS campaign to name adjustments in case one wished to be part of the municipal and mayoral elections in Lebanon. The deadline was March 1rst. Trust be told, the Lebanese population, between the many financial woes, the freefall of the currency, the day to day struggles, might  not have the adjustment of their info or names as top priority, but hey, the DGCS has to issue them an invite to do it anyhow. And yes, the design is easy on the eyes. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Uterine cancer awareness campaign

Now this is a new one. Not breast cancer (which takes away all the spotlight, and here I remember the remarkable "I wish I had breast cancer" campaign - here) but rather uterine campaign. The whole thing is backed by a great copy "to doubt is to have peace of mind" - because the whole idea is that if you doubt you have it, talk to your doctor and see if it is true.

Mind you, this is but one of two campaigns - and shy campaigns at that - which graced our OOH networks in all of February, not usually known as a slow month (usually, January takes the mantle in being slow). But again, the ad works, but I wish the Uterine cancer thingy was more prominent in the ad despite the very good leading copy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Murr Tower ad dating back to 1975

Ad cleaned and rearranged by Tarek Chemaly

And how about this time capsule of an ad.

The Murr Tower, which still stands empty and incomplete after all this time, was supposed to be - as per its ad which appeared in Annahar newspaper in 1975 - as "the first skyscraper of the Middle East" (interestingly, it was not the first skyscraper-inspired structure - look here), and the ad boasts its 40-storey high length. And that it is the highest building in Lebanon. 

The ad specifies that the first stage of construction of the first 20 floors started and finished within one month, and that the second one started on April 5 1975 and was supposed to finish "at the beginning of May" - the war that erupted on April 15th 1975 had other plans. The building included as per the ad 400 offices, a cinema, a restaurant and cafeteria, telex and telegraph center, a telephone for every office and other amenities which were high-end for its time.

If you wish to see the current inside of the tower, which was taken over by various militias over time (specifically during the war) please look at the fascinating images here. For a while there were plans to turn the tower into a fancy high-rise but these never materialized (here).

The tower still remains as a hollow, empty, and macabre reminder of a Beirut with a questionable past, and sadly, murky present and uncertain future.

Sharks Bay produced by Lebanese/American Eddie Challita soon in a cinema near you

Remember Sharks Bay? (here)

Well here it is over and done with and might play in a cinema near you as it was presented to be in the running for the Lebanese Independent Film Festival LIFF -

Here's a small write up about the movie already present online (here). The reason why this is being covered here is because the film is the brainchild of Lebanese American Eddy Challita. According to Challita and in a quote exclusive for this blog "the idea is that we worked together Americans, Russians and Ukrainians, united in our love for cinema, away from politics and driven towards a common goal we all toiled to achieve".

Well, if this is not what cinema and art in general is for, I don't know what is!

The film is directed by (Russian) Elena Selim Mazanova and produced by (Lebanese/American) Eddie Challita. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Grendizer - the game, coming soon to a console near you

So it was only a matter of time before Grendizer became a game. And it is apparently coming soon to a console near you.

Here are some features of the game in question (source):

For the very first time, play as Grendizer and Umon Daisuke in this action/adventure game, which is all about the metal colossus. Execute and improve the famous must-have attacks of the giant robot

Find all the characters, iconic places, and enemies of the TV series.

A new gaming experience is offered to you in multiple game phases: Action/Brawler, 3rd person Shoot, Shoot Them Up and Exploration/

The iconic music of the series has been remastered, and you will able to enjoy it throughout the game.

From the same source here is a small recap of the story:
After Planet Fleed is destroyed by the Empire of Vega, Prince Daisuke (Daiski in Arabic) takes refuge on our planet. Taken in and adopted by Genzo Umon (Dr. Amoun in the pan-Arab version), he lives at the Shirakaba Farm. While Vega's invasion of Earth is imminent, Daisuke will defend the planet Earth with the help of Grendizer, the titanic robot hidden deep inside Genzo Umon's observatory. With the help of Koji Kabuto, the prince of Planet Fleed will constantly repel Vegans' attacks and fight his terrible robots, the Monstronefs (or minifour as they were called), which were sent to destroy him.

In case you enjoyed any or all of this, you can also check my own work which combines Hokusai and Grendizer (the common factor is that Hokusai had Mount Fuji in the back of his work while according to the original legend Grendizer fell to earth on that exact same mountain). The works were compiled in a book here. Also if you are interested in the linkage between Grendizer and the Lebanese war generation please go back to my intervention with Zaven Kouyoumjian when he was still back at the now defunkt Future Television here.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Neswen el Furn - when women appropriate (and beat) stereotypes

Please meet Neswen El Furn (here and here).... What's so special about it?

Well, just for you to know "neswen el furn" was an insult. Heck, I even heard a Lebanese minister of culture saying it when speaking of something that made no sense. So yes, "ladies (who frequent) the oven" or where things like bread, manushes etc are made used to be a way of insulting a woman who would speak of anything and everything.

The Lebanese language is full of idioms to insult women (see here and here) and that's just the tip of the iceberg. So calling a women-led bakery or furn as "neswen el furn" is a super gutsy move. Not only you appropriate the stereotype you actually flip it on its head and beat it. The ladies open from 7 A.M. to 2 P.M. daily except Tuesdays!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Dear JWT, can you remind me again what the hell is an advertising agency for?

So how about that for an iconic ad.

And yet, I do understand that the main purpose of any ad is to eventually sell the brand. This much is granted. The problem is when there is a major disconnect - when the client does not know who they are and agencies are too chicken to tell them out of fear of losing accounts.

It is a sad situation but somehow I still feel the main job of the agency is to tell the client about the identity of what they are trying to sell people. Because most of the time the client confuses their positioning, with their price and their own personality. Lately, a client who was selling at obscene prices (and I mean obscene) told me "but we are humble people" because the strategy and positioning I suggested for their product was too high end. The problem? The product was so elitist there was no way to sell it to the commoner with "simple" words - not-counting that the final client who will shell incredibly big bucks gives no hoot if the owner of the company behind is "humble" (the funny part? the agency I am treating with on behalf of the client sent me a stern message which said basically, that I need to remodel my strategy based on the client, not the product).

Once, when I bought an Hermes object (I have expensive tastes I know), I was offered one of their magazines. The theme of the issue was "le temps devant soi" - it was so impeccably made. Interestingly it had no Hermes products in it. None, zero. On and on went the pages, the beautiful imagery. The end result? You'd want to buy even more Hermes because of it. Because the magazine seduces you into a world, a mood, a place you want to join. All without "actively trying" to sell me anything.

Which brings us to the notion that - too many times to count - the agencies simply tweak their strategy to resemble the client's "personality" not his product. Which I find baffling. Because when I am going to buy a product, I am going to buy it judging on its own merits, not those of the family/person who created it.

Sure, many products are related closely to their creators, and of course some people are their own brand (we all are at some point but I digress). Yet, with time, some of these brands transition away from their creators (do you still associate Chanel with a Nazi-sympathizing woman called Gabrielle? do you still see James Dyson as associated with his political beliefs as opposed to his technical output?) leaving the product in question to be judged as is (think: right now Balenciaga is Demna rather than Cristobal, but even that is questionable - see here).

So what "the hell is an advertising agency for?" - I have some ideas. But advertising agencies will not like them.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

He gets us: Turning Jesus Christ into a superstar

Here, here and here.

Jesus Christ! No no, that was supposed to be an exclamation not invoking the client. "He gets us"...

I know it shot to superstardom during the Super Bowl with their ad - but now that the whole campaign is on display... How perfect is it? Exceptionally perfect.

For an unperfect client - but granted - judging on the merits of the ads they are.... exceptional. Sure, the strength of the campaign lies in that its "execution" is rudimentary - images which circulated over the net for a long time, most of which we are familiar with because we saw them on repeat on several websites, but this does not diminish their strength or impact once held together in a string before the central message comes through.

As I said "he gets us" might have supported controversial issues, but if you look at the campaign in and for itself, it is a brilliant act of.... kindness, acceptance, civility, and simply being a decent human being (which lately is too much to ask!).

Well, this could be the most perfect campaign - for an imperfect client, granted - but you seldom know what your multinational is doing when it advertises for you. So judging by the ads alone, I get them!

My article about 2022 ad scene published in ArabAd

Cover by Mink for the Lebanon issue of ArabAd (February 2023)

A recap of 2022 in the advertising scene for ArabAd, please see it here. A very long and exhaustive article about where advertising stands. Sadly we got too many delusional answers, a lot of them had to be either discounted or heavily edited. It was Ogilvy who said "the consumer is not a moron, she's your wife", substitute that with "the journalist is not a moron, he's your Tarek" and you get how outlandishly positive some of the contributions were when the market is totally in the dolldrums. Still, we managed to construct a very even-handed article. Much props to the editor of ArabAd Ghada Azzi for working under such conditions and still being able to turn out a magazine and a website.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Blanchor discovers the many facets of love

You might remember Blanchor from before (here). And so here they are again, smashing Valentine's Day for their clients. Here's the interesting part - there's even more from where this came from. So far my favorite is "love is in the hair" but all of them work for their respective clients (and the ones I did not post)... Indeed, love has many facets and Blanchor is exploring them!