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.
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.

Friday, June 5, 2020

And what if Pepsi is the answer? Pop culture as a bridge to peace


And what if Pepsi is the answer?
It seems someone tried to imitate the now infamous Kendal Jenner Pepsi ad  by actually offering the soda drink to the police (or law enforcement officers) to diffuse the tense situation. Now on the face of  it, the original ad was a total misread of the situation so much that Pepsi pulled it, and what this person did seems a little too tacky to be believed.
But think about it - when you think of the US, one of the first things that come to your mind are McDonald's, Coke, Cadillac, Levi's, Madonna, Beyonce. Basically pop culture elements!
Actually this is what my project "The history of Lebanon: Simulacra and simulation." is all about.
Read the creative rationale below:
"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 90 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, June 3, 2020

Tania Saleh: between blackface and good intentions


Source
The incredibly talented Tania Saleh found herself in hot water. 
Here is how she captioned her image:
كل عمري كنت احلم كون سوداء
I wish I was black, today more than ever... Sending my love and full support to the people who demand equality and justice for all races anywhere in the world.
#nojusticenopeace #georgefloyd #blacklivesmatter #usa #policestate #whitesupremacy #amrika #justice #peace #love #color #race #black #strangefruit (Photo montage from an original picture found on Pinterest)
Now, it is obvious that Saleh (whose work is otherwise admirable) did what is commonly known as blackface. I assume the original Pinterest image she did a photo montage of had the afro already (which does not exonerate Saleh but might alleviate the cultural appropriation found in the final photo).
Truth be told, Saleh is neither the first nor the last creative to be accused of blackface, actually comedian Jimmy Kimmel just apologized profusely for an image of him which shows he had blackened his skin. In 2018, fashion house Prada removed figurines which closely resembled black caricature, and in 2019 Gucci withdrew a sweater which resembled a blackface, and in 2016 Marc Jacobs received backlash for his models' afro hairdo.
In other words Saleh is in good company. Still, it might have been a faux pas. But as the French saying goes "hell is paved with good intentions".
In the meantime, check her incredible "wehde".... 

Monday, June 1, 2020

On being myself because everyone else was taken

Image credit: Cult couturier Ziad Ghanem
"Be yourself everyone else is taken" - so said the incredibly talented Oscar Wilde, OK, you can also get it from cult couturier Ziad Ghanem in the image above "no one will be the new anyone ever". Thankfully, I decided that long ago - my career was literally filled with that:
"In ten years you will be the next me" - when I was offered the job at one of the most prestigious research offices in Lebanon.
"Stick with the magazine, you'll be my number 2" - when the owner offered me the editor in chief job.
"Who am I leaving the agency for?" - when I told the creative director I was leaving his shop.
The above is but a small sample of how many times this was said to me in my life.
The good news is that I never wanted to be an obese chain-smoking research office owner, or be anyone's number 2, or inherit a faltering ad shop from anyone.  I admit it before anyone, taking the uncharted territory was not the easy route (I left a secure government job in 2001 - a dream position to any Lebanese !).
Now, whereas I did make quite a bit of money in communication, it was rare to find a client I really wanted to work with. Most dumbed down the creative ideas to the point of flatness. Which is why teaching (which I sadly stopped in late 2019) was the perfect antidote. I was that mad, wild client and pushed the students to deliver.
Do I regret leaving my research career? I never left it to be honest. There was always this research element in everything I did communication-wise. I distinctly remember when we were pitching for a large automotive account, the designers came up with these funky layouts. Then while looking at ads already done internationally for the brand, I discovered there was a rigid grid that the brand was adhering to. I got everyone back to the drawing board. The client was super impressed when he realized it.
And that editor in chief job? Well, I am the editor in chief of the blog - or as they say "head chef and bottle washer" because I do the marketing, branding, image, promotion and what not at the same time. And I do all this on my terms without compromise to get ad space or what not.
The agency I left? Well, it does not exist anymore.
Today, like many in Lebanon, my career is in limbo. Oddly, I have zero regrets. I have used my background to the fullest extent before the financial crisis struck, took as many precautions as possible and now seeing where this will lead me. Throughout it all, all "friends" or relations which brought nothing to my life - or worse took from it - have been disposed of. "Better be alone than badly accompanied" the saying goes.
It was Dwight Eisenhower who said "plans are useless but planning is indispensable" - as someone who has lived the Lebanese war (1975-1990) I can attest to that. As someone living in Lebanon today I can certify it.
I took my bets, now I shall see if they will come to fruition.
At least I took those bets as myself not as a surrogate or as a version of anyone else. 
Apparently everyone else was indeed, taken.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Nike and Adidas: Ugly stepsisters dressed as Cinderella

Source

OK - Nike went on the offensive with "for once don't do it" in the light of George Floyd's death/murder, and Adidas (pardon the pun) took the ball rolling and retweeted them. 
This is what Nike said: "For once, don’t do it, don’t pretend there’s no problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism. Do not accept that innocent lives are taken from us. Don’t use any other excuses. Don’t think this isn’t about you. Don’t sit silent. We are all part of the change."
Just to put things into context, both Nike and Adidas have young, racially diversified customer bases who demand their brands take a stand (a stand which compatible with their values - even if their values tend to go towards passive slacktivism - note: Uber saw no decrease of its young users following its ethical scandals).
Well, bravo for Nike and Adidas for hijacking the conversation, but let's be honest here: That was opportunism at its best. Well, they know their audience, they know their audience is watching their reaction, they know what is expected of them - and hey let's dip this in our legendary "just do it" slogan. And Adidas? That was a stroke of genius to relay their eternal arch-nemesis and make it look like "let's put our differences behind us as brands and competitors because together is the way forward. Together is the way to change” - ah oops "together is the way forward. Together is the way to change" are the exact words used by Adidas in their retweet.
This sent both - the Nike and the Adidas fans into a frenzy.
These fans are young and racially diverse as I told you, and they tend to be customers to brands that mirror their values. See how evil the Nike-Adidas genius is? The two evil stepsisters dressed up as Cinderella waiting for the prince and his sneaker!

Suburbutopia: George Floyd, the Pet Shop Boys and sanitized pop culture.

Bill Reed: 
Arraignment of 18 of 21 men implicated in the murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner
"President Bush announced tonight that he believes in democracy and that democracy can exist in Iraq. They can have a strong economy, they can have a good health care plan, and they can have a free and fair voting. Iraq? We can't even get this in Florida." -Jay Leno
I remember this old Jay Leno joke - back when LBC used to run his show. Pirated, I believe.
I am of the generation that grew up in the 80s, surrounded by - mostly American pop cultural items and social status elements. Think A Team, Dallas, Dynasty, Michael Jackson, Jeans, Sebago docksides and the list continues. The United States was aspirational.
Truth be told, the whole western world was - because added to the American pop culture, many "European" items/brands could easily be added: Duran Duran, Kim Wilde, Vanessa Paradis, Swatch, Benetton, Naf Naf, etc...
But naturally, that was an over-simplification.
I distinctly remember when the Pet Shop Boys came up with the Suburbia TV clip, we - by that I mean my peers and myself - "there's nothing wrong about living in such a place". We wanted to be there.
Little did we know that the partial inspiration of the song's video were the 1984 Los Angeles riots (the song came out in 1986). 
As the death/murder of George Floyd has set the United States ablaze with protests, TMZ (the site that specializes in what Kim Kardashian had for breakfast and ergo the most trusted gauge of the average American opinion) ran a survey - below are some of the answers:

Is America as racist as it was 50 years ago? 
57% Just As Racist As 50 Years Ago, 43% We've Gotten A Lot Better (74,451 total votes)

Do people trust the police?
43%Yes 57% No (74,078 total votes)

Is the country is heading toward a civil war?
55% Yes and 45% No (73,462 total votes).

To go back to the lyrics of Mr. Neil Tennant himself:
"Break the window by the town hall
Listen! A siren screams
there in the distance like a roll call
Of all the suburban dreams."

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Consumers are irrational: I went shopping

Remember the other day how I ranted about people queuing at Zara and the Lebanese being a populace that "btedayyan ta tetzayyan"? Well, call me hypocrite - I went shopping (OK, I did not borrow money, but still). Well, the original purpose of the trip was to deliver things to my sister in law. I told our house help who fears Coronavirus irrationally and who has been fantasizing about buying clothes for a long time that she could accompany me to save her taxi money anyway.
Now, truth be told, I did need a pair of pants. The other day I went to town and came back with red patches on my thighs following me wearing my skinny jeans in the scorching heat. And with me losing so much weight due to diabetes finding pants my size are more a miss than a hit. Well, it turned out Calvin Klein produced too many children pants, and an outlet store was selling them a less than 2 Dollars.
Oh and rest assured our house help bought several items too, got all dressed up at home and I took photos of her in the new attire and the result was sent to her friends and family.
So where is the irrational part? The irrational part is the quarter zip jacket from the Puma x Han Kjobenhavn collaboration (my size no less!), deeply discounted, and sitting there waiting for me (or for any other irrational sucker)! Now, did I "need" such a piece in my wardrobe? It all depends what "need" means, because I certainly was not leaving that piece for any other person (not at that price, and not with my size being available).
Long story short, I am eyeing another pair of pants. But the rational me - which took over again - is saying "wait until you straighten your financial affairs with the bank in two weeks".
I - even with hearing aids on - ended up listening to the rational me.
Now, the question that begs itself: Do I "need" those deeply discounted Church's shoes?
I told you, consumers are irrational.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

This blog does not compete with other publications

Interesting, yesterday it was pointed out to me that my blog - design, format and presentation wise - needs to be reconfigured to compete with the likes of AdAge or other prestigious publications. Took me a split of a second to decide against it.
To begin with, the current design is the fruit of very deep consideration, I chose the most minimal design, the neutral background, the totally laid back header, no navbar, the unobtrusive favicon, and absent cross columns or footers. Basically, a totally calm, no nonsense body which contains an image (at times done by myself) and the most unbiased analysis there is.
The furore of blogging has subsided in Lebanon long ago, but even then communication centered blogs were incredibly rare. There was the incredibly interesting Brofessional Review (one of its members, Imad Gebrayel has gone to more conceptual and thought provoking things). There are also the witty and smart Beirut Drive By Shooting, from which I would source images (with credit!) when it became challenging for me logistically to shoot my own images at a certain point.
I apologize if there was someone I forgot but communication wise there was only these two, apart from my own blog, who were the most consistent. And I am now the only one holding the fort.
Now, the question is, why don't ArabAd or Communicate or any other publication consider me as a competitor? (I was about to ask "why don't I consider ArabAd or Communicate or any other publication as competitors" before realizing how arrogant phrasing the question like that is).
To begin with, it's almost - almost - as if we do not speak to the same audience. Naturally, we all revolve in the same circles, talk about the same topics (albeit from different angles - with Communicate losing its Lebanese leg (no pun) it became more GCC/Dubai focused), and we all know the same people (again, in different capacities). But if you look at the material presented by either ArabAd or Communicate, you will realize how different their scope is from mine.
And, you'd be surprised how all of us are chummy - whereas recently it is incredibly rare for me to collaborate with other publications, we (by that I mean other publications and myself) exchange thoughts by email or DMs interposed (more often than not), and as the saying goes in Arabic "ma 7ada byekol min sa7n 7ada" (no one eats from anyone else's plate). An exclusive to one is respected as such, or at other times there's a "have you heard that" info which we slide to one another and so on and so forth.
It is not out of arrogance, but a blog that started since January 2007 has earned its place at the table. The many who dismissed me as "bokra byezha2" (he'll end up getting bored), or those who bombarded me with hate mail (record is 23 public hate mail in one day in 2011 by a Lebanese agency), or those who denigrated me have either stopped, given up or just plain disappeared from the radar.
I am now a juror at the Epica Awards, and the newly established PHNX festival, I lectured in advertising (and other assorted topics) between 2005 and 2019 in Lebanese universities. If I say so, again not out of arrogance but rather a testament how interested in advertising I still am. But hey, someone did call me once "washed up blogger turned advertiser" (sorry I still giggle about that one!) so who knows where the truth lies.
But again, do not bet on me redesigning or re configuring the blog. It fulfills its function as such.

Skoda does lockdown films, via Halal Amsterdam.

Lockdown brings makeshift and homemade (literally) creativity. It does so for Skoda. Halal Amsterdam made sure it did (see here!) - to those born not long ago, prior to the million Dollar costing productions, these low key ingenious ads were the norm and not just in advertising but in cinema too (I am old enough to remember that but my ad experience borders on the last hurrah in terms of small scale production!). Still Halal proves, via Skoda that one can still make films with personal cachets with little or nothing at all...
Skoda, no really, Skoda.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Al Mosafer: stories of Mecca

Today, as we know marks the beginning of Eid; a celebration that’s observed by 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. And as we know, It’s tradition among Muslims to visit Mecca during Ramadan and Eid - for prayers to observe the two religious celebrations as well as for Umrah (the year-round pilgrimage).
But this year, due to the situation and the health crisis owing to COVID-19, Mecca is under absolute lockdown, even during Ramadan and Eid. Even people living in Saudi Arabia cannot travel to Mecca. This has never happened in our lifetime. With these lockdowns and travel restrictions prevalent in Saudi Arabia, Ramadan 2020 and Eid 2020 are uniquely challenging, on a spiritual and emotional level, for those who follow the faith.
So, on the occasion of Eid, Al Mosafer (yes, the same one that brought us the incredibly moving Ramadan ad last year), a travel platform from Saudi Arabia, decided that if people can't travel to Mecca, their stories of Mecca can. Memories of Mecca are brought to people, in a film made by people themselves, titled ‘Stories of Mecca’.
Given that the film couldn’t be shot due to lockdowns in Mecca, a campaign on social media launched during Ramadan invited people everywhere to share their memories of Mecca. People from 52 countries contributed. Over 10 hours of stories were sifted through and then, the selected shots were stitched together in a film that’s told through the format of social media stories about Mecca. Because even though Mecca may be locked down, its stories will go on.
What I truly love about the film is how genuinely moving it is. The images are not professionally shot but in the amateurism one can be truly awed by the experience. With this, best wishes for the Eid to anyone celebrating it, and I know the circumstances in Lebanon are not ideal but we forge through!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Lebanon: Jusqu'ici tout va bien.

Today, I read this statement by Mathieu Kassovitz, the man who graced cinema with La Haine (whose subtitle was "jusqu'ici tout va bien" or "until now, all is well"): “You don’t change society in 25 years, [y]ou need society to go all the way and collapse, and then you change it. You can’t change a machine that is perfect: capitalism. It’s not good, but it’s perfect. It’s working.”
And I keep asking - has Lebanon collapsed?
Judging by the line in front of Zara, which my taxi driver today compared to "the line in front of bakeries during the war to get bread", I am really not sure. Has our currency lost around 60% of its value? Have people been working on half-salaries? Where are people getting their spending money from? In the words of the same taxi driver Lebanon is a place where people "btedayyan ta tetzayyan" (it borrows money to appear nice).
Theoretically - make that practically - Lebanon is a free fall. Yet, there was a pseudo traffic jam today. Politicians are still taking their time, banks still have not declared bankruptcy though there is insolvency, people - oddly - keep existing and continue shopping at Zara.
Oh, on the background there are still Syrian refugees, I am not going to talk about the Palestinians, there is still the COVID-19 (which has been spiking in the last few days with people not taking precautions), unemployment is soaring (I read the number of 65% which could be correct), people rummage in dumpsters in broad daylight (lately a video of an elderly man and a pregnant woman looking for food emerged).
At times I think this is it, the bottom, the place of no return, but then it turns out we could sink deeper and lower and discover new bottoms (or dig for them). I can quote any economic and financial indicator and they all spell doom, in a parallel universe, the Lebanese keep thinking the fuse is not lit on the ticking bomb, not realizing they are the fuse themselves because...
... Lebanon: Jusqu'ici tout va bien.


Friday, May 22, 2020

In praise of the eternal Beirut5Ampere.

Images copyrighted to Beirut5ampere.org
Today, because I am asked about these images frequently, I am republishing this post which dates back to August 9, 2012:
Just in case you were busy with the Baalbeck, Byblos, and Beiteddine, you might have missed this series of awesome concerts offered by the guys from Beirut5ampere.org - namely "Jimmy Almouhandrix" (the engineer in case you didn't get it), Led Zepplin singing "Mar2ad anze" LP tour (too difficult to explain) including the hit single "Sellom bel 3ard" (holding the latter vertically - but also a word play on "Stairway to heaven"). Oum Koulsoum will grace Madison Square Garden in an effort to ease up Michele Bachmann anti-Islamic witch hunt, and Pink Floyd (yes, the old line up) will be doing the audio-visual bonanza of "Dark side of Bhamdoun" including the hits "See Oum Elie play" (as a reference to "See Emily play" - one of the very rare songs along Billy Idol's "Dancing with myself" which tackle the topic of... playing with one's self!) - do note the difference in pricing for Lebanese and Gulf tourists however. These are indeed concerts for the moteur generation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Lebora - Lebanese housekeepers, racism and stereotypes.

Recently, I have seen photos of Ethiopian house helps being repatriated - by the hundreds upon hundreds. The reason is simple, few households can now afford either to hire someone by the hour (the rate was 5 Dollars) or full in-house on 24/7 basis (the average cost is 450 USD).
Actually, Lebanese being mostly racist in their demeanor, the whole category of house helps was labelled "sirilankiye" (Sri Lankese - due to the nationality of the first wave of women who would help at home). So much that one of my students (the son of an MP no less) told me once in class "Monsieur, Sirilankiyetna jeye min Ethiopia" (Sir, our Sri Lankese comes from Ethiopia). Actually, prior to be called collectively "sirilankiye " such women were called "baalbakiye" (the woman who comes from Baalbeck in what is sociologically called "rationalizing of the position").
Which brings us to Lebora (an incredible name truth be told which mixes Lebanon-Labor-Ora (by the hour) in a lovely mix) which promises to procure Lebanese house helps either per hour, part time or full time live in.
Now, Lebanese are not only racist but they are also snobbish and "menial work" is looked down on, and yes, many people do not abide by the "desperate times call for desperate measures" although in my dictionary I see nothing desperate about honest work - been there, done that. So many women feel degraded to be working as "san3a"  (maid) as men do with regards to filling jobs on fuel stations (the IPT campaign comes to mind).
Well, perhaps the current crisis will make the Lebanese reconsider. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Audi - you're only ever racing yourself

On June 1, 1997 Mary Schmich published in the Chicago Tribune her famous column: "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" which would be later known as "wear sunscreen"... One of the (many) outstanding lines goes "Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself." This beautiful line, and I made it a point to read the whole article when I used to teach on the last session of any course, is indeed incredibly freeing.
We are competitive by nature, but then life comes in the way. The person who graduated top of the class when I was at university (which was such an outstanding class that anyone in the top 10 could have been top of the class any other year) is now divorced with one child living back in her room and sleeping on her teenage bed with little or no career whatsoever.
Schmich's line is echoed in that brilliant new Audi campaign "you're only ever racing yourself" - something I was thinking about this morning. I was incredibly unlucky in my ad career. I remember this incident. The client - an automotive company - wanted to do an ad about the "pride of the owner". I gave out my concept and the big boss said it was off brief. Two art directors tried to intervene defending the idea as they got excited about it. Two days later the boss comes rushing telling us to come see this "brilliant ad about the pride of the owner" by Peugeot. The ad turned out to be my exact idea - almost frame per frame.
If I give this example it is because, I was also incredibly lucky in my career. Clients paid for me to go to breathtaking places, I got to be in the same room on first name basis with individuals people just glimpse from afar, I was part of remarkable events and the list continues. I made more errors than most due to my generosity but it is that same bonhomie that I display which attracted all these fanciful things that I ended up being part of.
To go back to Mrs Schmish, "Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's." Lady luck manifested herself so incredibly oddly in my life. "Life is not about what happens  to you but how you react to it when it happens", I kept saying that to students. And one day a student retorted "you always say that, and you also say that you have been through incredible setbacks, I did not notice anything different in how you behaved". To which I smiled and said "managing to finish your day is sometimes the best reaction to what happens to you".
Yesterday was an incredibly tough day, but - as Audi said - I was "ever racing (my)self".
I won.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Spinney's, cancer, and CCCL

Well "By buying Spinneys products you'll be donation (sic) to Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL)" which is in dire need for funding. Actually, yes, the initiative is laudable. Now "cancel cancer" has been done million times prior and now a cliche. Add a "can" to it and it all sounds like a broken record. Well, at least the cause is worth it - maybe if they added an L in the end they could have ended up with C(an) C(ancel) C(ancer) L which is the acronym of the Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon. Whatever it is, the add is a little too odd to make sense. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Let's get digital!

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
So, to misquote Olivia Newton John - let's get digital. I keep reading antagonistic data - book reading is on the up, but Amazon teamed up with American Vogue to sell designer clothes because traditional stores that would carry these designers are now closed. Apparently, the way we shop will forever change, then on the first day of lockdown easing in Paris there was a long queue in front of Zara. And so on and so forth. But, to me, going digital is something engrained in me (even if I am a bit of a Luddite who does not shop online and has no credit card).
But let us go back to the beginning.
I recently joined the PHNX tribute festival as a juror. Actually, the whole festival is digital and entry is free to replace all the shows that got cancelled this year. I am also, a part of a major international collective which was supposed to do events spanning from Montreal to Vienna to Amsterdam and Beirut. Realizing opportunities for travel are now quasi-non-existent, we now switched to discussing how to transport all the events to a digital realm. And the list continues.
I am sure we are not alone in this. As people now stand apart and minimize interaction, working from home has become a viable option when previously it was not. My own lockdwon started way before anyone else's in a bid to save money, but I am still incredibly productive, and still reach out to my limited number of friends via digital tools (something other people are learning to do now!).
Do I miss people? Rarely to be honest. I am not by the way, trying to extrapolate my modus operandi and apply it to everyone: I am totally aware that what works for me (introverted, driven, with a touch of OCD) does not work for more extroverted individuals with a more leisurely pace of work.
Still - with schools, universities and companies closed - either because of the Coronavirus, or due to the dire economic situation in Lebanon (or worldwide for that matter), perhaps the time has come to redefine how we work and live and spend our time and connect to one another as individuals.
Want it or not, it seems the digital realm is going to grow. And even Luddite credit cardless people like me need to take note.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Zarri3et Albi - the snobbish green thumb

Before you say I do not know what am talking about: I am an agriculture engineer. I know what I am talking about. And - I know top down snobbish behavior when I see it. Heck, to the eyes of some am guilty of it - instead of using one of those useless masks, I wear an Hermes bandana! Which brings us back to the new Nadine Labaki initiative: Zarri3et Albi (زريعة_قلبي). Look, when I was active in engineering, my specialty was economics and development. You cannot lecture people from afar - you need to go, mingle, talk to them (in my case I was picked up by the Land Rover of a militia for interviewing women one on one - mind you, the women did not mind, on the contrary they were extroverted and communicative, but the militia did!). You cannot just do a song, a video and pretend you already got the message across. Yeah, yeah, cool initiative and it so happens that Dior is dropping its collection with straw hats and cute overalls influenced by Monsieur Christian's sister who was obsessed with horticulture - what a stylish coincidence! Long story short: This is a real-life Kapernahum (pun intended).

BOB finance compares itself to itself!

BOB finance has an intriguing ad: "there is the bank and there is us". Technically, no issue. But BOB means Bank of Beirut! Let me understand - a company that is an offshoot of a bank says there is the bank and there is them. It is like comparing apples to.... Apples. Basically - no comparison!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Adforum PHNX tribute - a phoenix rises from the ashes!

Tarek Chemaly is now a PHNX juror!
AdForum launches a unique, free-to-enter online competition.
Over the past 20 years AdForum has existed to celebrate advertising creativity. One of its founding pillars is its partnership with agencies and awards shows around the world. It acts as both as a promoter of talent and an archive for creative excellence.
Despite the current crisis, AdForum believes that our industry still needs to celebrate creativity, and that as a symbol of resilience and respect for our community, the best work of the last 12 months deserves to be seen and recognized.That’s why we’re launching the AdForum PHNX Tribute (no points for guessing how it is pronounced): a one-off, entirely free-to-enter online competition. Entries will be open on May 18 and the jury will vote from June 12 to 26. Winners of Gold, Silver and Bronze phoenix feathers will be announced and honored on July 9 during an online event.The idea is to celebrate individual creatives and teams: the people behind the great work.We will ask agencies, freelancers, brands and production companies to enter their best work into a carefully distilled selection of 25 categories. 
A top-notch jury of creative leaders will vote on the entries in a spirit of unity and generosity. Philippe Paget, CEO of AdForum’s parent company Maydream, said: “Despite everything we felt that people would still enjoy celebrating great work this summer, so we decided to create a one-off platform for them to do that. I’d especially like to thank the design agency ADDIKT in Amsterdam, who created the PHNX identity in record time, as well as the content consultancy Fish Do It, based in India.”
The online celebration will be preceded by a series of free webinars devoted to creativity.The AdForum PHNX Tribute is designed to lift the spirits of the industry and put creativity back in the spotlight–where it belongs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Bledina bedtime story competition

Bledina has come up with a genius idea. A competition to tell bedtime stories!
Think about it - news about about grandparents telling their grandchildren stories on video call, or celebrities reading books online, so it was only natural for a mother to tell stories and win prizes too. The conditions are not difficult - just read your child's favorite story and send it to their email. OK good articulation and nothing above 3 minutes (plus no background noise - ergo better do it after children get asleep) but still, very exciting I must say - and, with children being home, a good trick to decompress a little for overwhelmed parents.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The story of the Tokyo restaurant, Beirut (by way of De Freige palace)

Yesterday I was contacted by Mrs Christine Simm inquiring about my photos about the Tokyo Restaurant. By way of explanation Mrs Simm said, "that flat had previously been our home for 13 years and, what I presume became the restaurant had been my parents' bedroom, the only semi circular bedroom I have ever come across."
Here is the photo Mrs. Simm wanted to see:
Photo credit: Tarek Chemaly
The Simm family moved there in 1954 and her father sent her grandparents this particular image (by way of explanation, Mrs Simm's father "was the Middle East Agent for a British Engineering Company. We started off in Egypt but then moved to Beirut as a better place for the family to live while he was travelling."):
Photo credit: Christine Simm
Interestingly whereas there is speculation about the date of the building with architect Karim Andary presuming it dates back to the 1930s, Mr Simm provided an image of the pristine building when they moved in which means it was not built way prior to then.
Photo credit: Christine Simm
"They then put up the Lord's Hotel which blocked the view. My bedroom was right at the back behind the curved balcony."
Just to imagine the scene, please look below:
Or this one:
Photo credit: Karim Andary
Mrs Simm goes on: "We did not use the house as it was designed. What should have been the living room was my parents' bedroom, the main 'entrance hall' was my father's office and we always used what would have been built as the back door for coming and going. Then there were the living and dining rooms and 3 bedrooms. We children used the large balcony at the side, with the arches, as our playroom. At the back there was the kitchen and another balcony which was the maid's domain.
There was a widow, Madame Saab, who lived below us. Her flat was only half the size of ours because of the hill. In the flat next to us, for the whole time we were there, were the Kekhia's, with their two sons. We were often bothered with stray cats which used to jump in the back windows as they were on ground level."
Mrs Simm goes on reminiscing about Beirut, saying the family lived there in the 1950s and 60s "and my brothers and I attended the British Community School. To start off with it was in Rue Abdel Aziz and then it eventually moved to the Airport Road. But in between these 2 it was in temporary accommodation in the Marquis De Freige Palace."
In case you wish to see the palace in question here it is:
"I clearly remember my classroom, which was the biggest room in the building even though there were only 8 of us in the class. Our teacher was the headmistress and we had to be there so she could be near the telephone. It was a lovely room with stained glass windows, such a pleasure to look at when you were trying to learn french verbs or do arithmetic. I can remember we were strictly not allowed to the upper floor, even though rumor had it there was a room with rat poison in it!"
Sadly here is what the palace has been substituted with today.
Source
Mrs Simm now lives in Scotland and has never been back. "I don't think I would like the changes as the Lebanon was such a wonderful place to grow up in at the time."
"Wonderful childhood!" she concludes. Meanwhile last time I was there which was in November 2019 only the K and O still held strong from the letters which once indicated a restaurant and prior, the Simm family residence.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Is it so wrong for the Lebanese to live within their means?

Before anyone jumps the gun and says I am insensitive to other people's plight, I am not. Actually one of the resolutions I did lately was to be less generous and altruistic. Here's my gripe: I see nothing wrong with the Lebanese living within their means. I know families who'd go out to restaurants weekly now content with house meals, children realizing food done at home is just as good as take away meals they used to order absent-mindedly, a family within my circle is trying to sell one of its two cars, and the list continues.... There is a reason why classification is called socio-economic: it is not your money, it is your social position too. I am/was an engineer/economist/consultant/university lecturer/multimedia artist etc... I grew up within the spectrum of middle class - at times on the upper margin, at others down below. But we always made do with what we have. Maybe it was the war where you were forced to get creative with little, maybe it was my parents' ethics of "want not, waste not" (all while providing us with things we desired within their means), maybe it is my own strict ethos of saving money (all while indulging myself - yet I think I own the least amount of "things" when compared to people my age).
All this is to say, as Lebanon faces the perfect storm of several elements (the least of which is the Coronavirus), financial expert Dan Azzi was on TV telling people to use their cars less. The rationale being that the less fuel we import the better we are economically as a country. I have been living without a car since 2000, and have never been late to any appointment. I rely on the ever efficient mix of public transport and (lately since am outside the highway) private taxis and I save money in the process.
Perhaps the time has come for the Lebanese to face facts and admit they were living in an inflated bubble. The bubble has burst. Now is the time to "make do and mend".
We need to adapt to a new economic order, the faster we do it the better it is.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

USJ delivers the perfect Labor Day ad

USJ did a home run this Labor Day.
As in "home" run. It visited its employees quarantined at home, trying to work with a backdrop of babies, toddlers, housework, dogs, and the other "joys" of being home while trying to do one's work. Watch the film here. To be honest this could have been a disaster filled with overacting, pompous situations and what not - but no! The employees deliver with panache, and portray the usual "technical" problems with gusto (upside down camera?) and come away winners. The last frames "because responsibility is not tied to a desk and because nothing stops you, a big thank you for you at home" is truly brilliant.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

McDonald's #Iftarsandclock




The saying goes "a watched pot does not boil". But in a clever move, waiting for the end of daily fast with this #Iftarsandclock from McDonald's could make it more bearable or aesthetically pleasing (just look what shapes they come in!) - at least this is a culturally sensitive move from the brand at a time when the world is both - far apart, divided but also paradoxically assembled and near. The gadbet my not speed up the iftar (or the time when the McDonald's branches open) - but hey, it is a conversation starter.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Al Wadi Al Akhdar gets lost in (emoji) translation

"For the virtuous month only accept the best" - says the Al Wadi Al Akhdar ad with an appetizing image of an aubergine to indicate their baba ghannouj (excellent) product. The problem? The aubergine has become in emoji language as a substitute to the male organ. Which, in an ad speaking about Ramadan is the metaphoric equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot! Now do women purchasing the product know the analogy? Most or the quasi majority do not. Did Al Wadi know it? (and considering their marketing manager is a very capable woman) The answer is obviously no.
But, the harm has been done! Many of us are now smirking under our cape or getting annoyed to the mixing of two unmixable things (Ramadan and the "aubergine"). But like it or not, we live in a digital world, with its new codes and signifies and the aster brands adapt, the better it is!

Babyshop - an advertising we deserve.

I am incredibly bored from those saccharine dipped ads I am bombared with daily that revolve around Coronavirus (all same, all boring, insert silly piano background). BUT...
Do you remember Babyshop? The brand that got you Umobuwah?
Yes, the multi-award sweeping Umobuwah.
Now they are back with a "world we deserve" and unsurprisingly, you will see that children are actually more aware, mature, and sensible than adults.
The genuine ad is here.
Zoom calls? Different countries? Honest opinions? Talk from the heart? Being sensitive to possibilities? Check, check, check! It is there, raw and promising and real.
In a world where parents are exhausted from homeschooling and from tripping over Lego parts and having to endure all such issues, Babyshop comes with a window of opportunity, a breath of fresh air.
Well, this is the kind of ad we deserve.
If not deserve, at least want.

Ad people: Now is the time to think small - again.

Photo Credit; Jana Traboulsi (a double play on "death to the capital" and "let the capital topple")
Covid-19 has blown the top on everything. Companies, budget, recruitment, shopping, spending, you name it - it is all in flux. People are divided in two camps the "this is the end" and the "this is the end and a chance to a new beginning". This is a blog that revolves around advertising, marketing, branding - mostly in Lebanon (though I do tend to go further afield at times). Lebanon has been facing the perfect storm: Corona, financial meltdown, capital controls, lack of liquidity, crashing budgets, closing companies, socio-political unrest, and and and.... Already prior to the Coronavirus outbreak estimates that there will be less than 100 million Dollar in ad spend this year were released by ad person Naji Boulos (whom I trust in opinion and figures).
Now that we are in a Coronavirus world that number will become a fraction of what it was. I know the livelihood of many people will be affected by it. A marketing manager at a major supermarket chain in Lebanon told me that it was the first time she saw people calculating their bill before getting to the cashier to avoid over-budgeting. People are looking in the trash in broad daylight in Lebanon. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is trying to save their penny.
Paradoxically, am glad idiotic advertising is over. All those corny ads are now gone. Army day? Put everything in camouflage. Valentine? Paint it red and add a heart. New year? Add fireworks. And on all occasions remember to make the logo bigger.
But as Watson (Lucy Liu) told Holmes (John Lee Miller) in that wonderful episode in Elementary: "What if we are looking at it the wrong way?" - I apologize in advance to all those whose lives have been affected by the turmoil. But was it not time for things to come to a screeching halt to assess and reorganize and regroup and downsize and prioritize and maybe cut down and shrink and "think small" (to go back to that eternal VW Beetle mantra)? I am glad the time has come.
With less, creativity flows, with limited resources we can produce more, without the excess we can be more agile.
Of course we could have done so without - as Dr. Nicole Herman said (brilliantly played by Geena Davis in Grey's Anatomy) - "recommending a brain tumor" or a Coronavirus for that matter. Yet as the Lebanese saying goes "if it does not get bigger it does not get smaller". And bigger it did go!
Now is the time to get smaller. Again.

Monday, May 4, 2020

London Dairy, is today what Pepsi was in the past


London Dairy is positioning itself as an after iftar treat... What is interesting is this was exactly the positioning of Pepsi in the past (50s/60s) see below.
Pepsi was supposed to be an after-iftar digestive drink! What happened is that, with time, it moved up the food chain (no pun!) to become part of the meal itself hence becoming part ot of the menu. Also here is a fun fact, the large size referred to in the ad is actually 1 liter which is smaller than today's "standard" large 1,25 liter.
One wonders if ice cream will become part of dinner too....

Carrefour and gender stereotyping

Carrefour supermarket has jumped on the wagon of celebrating "heroes" - you know the medical staff and all then reaching their employees. The film is neither exceptional nor bad. The problem? It falls into a terrible gender stereotyping. It starts with (somewhere there is) "a nurse or a doctor caring for a patient". Nothing wrong. Except there is! In Arabic "moumarida" is female nurse and "tabib" is male doctor. Florence Nightingale must be rolling in her grave! People, there are male nurses and female doctors and many institutions (I think of Marvel as an example) who portrayed them as such to indicate inclusivity and changing standards in today's world. Carrefour should live in today's world!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Trickle up: How micro work can spread to macro.

Artwork (and wording) by Tarek Chemaly
Well, the only thing I can claim the ownership of are the words "trickle up" - the rest are the result of a massive brainstorm that happened yesterday on a multi-participant discussion on facebook of all places (lockdown and geographical distancing oblige - Netherlands, Canada and Lebanon were online....).
And, I admit I was the party spoiler among the (more idealistic) crowd with my rational Cartesian thinking, however even behind my blasé facade my passion has always been too strong (I am the one that tells the story of the mad crowds who were revolting against the Danish caricatures who ended up burning Intermarkets the ad agency in the building next to the Danish embassy in Beirut because someone pointed them to the wrong building! Or the analysis why the Arab Spring failed - it did not produce electable candidates and it started off by wanting everything at once when all it wanted was an obscure "something else") .
My brother once told me "you do no know how to have small dreams" and true - one of the reasons that made me continue teaching between 2005-2020 (I stopped last semester) at university level was this idea that one by one, student per student, change could be possible.
In 2001 I quit a lucrative career as a research consultant because at one point, I ended up quoting myself. I was doing a study for a major client and I realized the only previous study on the topic was done by myself and that nothing was "trickling down" to people, regular people whose lives might be influenced by the results of the work in question.
Most of us are familiar with the trickle down - social norms, peer pressure, conformity, standards to abide by of whatever shape. But I go back to the idea that was talked about in the discussion on facebook: Small, mirco acts can gather up to a tipping point and might - might - go to the macro level and produce a change with a capital C.
Here's hoping! Yet, till then, let us "trickle up"!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Chateau Ksara strikes a perfect tone on Labor Day

You know those patronizing, tone deaf, haughty, and top-down ads that companies bombard us with? Thankfully, Ksara made a human, genuine, and totally credible ode to its workers on Labor Day. Everyone is struggling in Lebanon, and not just the workers (see here!), but in the ad, the casting is honest, everyone is oblivious of the camera, and at 22 seconds the perfect antidote for those long (and honestly annoying) ads.

Coca-Cola exits the Lebanese market (Again!)

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, it seems Coca-Cola is about to close its Lebanese bottling company as of tomorrow. "Is Pepsi OK?" - you are about to hear that one way more often than before! So here we are - another one bites the dust. This time a big one!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Tartina vs. Kiri (Compare and contrast)

OK, well, what to say?
You judge.
But one must admit (background, font, design, etc....) it all looks.... Familiar!
PS: the name should read: "Fromage fondu a la creme" - otherwise it would be a grammatical error since creme is feminin in French so it would read "Fromage a la creme fondue"

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Back when Zaatar w Zeit used to do excellent Ramadan ads

For those who got upset about me being less than lukewarm about the Ramadan ads please look at this Zaatar W Zeit (ZWZ for short) masterpiece as a reference. Remember, sou7our is the pre-dawn breakfast. There, locked and sealed. Any questions? The sample above dates to 2010! My eyes, my eyes....