Thursday, June 11, 2020

There are much fewer corny ads in town.

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