Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Elections 2022: FPM youth - somewhere between sore winners and a good ad.

All right, now that all the results are out, and it turned out - against all logic, money sent by international allies, 13 million Dollars spent on advertising campaigns on multi-channels by the Lebanese Forces (LF) - that FPM (Free Patriotic Movement) got itself 22 MPs while LF ended up with 18 (please note I am counting "allied" MPs on both sides). Including a loss of one seat in their own fief - Becharre. 

Just to be clear, the loss which has been building up for years since the LF changed strategy as to how to deal with their constituents, has seen the rise of William Tawk for a long time (someone told me about this since 2019!). 

All this brings us to the FPM - youth devision elated in their party's win. But to be honest I am not sure if I classify this under sore winner or good ad. Why? Because it is an obvious jab at the LF - which centered its campaign around "badna w fina" (we can and we want). So what do the FPM youth do? "Nehna wfina" (we kept our promise)... You go realize that "wFINA" highlights precisely this double entendre.

Ah well, truth be told, their party was against a gargantuan task and they pulled through.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Moskvitch is back - no news about Trabant

Taking a break from the seat-gripping (no pun) elections result in Lebanon (and no, you cannot pin Jad Ghosn's 88 vote loss on me, I don't vote in Metn).

So to quote a satiric comment "Russia has invented a time machine".

Moskvitch is back.

OK, first the story. Renault is pulling out of Russia - like many other major brands following the Ukraine war. But in order not to leave 45,000 people in its factory jobless, it decided to sell their Moscow plant to the municipality for one rouble (with the option of buying it back in 6 years - by then either the war would have ended or the public opinion in the world would have shifted. Whichever comes first).

So Moscow is back to building the car it knows how to build, the Moskvitch. Symbol of all things related to the USSR, the car actually won some design awards, some races, had its line expand to Belgium at one point (with a fully factory there). Sure, the brand was eclipsed by the better-built Lada eventually.

Of course, if one can bring the Moskvitch back, my stomach is tickling about the East-German Trabant. If you have not seen the Trabant scene in the movie Goodbye Lenin, please do, it's comedy gold. 

Actually why not watch Goodbye Lenin here... 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Elections 2022: in Lebanon, like Tag Heuer, success is a mind game

It's incredible, the results of the elections are starting to trickle in and everyone is jubilant and everyone says they won. I still cannot understand how everyone is thinking.

Free Patriotic Movement says they are winning, but so does the Lebanese Forces, supporters of the "revolution" say the wall is cracking and that they've done well, and political parties on all sides are happy with the outcome.

Which means nothing makes sense at this point. And probably later as well truth be told. 

Well, at least existential philosopher (also known as incredibly popular singer) Elissa summed it up with "democracy cannot cohabitate with arms" - in a very obvious critique to Hizbullah. Do note, what "democracy" is in Lebanon makes it a very vague concept. One that does not make much sense and has nothing to do with how many MPs there are. 

Some are saying, let's give the Lebanese Forces a chance (assuming they won a majority as they say), we did not try those before. I would be ready to support this theory, but then I'd have to obliterate from my memory the way they lead the "Easter/Christian" regions in Beirut during the war - which, if this is a template, might as well wake up and smell the reality.

Once more, with everyone claiming victory, I cannot but remember the classic Tag Heuer ads "success, it's a mind game" - and it seems success is on everyone's mind today.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Elections 2022: And my vote goes to...

My vote, tomorrow - artwork by Tarek Chemaly

So after covering the elections' ads, on as much coverage as I can by tracking social media, taking photos from billboards, screen shooting whatever comes on instagram, being nudged here and there by friends and the list continues.... You want to ask: Who am I voting for?

I know the answer seems shocking.

I am not voting.

Yes, I heard it all already - I am a defeatist, every vote counts, I am being bribed, I am in the gutter and happy to remain here, voting is a moral stance, candidates are not like marriage they're just like public transport, etc....

Still, I am not voting.

Interestingly, whatever YOU stand is fine by me. You want the old bunch to come back? Good for you. You want some of those new "revolutionary" picks? Go vote for them. You no longer want to be stolen by the old bunch but want the new bunch to steal you? Again, go for it. I seriously suspended all judgement. 

However, I feel the system to be so inherently broken, as in irremediably broken, voting will not bring any change no matter who gets voted. Which makes my own vote an act of hypocrisy. Not only do I not find credible candidates, but the whole electoral law, the whole social setting, the whole political ambiance makes absolutely no sense at this point.

People said, go and put a blank vote, since you don't like any candidate. No, it's not just the candidates, it's the whole system. A blank vote means I agree with the system. I don't.

Several politicians are running ads (which I will not publish for personal reasons) whereby "voting for them will bring your money back". As in - seriously? We know the money in the bank is no longer returning, we know that the whole political class evaporated all chances of Lebanon being credible in the eyes of the international community. Add to it the crisis of Ukraine where all eyes have gone, and bingo - we are not hot on anyone's list.

Long story short, I am home tomorrow. And no, I am not voting.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Elections 2022: On selling your vote.

Photo by Tarek Chemaly

Selling your vote. Well, let's be honest, can you have an election without vote-buying and falsification?

Short answer: No.

Well, ad agencies jumped at this. Leo Burnett teamed with Lebanese Transparency Agency (LTA) and FP7 McCann with Annahar. Each from a different standpoint.

OK, so LTA went back to the Lollar (term originally coined by Dan Azzi, which if I understood correctly gave his blessing to the campaign, but without Patrick Chemali's logo). Actually, tangible and physical prints/designs of Lollar (that the LTA dubbed as "currency of corruption) were introduced. On May 13, this is when there will be an ATM which will dispense such bills which will move from Dora, to Sassine Square and Raouche.

Annahar went with another idea - since votes will be bought anyhow - might as well advise the votes how much their vote is really worth (with apparently a smart algorithm which calculates exactly how much it is worth compared to fuel, food, education costs etc....). They even launched a website: (which translates as price of the vote).

OK, you did not hear this from me but... Do I smell Cannes Lions entries here?

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Elections 2022: Elmarada goes back to a tested formula

Elmarada, like any other Lebanese party is centered around a family. In this case, the Frangiehs. Suleiman Frangieh (Senior) had a very famous quote: "My country is always right" (watani da2iman 3ala 7akk). So it was a little obvious that they went with "your ballot is right"... Obvious does not mean dumb though. If it resonates use it.

Interestingly, when Elmarada launched their website in 2011, they used... "my website is always right".

So again, it is reheating an old formula. But hey if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Elections 2022: Burger King has it its own way

Burger King. Yes, the fast food joint is in the elections business as well.

Creatively one cannot accuse them of not trying. The idea is simple, on May 15, Lebanese people have thousands of options for MPs... but only one destination for flame grilled burgers. Visually, the ad also takes the short route as the blurred photos of the said candidates gather to become the whopper itself.

Burger King could be a way to spend the money they just paid you for your ballot.... Consider it indeed.

The ad can be seen here.

Elections 2022: FPM goes for a unified campaign

The FPM which is running (along with allies) in all regions, has opted for a rather quiet campaign, rather "non-tailor made" for each candidate. All of them seem to be going with just a simple logo (the FPM logo along with 22), and nothing but the name of the candidate. 
Their central line is "we have... and we will remain". Is this a slogan of resistance? Defiance? 
Well, I guess at this point many people have lost their faith in the tayyar (as the FPM is called), since they actually held the majority in the parliament (again with allies) and had the presidency all to themselves and the results have been somewhere between disastrous and lukewarm. Do note, it can also be a matter of bad luck as well, since the financial crisis was waiting to happen, and the port explosion simply happened under the president's watch - it could have been anyone else as president, you know. Note that the president (and the FPM people at large) did not make it easier on themselves with him uttering classics such as "he who is not like the situation, let him immigrate" or the "lemon doubly" (originally lamentably) which he uttered in his speech and the "all the way to hell" snippet.
At this point though, politics in Lebanon is incredibly convoluted so - disappointment or not - people will vote either because they are convinced, or to the highest bidder on their ballot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Elections 2022: Wooden Bakery has no favorite candidate

Wooden Bakery has woken up to the elections. Using that electoral law whereby you put an X next to your favorite candidate (though you have just voted for the full list as the law requires) and whereby this is called "al mouracha7 al tafdili" - the favorite candidate - Wooden Bakery assures you, there is no favoritism in its products. Actually, yes I'd have one of each please! 

Elections 2022: Al Mustaqbal the most efficient campaign (that never was)


In 2018, Al Mustaqbal misfired with a silly campaign (I awarded it worst campaign for a political party - here). Thankfully this year, their campaign is brilliant - they did not do any. This is not sarcasm just to be clear. But the head of Al Mustaqbal movement, Saad Hariri himself, decided to boycott the elections (initiate the "moukata3a").
With him the domino fell in the Sunnite sect. No matter how others - related or unrelated to the movement, officially or unofficially, Saudi-backed or not - have tried to rally the Sunnites around them, there is still this major feeling of flop.
Many Sunnites are all out with the "moukata3a la 3younak" slogan. Again, the beauty of it is that all this is coming from supporters, not from the machinary of the Mustaqbal movement. Just to explain, "la 3younak" was a jingle by singer Ahmad Kaabour for Future Television back when it was setting the pace for what good, creative television was. "La 3younak" means "for your eyes". And it transcended the television which was owned by Rafic Hariri (father of Saad) to become the slogan his supporters "cuddle" him with (see the original here),
Funnily some supporters went all out to poke on the Lebanese Forces campaign (see here) with "we can cast our ballots, we just don't want to".

The missed opportunities of ad people in the Middle East

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

At some point I knew I was no longer an agency man.

But I was always very lucky in my career. I gradually eased into lecturing. And even when I left lecturing because due to inflation I was no longer making money but rather putting, I was able to focus on my video art productions.

My point? Advertising people in the Middle East simply do not know when to stop. I am not naming names, but the man was - in the polite words of the late Walid Azzi - a "dormant giant", which is euphemism for "has-been". The problem? In his mind, the man still thought he was on top of his game. Comically so. In my last meeting with him circa 2005 along with a very capable art director, the lady in question (the art director) told him "you know, using such a word is not exactly palatable for us as Muslims, "perfection" (al kamal in Arabic) is left to God".

And the guy just get on a rant "you are teaching me advertising now? Me? After all my experience?" and he went on for 5, then 10, then 20 minutes in the same vein. At some point I looked at the art director, signaled for her we should beat a retreat, did so, all while the man was - STILL - ranting about "teaching him advertising".

Oh, and did you notice how many ad people - again in the region - wanted to go to politics? Failed transitions or laughable ones. Again, not naming names, but the examples are too many (Lebanon included), which proves again, that the ad people's ego does not know when and where to stop.

Something else I noticed, that rage to leave agencies these people have been associated with (during the agency's but also their own creative heyday), thinking they are still at the height of their creative powers, only to drift endlessly from one agency to another. Very recently someone asked me about a certain person in the industry "any idea which agency he has been passing through as of late?". The man was a creative giant back in the day, but since has been just going from one place to another with dwindling output.

Let me tell you this other story. A creative director in a huge agency in Beirut used to go to the junior's cubicle where several of them would be packed elbow to elbow in a room as big as a matchbox, and instead of taking each aside to critique their work so as to improve it, he's just stand at the door, utter a deep sigh and then leave.

All of this is leading to one place in my mind. Why not teach, coach, and mentor these youngsters? For the fifteen years I taught at university, I had a blast with boys and girls - some of them eager, some of them not, some of them creative, some of them not, some of them willing to learn, some of them not. But it did not matter, when you had that one, just one person who was lapping it up, you'd know you'd know your mission has been successful.

But for some reason, these ad people, past their creative height either never take up information transmission in whatever form it is, or find it beneath them. I know of a certain person who plainly told his class "I didn't like you, I am not going to teach you" - all while collecting his salary. Another showed up for only two sessions out of the allotted fifteen, gave the class a final and everyone obviously failed in class.

Perhaps they are stuck in the "those who can't do, teach" - which trust me, is not correct. Up till today, I still have former students in high positions in agencies who will consult me on briefs. I always give them kick-ass answers and with a snark end our exchange with: "the day you will become more creative than I am, is the day I retire".

I can still be creative all while teaching/mentoring or just simply volunteering my time with "students". We both learn to quote Maguy Farah (the Lebanese media personality who once said that in class "ment3allam" - meaning that not only students get new info, but teachers do as well).

Monday, May 9, 2022

Elections 2022: Qadreen vs BOB Finance (compare and contrast)

And so.... What would you say when a political list for the elections actually gives you a serious deja vu from a nice campaign for BOB Finance - who works in money transfer.

The original is here. People, just compare and contrast the two. Just to legally cover myself, I am not saying it is, I am not saying it is not. 

Seriously though!

PS: Mouwatinoun and Mouwatinat fi Dawla (MMFD), who is behind Qadreen answered me saying this was the line for their program since 2019 (please see the link here) - however the link in question does not provide such a title out of fairness. Interestingly, it works much better for BOB Finance, and since someone else used it - in this case the money transfer institution - why keep using it MMFD? Come up with something new!

Elections 2022: No one is talking about the war in their ads, therefore everyone is.

Toy Soldiers - artwork by Tarek Chemaly
These elections, everyone is not talking about war in their ads, therefore everyone is.
What? No, no, am serious.
In 2018 I voted the Kataeb ad "your ballot is a legal weapon" as the worst ad for a political party. I still think it is. But this post is about something else. Note this was not their first toe-dipping in the weapon-winking ad (please see here). 
But make no mistake, everyone is not talking about war. Directly. So everyone is.
It all happens in hints, in xenophobic terms, in making people distrust one another, in making people remember their previous schisms, in simply dog whistling familiar themes about "the other" (interestingly, due to the haphazard alignment of political parties - meaning they might be allies in region A but against each other in region B - the dog-whistling is therefore territorially based).
But still, you can feel that when a candidate (in this case Farid Boustani, but could have been anyone else) saying "I am an extremist for inter-faith living in the jabal" (here), and whereas the message is actually positive, it is a reminder about the war that happened between the PSP (Progressive Socialist Party) - or the Druze - and the Lebanese Forces - or the Maronites.
Nothing too overt, nothing too obvious, but it is there.
Look at this Beirut second district "Beyrouth touwajeh" ad (here). No direct naming, not in-your-face aggression, but the hatred is all there. And yes, May 7 was a day of war of some sort. A more recent war, but a war nonetheless. 
Once more, the whole media landscape related to elections is littered with nostalgic (and most likely not true) references to days gone by (which again - may not have existed). Take Fares Souaid and his - OK, "classic" - tweet addressed to Cheikh Naim Qassem (second in command at the Hizbollah) about our beaches being filled with "top less" [sic] (women). Really? Let me be honest, the amount of women who go/went topless (or top less as he called them) on Lebanese beaches (and that includes the pre-war St. Georges and Phoenicia - which to the lament of Souaid fell in what was "West Beirut" during the war) is/was infinitely minimal. If I am to extrapolate and include Portemilio or Rimal or Aquamarina (on the "East Beirut" part), which were all family-oriented, the number barely increases.
"Top Less" is somewhere between hallucination and fallacy. 
All these examples, as I said, contain nothing directly related to the "war" as such, but they allude to a past that never was. Interestingly, the Lebanese population never really dealt with the trauma of war, so it is easy to awaken such trauma.
Below is an article I wrote in October 2013. About the "fight or flight" reaction related to the war.
Sadly it is still valid today.
The election ads are a proof.

Published October 1rst, 2013:
War is not over. It's a fact. It will never be. Today, in a slip of a tongue my mother said "in case I have to flee" - an awkward small sentence that could have gone unnoticed. But she said it, did not pay attention to it, and went on. But for me there was a sudden freeze frame. The exact word she said was "ehrob" - a word which could be interpreted as "run away", "flee", "save myself".
There she was, a woman secure financially, surrounded by her family in more ways than one, whose tasks have been brought down to a minimum which keeps her mentally and physically active without anything that might overburden her old age. And - subconsciously - she is still stuck in a loop. A loop that should have been finished since 1990 when the "Lebanese civil war" ended.
My first reflex was one of upset - where was she going to run flee? why would she?... And frankly, there was this cynic dismissal, whereas I did not articulate it, I surely thought it. But as I composed myself, I sat there thinking about it. In many ways, she is just a specimen of a generation. They're the ones who explored the Automatique cafe (Idriss) in downtown Beirut, the heyday of the supposed "Paris of the Orient" (what a fallacy!) and they are the ones who have had the dream of normalcy shattered - even if the war had been brewing for a long time under the champagne bubbles of the Phoenicia Hotel before it eventually exploded in 1975.
What struck me the most, was how similar she and I are. What I first dismissed as an outmoded reflex, soon dawned on me how ingrained it is in all of us. I was born on the onset of the war, and so this Capharnaum was all I knew. It was fun in a macabre way, but it was also the only paradigm and frame of reference. Not only this, in 2006, I got stuck in the US during the war which had erupted in my absence. A trip that was supposed to last two weeks ended up being two months long. 
And it was those war reflexes that saved me. Whereas everyone around me was panicking as to these swift transitions, I was already doing mental checklists - something you have to do in times of war - organizing things so very efficiently and taking all emotional components out the equation. Naturally, it's when the anomaly of such situations subsides that you feel the full blow and when the psychological aftermath starts. But when you are still in your adrenalin rush, it all feels so peaceful, so normal dare I say.
And now I realize why my travel carry on luggage is almost set to go despite the fact that it has been a while since I traveled. In that luggage I keep - for reasons obscure to myself until now - a minimum survival kit: Anything from a good pair of jeans, to a change of shirts and socks, some cash and even a travel nail kit.
After all... What if I have to "ehrob" myself?

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Elections 2022: Farid Boustany - Chouf by way of Kesserwan

All right, now that's interesting. How? A Chouf candidate having an ad in Kesserwan. Logically it does not make sense. But practically, it does. A lot of sense.

Let me explain: During the war many, many, people from the Chouf area got displaced, a lot of them eventually ended up in Kesserwan (to be clear the displaced people were Christian), and despite the whole surge of rebuilding their houses in the villages they left, basically they remained in the areas they migrated to - using the Chouf houses are some sort of weekend/summer escape. 

Which bring us to Farid Boustany. The ads - a whole bunch of them are interesting conceptually. "I am and extremist for the development of the Chouf" or "I am an extremist for inter-faith living in the jabal" (jabal is euphemis for Chouf area). Again, whereas these are classic elections ads - promising anything and everything - at least Boustany played it smart.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Elections 2022: Almaza, several birds in one can

OK so Almaza, our national beer is on it. Elections 2022.... All right, they are doing two things: 1) introducing the can with a line "yes we can" (used by Obama in 2008 but originally by Cesar Chavez in 1972!) 2) trying to wink on the elections' ballot buying with "your voice (ballot) is yours, even if they give you an Alamza" (Almaza translates into diamond).

So that's a lot at the same time, but it kind of works. Well, all brands are now trying to ride on the elections train (which is one week from now - actually it already started for the Lebanese diaspora!)... 

PS - interesting, a friend just asked me "is Almaza Lebanese Forces?" mind you the ad is in red with white fond but also asks "nehna fina" - yes, we can.... Interesting, sometimes it takes another mind to find linkages. Thank you Bill :) 

Elections 2022: Georges Khabbaz teams up with LBC

Just so that no one labels me too cynic. I am giving this the benefit of a doubt. Georges Khabbaz, who describes himself as Actor / Comedian / Director / Musician / Writer/ Producer has teamed up with LBC, one of our leading TV stations for a clip about the elections. Here's where opinions might be split:

You can either look at this as a lovely piece of copywriting, with a girl who does minimal moves in front of the camera, all shot in a nice olive grove - obviously in house shooting.

Or you can start from the opening sentence that goes "a bird cannot live without migrating" - sure he catches up with "but trees cannot live without planting roots", though seriously when you start like that, not sure the argument holds. Also, again, if you look at it from the point of you of someone who has been there and done that as a citizen, whatever Khabbaz is driving at makes little to no sense. Well, in the end he goes that "spring is coming back to Lebanon" - something that Exotica already did incredibly well only too recently,

Of course, the other interesting bit is how LBC is now supposed to be a TV for #change_2022 and all for the "revolution" (which is what whatever happened in October 2019 labelled itself, though it splintered into different directions and could not agree on anything for the elections).

Watch the ad here,

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Elections 2022: Vote Exotica

And so Exotica entered the Elections fray.

OK I am shooting a wide speculation here, but I have the feeling the whole ad was shot almost without a budget. Maybe totally without a budget. But... This might indeed be its strength. Close up of flowers, of a woman wearing a flowery skirt (Flower? For spring? Groundreaking!), of a woman with a necklace with her name on it... which turns out to be Yasmine. Oh and close up of many many different flowers in nature. "It's time for Lebanon to bloom again. Vote Exotica".

You know, some of the best ads are the simple ones. And this one is beautiful. Watch here.

Elections 2022: Farid Haykal El Khazen plays the card he can play.

Well, the bonus point this election for Farid El Khazen? There is not confusing him with the other Farid El Khazen - the prominent AUB professor, MP, and now ambassador at the Vatican. Now, just to play it safe, Farid El Khazen is emphasizing his full name - Farid Haykal El Khazen. This is how he will appear on the ballots anyhow.

Now the way he is selling himself is "the faithful guardian of the republic" - well, it might be over-stretching it, truth be told, but the Khazens did play an eminent role in Lebanon and Kesserwan specifically since the inception of the country.

Still, in these elections, when candidates have little differentiating attributes, one sells one's self as one can.  


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Elections 2022: Chamel Roukoz - waking up with the house on fire.

OK, so this is a complicated story. Chamel Roukoz is the son in law of the president of the republic. To be more specific, he is the "other" son in law (I am not sure how the family does Christmas dinner, considering how Roukoz - who splintered from the Free Patriotic Mouvement - and Gibran Bassil (who heads the FPM) are at odds, while Roy Hachem who is married to the third Aoun daughter (Mireille) manages OTV the television that is the mouthpiece of the whole movement).

I did say it is a complicated story. Which bring us back to Chamel Roukoz. "My honor is to my country - first and foremost". I think Roukoz is playing on his past as army officer with their tagline "honor - sacrifice - loyalty" or he could be saying his first allegiance is to the country rather than a specific movement. Or am reading too much into an ad that has little to sell (no offence to Roukoz most others have little to sell as well).

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Elections 2022: Selim Hani, specialized industry

Well, it seems (Dr.) Selim Hani has a platform he is running on. Something called "specialized industry". His ads however, suffer some confused wording truth be told. "Politics is an industry. Politics is a specialization. Towards a specialized industry." and then comes the masterpiece (keep in mind that Selim means "correct" or "healthy" or "sane" so...) "think correct, vote Selim Hani". As I said, the wording might need some working on.

Strangely "fakker salim" is reminiscent of the long ago used 2008 Free Patriotic Movement "fakker sa7" which means almost the same thing. At this point political ads are everywhere, but my take its - advertising agencies barely scrapped any money, it was the companies that rent billboards and unipoles that really raked in the big bucks. Most ads are obviously homespun. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Elections 2022: Amal does an ad. No seriously.

Now here's the rub, why would Amal even bother to do an ad is beyond me. Yes, yes, like any political party it needs to do some maintenance ads to say they are still here. The issue? Amal is so entrenched as an image with its leader Nabih Berri one does one think of one without thinking of the other. Consider this, Berri has been the leader of the Lebanese parliament since 1992. That's 30 year people. Born in 1938 that makes him 84 years old (yes, there are older politicians in Lebanon than him, so he still has time on his hands). 

So back to Amal (short for Afwaj Al Moukawama Al Loubnanaya - the brigades for Lebanese resistance) which also means "hope". The ad goes "hope in unity". Clean, concise and... pointless.

Consider the alternative. Someone offered Berri an ad (note that in 2018 I voted the Amal/Berri ad as the best individual ad for a candidate - see here), and this year we have another jewel:

"Doctors recommend to look at him to raise the level of dignity, self-respect and honor" - beat this if you can!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Elections 2022: Sarkhet watan in Kesserwan/Jbeil

Not sure if you know the rules, unless you are part of a list, you cannot go on being a candidate. Yes, bonkers I know, but the electoral law is so convoluted this is just a fraction of it.  Nehmat Frem, from the Sanita wealth, has gotten himself a list. Mind you, it has 3 women out of 8 candidates! Which is excellent. Now, the title of the list is a little melodramatic "sarkhet watan" (the scream of a nation) - but I guess melodramatic times call for melodramatic names.
Anyhow, they came up with a brilliant line which they capitalized on. You see one of the titles MPs in Lebanon are still called is "sa3adat so and so"... Sa3ada means happiness, so their tagline is "sawwet la sa3atdak mich la sa3atdo" - vote for your happiness not his.
Which if you ask me is brilliant though at this stage am not sure if this line is specific to Nehmat Frem or to the list at large. Do note that the list is a mish mash of different political parties and orientations although they all label themselves as "opposition". And they are marketing themselves as such. Below is the line in question.

Elections 2022: Mansour Ghanem El Bon is... alive.

OK I am going to say something nasty here, and whereas I have no personal animosity against Mr. Mansour Ghanem El Bon, I - honestly - thought the guy was already dead. According to the internet, he was born in 1953, which makes him by today's count 69 years old. All right, a tender baby compared to some politicians still in the ring. He was representative in the parliament in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Anyhow, he unleashed a campaign in the fief where he is running, and his line is simply "Mansour"... Well, at least his name has a double meaning which means "victorious". In the 2018 elections here had a hashtag #بصوتك_منصور which means "victorious with your voice". 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Elections 2022: Hezbollah stays the course in its communication (thankfully)

Considering I elected it the best 2018 campaign for a political party (see here) Hezbollah adopted the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it approach to the elections. Their 2018 slogan "we defend and build" is now "we keep on defending and building" - alongside this small change (which in Arabic by the way grammatically keeps their original slogan but only ads "keep" to it) they also adopted the strategy where they coax their people into voting (among rumblings - certified or not - that their own electorate is also feeling the pinch and is not as excited as they ought to be) with words such as "your ballot is a responsibility" or "your trust is a responsibility".

Interestingly, they also throw a clin d'oeil to their ally the Free Patriotic Movement with "sovereignty, amendment/rectification, your ballot are a responsibility" - amendment and change were the slogan adopted by the FPM for many elections already.

Visually the opted for the "tick" mark (which again the FPM used many moons ago - the 2008 elections but which is commonly used in elections) and inserted the shadow of a person inside "trust"... But all these are small gimmicks. On the whole I am quite pleased that the Hezbollah stayed the course communication wise. Why change what works?

Elections 2022: Meanwhile in Beirut's 2nd district...

OK, so now that Saad Hariri decided not to run for elections, everyone is running for a piece of the cake. Supported by Fouad Siniora and other Sunni notables, the "Beirut Touwajeh" (Beirut confronts or Beirut stands up) is shooting on a very anti-Hizbullah angle. "Your ballot on May 15th brings down May 7th" - for reminder, May 7th (see here) ended with Hizbullah basically taking over the western part of Beirut. Hassan Nasrallha, Hizhullah's leader would later say that May 7th "was a glorious day among resistance day" (Hizbullah always describes itself as resistance). So I suppose it is obvious where these people stand on the political spectrum. And the cherry on the cake is the hastag #your_ballot_is_a_duty .... 
Interestingly what they are advocating has not been unanimous... Proof? One of their panels was shredded...

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Elections 2022: Tarek Khairallah goes by platitudes

I have noticed it several times during these elections, many candidates belonging to different parts of the political spectrum have decided to play it safe - euphemism for boring. This simply means resorting to platitudes, other even disregarded the whole elections thing (on his Instagram candidate Elias Bou Saab - also known ar Mr. Julia (the famous singer) - has absolutely no mention of the current campaign!).

Among those who resorted to the anything works concept, meet Tarek Khairallah who signed his campaign with "you and me... together", which either is a stroke of philosophical genius or a very scratch-your-head-I-have-no-idea-what-it-means slogan.

Considering I am still scratching my head, this should tell you where I stand. But again, in order not to pick on Mr. Khairallah I can safely tell you that many others have gone the same route.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Elections 2022: Sandwich w Noss makes fun of everyone.

And then finally someone cracks it out in the open! Sandwich w Noss, which basically sells foods, issues an ad about "lists that make sense" which doubles as "lists that have a flavor" - from the get go and considering Lebanese are forced to elect full lists (go figure!) Sandwich w Noss proposed food-based lists that actually laugh about those the political parties are proposing. "The fat duo?" that's code name for "the Chiite duo" (Amal and Hezbullah), "spicy men and women in a state" that's "citizen men and women in a state" but reworked, "fina bass ma badna" - oh please, did anyone not laugh about the Lebanese Forces campaign already? And on it goes basically mocking everyone and anyone. Well, if you can't change the system, why not laugh about it?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Cadillac does the brightest nights for Ramadan in the UAE

Cadillac is celebrating Ramadan in the UAE. But instead of just splashing the brand anywhere it went the organic route, and a great bonus, the ads come mobile first because honestly, isn't that how we see the ads anyhow? Now there are three versions, one with Qabila (featuring Hayat) - see the ad here - one with Sofiane (the confused Arab) - see it here - and one about Tamahol (featuring race driver Amna Kobaissi) - see it here.

As I said, at least Cadillac inserted the brand very smoothly into the narrative. After all, people do drive during the month, especially at night post-iftar, they socialize massively, they eat local foods, they also go on personal journeys (what it means to fast for them, their inner growth, maybe some more determination as in the case of Amna). I think the ads are a case of personal taste: In my case I did not feel them created equal. I enjoyed massively the Qabila ad but failed to connect with Tamahol. Am sure someone else thought differently, which is why I said this is just a personal choice.

Well, yes, I am aware "influencers" were used in these ads, but the choice was smart and studied - we don't have any lifestyle bloggers or whatever they dub themselves. No, we truly have people who established careers in various domains, proved themselves in the said fields, and are viable role models in one way or another.

I am glad brands have dropped the flash in the pan representatives they used to deal with in the past, and are rather focusing on mature, reliable people to front them. 

Now, for some reason I keep thinking of this ad as "white nights" not brightest nights. But perhaps this is just me being a kid from the 80s.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

What we speak of when we talk about global warming

Still from an awareness ad by Babel agency about plastics in the blood

A friend of mine contacted me lately, and considering that I started my career as an agriculture engineer, he had some questions regarding two cedar trees he planted around 15 meters apart with a small brick-stoned alley in between the two. I gently tried to explain to him that by now, the roots of the two cedar trees would be so heavily entangled under the soil there'd be no way to move one of them.
Did you know a chewing gum takes 500 years to decompose?
Am sure you're thinking, "what is Tarek ranting at now?"
Here's the idea, the two elements above are interlinked. How?
Let me tell you how: since I have been living in a village since 2010, I can tell you this story. During the last years of his life, my uncle who is also my next door neighbor, developed a severe case of OCD. When we were rearranging the house in 2003 he would repeatedly accuse the workers and the architect of trespassing on his land. So much we had to install a woven iron wire between the two neighboring lands to appease him. Prior to passing away, he planted a lemon tree, and his idea was that it would be on his land. Two weekends ago I was talking to his son, my cousin, across the famous iron wire, turn out not only half the tree has gone into my land from above the white painted iron wire, but a branch has specifically entered my back patio from one of the holes of the said wire. My cousin asked me "does the tree bother you, do I cut it off from your side?"
My answer is what will wrap all this ranting into one neat piece "forget it, nature will do what it will go with or without our permission".
And this is the point that people do not understand about global warming. 500 years for a chewing gum to decompose is basically nothing in the time of earth (now of course, scientists estimated earth to be 4,5 billion years old, if you are a creationist it would dwindle down to 6000 years, but let's stick to scientific facts here). 
Morale of the story: the earth, the species (current or extinct), the geology, the layers, the ecosystems (whether we understand their construct or not), they will adjust themselves. But it is the homo sapiens (insert sitcom Friends joke about them being "people" here) who are problematic.
In fact the whole issue about global warming, the half a degree increase of temperature, the carbon emissions, and that is how we - as a species are going to react to that. Already micro and nano plastics have been found in human blood, plastics are found in the most remote regions under the sea.
I have said it before, inside every act of generosity there is a selfish element (it has been proven psychologically), so by caring for the oceans, by living a minimalist lifestyle, by not purchasing new items, by using thrifting, by not using plastic straws at restaurants (remember this fad?), by avoiding single-use plastics, we are not just caring for the environment.
No, scratch that, we are not caring for the environment. We are caring for ourselves.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Good copywriting is difficult: You need to speak like people do.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I have a friend who is a director. She has incredible sensitivity in her shots, her moods are very touching visually, she can be poetic like nobody's business, and her writing is more wooden than anyone I have ever encountered. Every time I get a script I try to tell her that no, this is not how people talk. 

Actually, to write well (and all ego aside, I know I write well) is simply to parrot what other people say. And how does one trick them? Because people are not aware of what they say. Here is a very funny example. in the 70s Dureid Lahham was the ubiquitous comedian on the TV screens with his Ghawwar el Toshe persona. His catchphrase? "Yeb3atlak".

Yeb3atlak can be loosely translated into "may he send you" or more in extenso "May God send you a malicious fever". However, used fondly in the lexicon it translates into an affection. Obviously every other person in the Arab nations got stuck to "yeb3atlak". In a TV interview, Lahham was asked how we coined the phrase and he told the story of how his wife asked him the same question. To which to he replied to her... "From you! Don't you ever listen to how you speak on the telephone with your friends? "Yeb3atlik this" and "yeb3atlek that""... 

See? Lahham's wife was not even aware of what she was saying. And having the expression repeated in front of her surprised her that she was the original instigator. But this is good copy - when you fire back at people how they speak without them being aware they do so in such a manner.

Also, creative concepts come from personal experiences. Back when I used to teach I would always tell my students that there is nothing called "being introverted" in advertising (even if one is - I am by the way!) because only by sharing personal experiences do we get to unlock creative ideas.

Take this example, C. was exceptionally withdrawn in character and she was part of a group with two other girls doing an exercise in copywriting. She was even physically removed from the group. The brand was one selling carpets... and their idea was "warmth".... But they were having difficulty translating this into a meaningful text. So I go:

"C. do you have a boyfriend?"

Reluctantly she answers "yes"

"Did you two ever have a fight?" realizing I was driving somewhere she goes "yes....". 

"Did you make up afterwards?" 

"we did"

"And did you kiss?"

She did not answer. And remember, she was so withdrawn one had to pull the words from her mouth with pliers. What she said afterwards took us all aback... Because suddenly she blurted out:

"Like the cashmere sweater he gave you when you made up at the beach, like the tenderness of the hug your mother offered you when she saw you upset...." and on she went with the concept of warmth just because she had a boyfriend she had a fight with.... The two other girls were having problems keeping up with her flow as I was gesturing furiously for them to write everything down. 

So again, advertising is at its best when it just plainly reflects how people live on their daily lives. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Almaza moves to the dark side

So Almaza moved to the dark side - well, almost.

What's with electricity being absent most of the day and night in Lebanon, and with Lebanon being in the dark most of the time (hence my solar panels - hairflip!), Almaza (our national brewer!) has launched a bottle labeled "Dark" (is this the equivalent of brune beer?) to keep the Lebanese company in their light-settings and most likely their mood as well.

Well, at least someone is shooting straight and saying things as they are. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Elections 2022: Michel el Murr, no, no, the other one.

So Michel El Murr is up for the elections. OK, I know this sounds confusing, but considering Michel El Murr was a fixture in Lebanese politics (until his influence dwindled, and he passed away), and seeing his son Elias did not want to carry the mantle (though he did for a while, and then he was severely wounded after an explosion targeted him), now comes the third generation - the "new" (not sure improved though) Michel El Murr. 

So voila, drowned in generics, the campaign does wink to all those who - for many, many, many years elected his grandfather (whose name he carries) with the line "in loyalty to the ones who were loyal" (considering his grandfather mentioned "the loyal Metn" - Metn being the region he is running in - several times in his campaigns), and "on board of loyalty, we progress and continue" (interestingly this is a name-play as "on board" in Arabic is "3ala metn" - ironically another list is using the same word play). 

All of this of course comes with no direct or visible program - but does he need one when he rides on such a name?

Sunday, April 10, 2022

And so I moved to solar panels!

Up until a few months ago, like any Lebanese, my subscription to the communal generator was still tolerable: Price per Kw was something I could pay. Then all of it a sudden it all went stratospheric. Not only this, now the collection is done bi-monthly and each time I am paying more than I used to pay for the whole month prior. 

Considering I subscribe to the 158 decree of the central bank I only get 2,4 million Lebanese Pounds per month from my bank in cash. With this, and considering many establishments no longer accept banking cards (stemming from the same decree) I needed to pay for medicine for my mother, bills, food and all other items. Which meant that paying 40 to 50% of them for generator which was severely rationed anyhow was no longer an option.

So the other day I paid my generator bill, and was fuming from rage, went to the store to buy a few things and on the way back saw that a neighbor 4 houses above me had installed solar panels - interesting I thought - the man happened to be taking a stroll in front of his house so I asked him about it. Then, 3 houses above mine, they had also solar panels. As luck would have it the man was also outside of the house and I also spoke to him. Both gave me the same reference.

I reached home, immediately phoned him and he said he'd visit me in an hour. 60 minutes on the dot later he was here. Which bode for a good beginning as I am very punctual myself. The man turned out to be huge, he has large clients not only in Lebanon and had concurrent chantiers happening all over. We had agreed for 3 days on work - one for electricity, 2 for the installation of the panels and all that.

Material was supposed to reach me on a Saturday, then Friday - boom - everything was delivered ahead of schedule. And then instead of three days, the man unleashed his entire team and between 9 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. about 8 people worked diligently like a very well-oiled machine brining their own generator for electricity.

Let me be honest people, you are reading a very satisfied customer. You know this blog does not under any way accept advertising but if you need a very good supplier for your sun panels - drop my name to Charbel Barakat (you can reach him locally on 03-7113712)

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Sharks Bay: the brainchild of American/Lebanese Edward Challita

Edward Challita, also known to friends and family as Eddy is in Sharm El Cheikh. 
As you shall see below our connection goes back to 2014. When... Oh just read below how exciting our first meeting was.
Now what is he doing in Sharm El Cheikh? He is producing (and acting in) a mini-series which also has a different format as a film. The series "Sharks Bay" follows Milana, an innocent girl who moves to a city by the sea, only to find herself entangled in a love triangle with a side order violence and money.
The main actress is Estonian, the lead actor is half British and half Egyptian, the writer/director Elena Selim Mazanova is Russian, some of the crew Ukrainians, some are Russians, there are also the local Egyptian locals, there is also Challita who is American/Lebanese, so the whole mish-mash is an international meeting of people.
It seems Challita is producing this from his own funds, all while keeping his daytime job in cybersecurity which according to him he can do from anywhere in the world, although he needs to go back to the States - Maryland specifically to be able to visit his family. Actually his daughter had a scene in the mini-series/film but due to passport issues could not come and join her father and prove her acting chops in the process.
What is interesting about this, is that according to Challita whom I interviewed via Telegram is that the mini-series is a teaser and even the film has no clear ending. "If it (the mini-series) gets picked up by a network we will produce more episodes of it, at this point we are entering post-production and editing. Since this is a limited budget project, and our main actress had a specific deadline to leave, we squeezed some shooting days till 5 A.M. to accommodate everyone's schedule" said Challita. "Even the film is open-ended, at this point" he adds.
"The idea is to present the result to festivals, and see the reaction from there" - this of course means if more episodes can be added to the story, which as said earlier involves a lot of action but also emotions. "Actually even Sharm El Cheikh is not even a fixed place in the storyline, if later producers decide to take it somewhere else, we indeed might go some where else" confirmed Challita.
Naturally, all this remains to be seen as to where things might go. As for Challita... "Do you still want to go to Mars?" I ask... And we both end up laughing very hard.

Below is a condensed version of the original article about Edward/Eddy Challita published on May 20th, 2014:

In 2014, when the Mars One project was initiated, there were three applications from Lebanon. Mars One is indeed, about establishing a colony on the said planet from earthlings via one-way ticket travels. One of the entrants from Lebanon, was a certain Eddy.
He described himself at the time as “results-driven professional with ten years of intelligence analysis, cyber counterintelligence, and network telecommunications experience including all-source collection management and reporting, in-theater operations support, field services; systems planning, Cyber Forensics, installation, operation, troubleshooting and maintenance. Over 5 years of project management, sales engineering and account management experience as well. Possess excellent team leadership. (...) “Discover the galaxy by starting its Mars. Born in March which is Mars in French, my previous country, as a well traveled person who lived in various countries I am interested in continuing the human race into the cosmos. I speak French, English and Arabic."
I later discovered that Eddy Challita was not only a technical person, he was also an actor, language coach, having a very versatile background and lifestyle. The kind of human one would want to go to Mars and represent, not just the entirety of the human race, but the Lebanese as well.
In an interview at the time with myself, Eddy said: “The world is OK for me but i wanted to try to be part of one of the most interesting mission and thought to give it a try. I always liked science fiction movies and being in outer space is very exciting. (...) I grew up as a child in Beirut Lebanon, then moved to Paris France, being half French it was the best option when we had to escape the Lebanese civil war. Working opportunities led me to go to the United States over 15 years ago and this is where I am currently settled. I did visit many countries on vacation, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Cyprus, Russia Canada, Mexico...I like travelling a lot and discovering new places”.
When it comes to his feelings about Mars, Challita said at the time: “Being an overpopulated planet, our Earth, it seems good to know we are trying to find solutions or a "second" option in case some global cataclysm happened. I am still exploring earth but living in conditions of war and seeing all the nasty things in other places makes me sometimes think maybe in another world things can be better. I know Mars with the no return option is a big challenge but someone has to take that challenge. Being also part of the humanity plus group, I do read on what scientists are planning and have in mind on making humanity better.”
I asked Challita if a one-way ticket to Mars is something optimistic or suicidal. Challita, it turns out can be humorous as to the situation as well: “Theoretically it is a one-way ticket, not to the moon but to Mars… Hmm, sounds like the Eruption (editor’s note: originally by Neil Sedaka) song from back in the disco days! One way ticket to the moon ... Funny but somehow true. The idea is that there will a shuttle every two years, I hope they have exceptions in case someone really wanted to be back. Suicidal? Well, living in Beirut during a tough civil war was suicidal but we did manage somehow... So Mars sort of pales by comparison. (...) As a Freemason, I think improving mankind in general is something that benefits all of humanity. Giving up of course friends and family, but for the greater cause being part of the first mission to Mars is something bigger than us.”
Whenever one speaks of Mars, there’s always this childish element of expectations, does Challita hope to find Martians there? Does he think we would be intruding on their civilization? Hurting an already pre-established culture?
“So far from what we can find on the latest research is that only microbial signs were found. So I don’t think the intent is to harm anything that exists there. If it is there. This is something thought to broaden our horizon; it is simple: where we fit those 7+ billions people on earth? We have to come out with a solution and 1 day or another we need to take some solution. Being on mars is way better than population reduction through wars or genocide or whatever means we have thought of so far as humans.” He says.
But would you want his children to grow up on Mars? What kind of life would you wish them to have?
“If earth becomes too bad to live on than it is an option if the conditions are fit there. Also as an actor, I do adapt quickly to a new situation. I was talking to Gerard Depardieu on the movie set of Welcome to New York on how he also changed countries (Depardieu became a Russian citizen as a way to protest French tax laws), and he said we all do what’s best for ourselves. So here I think that theory should apply under the Mars circumstances as well.”

Friday, April 8, 2022

Elections 2022: Fadi Nahas, the incomprehensible video

In a move that makes Georges Chehwane's campaign seem a masterstroke of communication, in comes Fadi Nahas. Who? Well, apparently businessman and philanthropist (see here). Whereas I am not here I am not to cast doubt on Mr. Nahas' business acumen, seriously people, there are limits to how low a communication can get.

The video is shot in an empty room overlooking the Beirut harbor or where the explosion happened in 2020, the text moves between Arabic and French - again, not too logically or comprehensibly - the words are... not very well-written to put it mildly, and what really really irked me is when he says in Arabic "ana ma yousamma bil derej self-made man" or "I am what is called in colloquial Arabic self-made man", whomever wrote this for Mr. Nahas deserves to be hanged (by the balls specifically).

People there are limits to how low we can fall, I do hope we have reached them. After very heavy rummaging online, we managed to find the video link, but please do watch it at your own peril here.

Elections 2022: Georges Chehwane goes for Beirut 1rst district

It was all waiting to happen. Businessman makes money. Businessman wants to enter politics.

Georges Chehwane made his money from advertising booking and real estate (Plus Properties which is in Lebanon, Cyprus, and the Gulf). His own father was the "mekhtar" (mayor) of a district in Achrafieh for a long while. Which could explain his riff on "we were together... we remain together". Chehwane portrays himself tie-less with Beirut (presumably Achrafieh where he is running) in the background.

OK, I am trying to be even-handed here, but to be honest there's something... amateurish about the ad. The way Chehwane stands and smiles reminds me of a Lebanese comedian (Raymond Saliba). And whereas I understand the sans tie photo, somehow his clothes seem ill-fitting (I mean people, even I have a couple of shirts which are custom-made).

Again, perhaps it is me being harsh on the campaign, but after seeing it three times from afar and dismissing it as an ad for the new comedian's show (referred to above), it was only when I got closer that I discovered it was a campaign for the elections. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Elections 2022: Meanwhile in the 1rst district of Beirut

Well, how about some platitudes with your elections? "Because development is a right" "Because there's enough humiliation on the doors of hospitals" "Because old-age insurance is a guarantee to our elderly". All this signed "Loubnan Assiyada" (Lebanon the sovereignty) which is the name of the list sponsoring these frequent (the above are but three of a much larger campaign). Are these worthwhile promises? Surely. Are they executable? Are you nuts? Each one needs a very complicated machinery behind it in terms of laws and financial backing and what not. So basically, as I said - platitudes.

I often say this, but in the elections of 1992 a candidate in South Lebanon offered in his electoral program a cure for AIDS. Yes, this is how far we promise over here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Elections 2022: Paulette Yagopian / Paula Yacoubian shoots herself in the foot

In 2018 I wrote about how Paula Yacoubian was having an identity crisis for the elections. The identity crisis still goes on mind you, but it just took a sharper tone. What happened in the meantime was that Mrs Yagopian resigned from the parliament (it was the government's inefficiency towards what happened on August 4th, that's the major explosion that rocked Beirut). 

And which slogan does she choose to go on with with this election? "Minkaffi" which translates as "we go on" (actually it can also marginally mean "we are enough"). The problem? Mrs. Yagopian wants to go on with what? Resigning? Interrupting her mandate? Which makes the slogan as if shooting herself in the foot.