Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Legally 21 - ArabAd special issue

It is with exceptional pleasure that I announce to you the "Legally 21" special issue of ArabAd. An issue which has been three months now in the making. It is the celebratory issue of the 21st anniversary of ArabAd. On the opening page a box reads: This issue has been edited, researched and compiled by Tarek Joseph Chemaly. Indeed, the 300 plus issue is set to become a collector's item, and compiles 21 years of advertising in the Middle East. Below, I am posting the "Carte Blanche" section (Which - along with the rest of the issue, I have written myself). It is the last page of the magazine and is a free Hyde Park section. Entitled: "I am not an adman" here it is below.... I am not an adman By Tarek Joseph Chemaly Sometime ago, I was in a jury for graduating students. My comments caught the ear of a fellow jury member who happened to be the dean of an Advertising faculty in another university. So he approached me to give some courses there, which I accepted as it would increase the higher learning institutions where I teach to three – something I thought of as a challenge. Tonight, he sends me the most apologetic of emails telling me that the committee overseeing the new teachers actually ruled out my application as a teacher in that university. Whereas my first reflex was to be one of deception, all I could think of was "Phew! Finally someone sees me as I am!" You see, I have escaped with the lie for far too long. In the process, I have duped clients, agencies, creative directors, client servicing people, students, fellow teachers, and a hoard of other individuals in the business. I even have fancily printed and elegantly designed business cards from agencies where I have occupied desks and been on the payroll to prove how devious my scheme was and how well-constructed my fallacy has been. For seven years now, I have pretended to be an Adman. So finally, like a burglar who leaves behind unconscious clues to be caught to alleviate his conscience, I now feel liberated. Somewhere, somehow, a committee who reviews new teachers' applications has unmasked the ugly truth which has eluded even the best cons in the world – other admen: They declared me a non-adman. But as the Egyptians say when something is too obvious: Bayna! (It shows!). Naturally, it still puzzles how no one caught me in read act previously and allowed me to continue in the game for as long as I did. Anyone who does the most benign check on me immediately finds out that I am an agriculture engineer and I am also an environmental economist – a discipline which I entered on the postgraduate level merely because the name sounded innovative and nice. So that committee, seeing my academic background realized that they wanted an adman to teach their students, they were afraid that an agriculture engineer would make couch potatoes out of them (Pardon the pun), someone to initiate them on the tricks of success rather than saw the seeds of idealism in them (Another pun to be excused), someone to teach them the looks to be adopted and the jargon to be sold to clients rather than to irrigate the word-craftsman in them (OK, I am overdoing it in puns, but it's fun!). And you know what? They were right. Just look at me, not only am I am not an adman, but I don't even look the part! The only black clothes I have are those I wear for condolences. No fancy black T-shirts worn in the heat of summer for me, I am more the Moroccan v-necked kind of guy which doesn't make me look adman-ish at all. And I keep my hair crew cut throughout the seasons. As a matter of fact when I enter the barbershop my hair would usually be shorter than that of the guys leaving it. I have never attempted to grow my hair into a pony tail, and whereas I realized that this would at least make me resemble the Aadmanicus worldwidus species, just the idea of having to comb my hair until it is long enough to join in a (black) elastic band drives me insane. I don't own a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse shoes. Yes, these are the shoes par excellence in the business. I once tried them on, but I felt my foot so low on the floor and the shoe turned out to be lighter in the front that I was parading like Gaston Lagaffe inside that store. Oh, and do you even know that these shoes that are the "anti-establishment" official footwear are actually now owned by Nike? That same company that gave the word sweatshop a new institutionalized dimension? So no Converse for me. I don't speak like an adman too. I don't drop names, don't insert words like PPM (Which to me does not mean Pre-Production Meeting but rather Parts Per Million, remember, I am an environmental economist not an adman) and USP (Which is more Unusually Silly Pretension than Unique Selling Proposition) and other diminutives to make my interlocutors excluded from the conversation rather than included. I sadly – very sadly – do not have a developed ego. Just like my height, my ego refused to grow. Never mind the accolades, the congratulations, the smash campaigns, and all that – it just did not grow. Any respectable adman has an ego so big you can park a car in its shadow. And if that car happens to be the adman's car, then usually it's some oversized SUV which burns a lot of petrol – even though its owner is supposedly environmentally friendly (All ad people claim they are so!). Which bring us to the next awkward dissimilarity with the lot: I don't even own a car! Whereas other agencies make it a point to spread awareness among the population on the benefits of the use of public transport, I am actually one of those who practice what other agencies preach. And listen to this: I still have the audacity of actually going round in the office telling people "Look how beautiful this ad is!" while speaking about competitor products. Apparently it is the ultimate faux pas in the world of advertising: Never say that any work apart from your own is good. Adopt a very detached cynical attitude when speaking of others' work. And speaking of cynicism, whereas I do admit that I can lash out with my tongue at others, it is often done in a very light-humored and is almost consistently is followed up by an even bigger cynical comment whereby I would end up targeting myself. Unlike any adman I know, I excel at being the butt of my own jokes! What else? I don't smoke. No, it's not that I quit, or I smoke in secret, or I do it by the water cooler, or I sneak in the bathrooms or anything like that: I never smoked in my life (Save for that one time when a friend just told me to put the cigarette in my mouth as we sat on the edge of the green oval at the American University of Beirut just for him "to see how I look with a cigarette") and I have nicotine allergy for that matter. You see, all the distinctive signs were there, but like the X files, it seems the profession "wants to believe" that I was one of them. But I am not. I am not an adman. So with this in mind, I have spent the last couple of months throwing an outsider's look at the archives of ArabAd looking for highlights among previous issues, searching for diamonds in the rough – but this being ArabAd there was no "rough" there, just diamonds with higher carats. Trying to give a scientific take on the backlog all while sorting the industry veterans' input on their assessment of the last 21 years in addition to coercing some of my students into replying to the ArabAd survey to hear the expectations of the new breed. And so here we are, at the closing of the "Legally 21" issue, yes, I am not an adman, but I am an ArabAdman which a total species apart which requires no black clothes, no pony tails, no Converse sneakers, no developed egos, and – at least for me – no smoking. Illegally 21 yours I remain, Tarek Chemaly
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