Monday, September 29, 2008

Any time is a good time for social awareness

For anyone following the region's news, yesterday, there was a car bomb explosion in Damascus - Syria (Estimated charge is 200 kgs of explosive material). The Syrian television was broadcasting all the follow ups. But instead of a flashing "DEVELOPING STORY" or anything, the screen had just the usual rotating news bar below which was saying: Decorating with electrical bulbs* is an unnecessary use of the current and a waste of public money (*for the upcoming end of Ramadan festivities). Well, any time is a good time for a social awareness call....

Skynet - Back to school with a twist

Let's face it, social awareness messages in Lebanon are stiff (Although, and this is a side remark - I can recall the "Stiff records" T-shirts in the UK... "If it ain't Stiff, it ain't worth a f***K) and boring. So to have such a witty, smart ad (And one which does not ask for your money) is a welcome change. Skynet, who actually deals with express delivery and all such matters (www.skynet.com.lb) comes up with a back to school ad which portrays Karim (You average Lebanese schoolboy) who is sporting his enormous backpack with the headline: Karim is not imigrating... He is going to school. And as a subheadline: The weight of the school bag must not exceed 10% of the student's weight. The ad is remarkable because Skynet is not selling anything in it (Unless some genius parent would want their child's school bag sent over by express shipping everday to his or her school), but it is a true social awareness message which comes as uninterested as anything. The small downside is that I have specifically emailed Skynet for a copy of the ad more than a week ago, and I still have no reply... Could it be that the only thing they deliver fast is their "express services" rather than the replies to their emails?

Ripping off your Daniela Tobler

Last time Daniela Tobler (A local company specializing in jeans) ripped off something for their communication campaign (They had stolen the "Little Miss Sunshine" idea of the yellow van and all that) my opinion was positive as the ad seemed a "tribute" to LMS (Little Miss...) and it contrasted so violently with the doom and gloom political ads in town. But this time, for the logo of their spin-off brand Mitsy (Which completes any DT fan's wardrobe with tops and sweaters and the like) the company has gone too far: Just compare and contrast the logo to the Miss Sixty inernational brand. Even to my untrained eye in typography, it is absoloutely and undeniably the same. They simply took the M-I-S-T-Y from the foreign brand and appropriated them as being their own. Shame, just as DT was doing decent efforts in communication, they fall into the easiest trap of plagiarism.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Maya Zbib: Bayt byout

Photo courtesy of the artist and Abed Koubeissy Yesterday, I went to a play entitled "Music Box" which was playing full house. The word was never so literal as it was yesterday because it was actually staged, not in a theatre, but in a house. As I was walking up "Daraj Geara" the one that leads from my house to the Vendome cinema, I saw a poster that the performance was going to be staged in a building Number 30, on the first floor in the house of Aurelien Zouki. The play had been running for three days in that house. Intriguing to say the least. And so I called and booked a ticket (You can do the same while contacting info@zoukak.org - Zoukak being the cultural association producing the work). Some 30 people were attending which in itself makes the venue crowded. Maya Zbib, who was performing "Music box" has based all the work on the emotional relationship which binds women to their houses. Most of the monologue actually starts with "A house begins with" and then she goes on to say the curtains, the lock, the key, the bedroom, the mirror, the kitchen, the basement.... Throughout Zbib intermingles many stories of women - starting from herself and her mother going on to neighbors and to complete strangers. Zbib owns here space masterfully. She is able to walk as if she knows every square centimeter of her "stage" (Which is Aurelien's living room), and when she tripped on a wire she had hung, I was under the impression that it was intential (She later certified it was not but was very pleased I had thought otherwise). The performance also included many boxes as propos, boxes which basically represented memories, secrets, personal spaces and a lot of intimacy. As a matter of fact, the performance which ends in a loop sees Zbib picking up her bag and jacket and leaving the "stage." Before she does so she invites members of the audience to inspect the contents of the boxes by leading them by hand. In an informal interview after the show, I was intrigued about where Zbib lived. "In Hamra" - so immediately I picked up the reference of one of the stories she mentionned in the monologue about a house in Hamra being rented for 3,000 Liras per month.... And she assures me that "the house is rented, but I do not conceive the idea of anyone living there but us." And probing further I ask if she has a room, "I now do, before I used to share it with three sisters. One of them got married, two travelled and later married, so now I have my own room." My questions were simply trying to clarify what she things is private space and what is public space of her and where the "concept of the house" stands in all of this. "I can appropriate any space" she says, "oh, my friends say, there she is, scattering her belongings everywhere." Was this living room a "house" for her I ask? "No, but the place where I changed my clothed and put on my make up was. This is the stage, this is public." This is precisely where I was driving, because at the end of the performance, when she invited the audience to peek at the content of the boxes, I thought it would be rude because by then, her house was a private rathenr than an a public domain. But still, Zbib, through recounting the stories of the women managed to craftily lead us in a world of emotional engagement to objects and places and stones and beads and sewing machines. And on for another house she moves. When we were children, we used to play a game of play pretend which in Arabic we would call "Bayt byout" (Which translates literally into "house and houses"), Maya Zbib is playing so as well, except that her "houses" are actually "homes."

SchizoFREMia

Photo of the outdoor altar during the St. Ephram celebrations 2008 My name is Ephram. My nephew's name is Ephram. "Frem" for short. In christening at least, both of us. It is the Sunday before last of September, and the village has agglomerated in the tiny church of Mar Ephram (St. Ephram) which is somewhere in the bushes. This is not the real Mar Ephram celebration, the real one is on January 28th, but in olden times that date would be too cold to celebrate anything, and so it was settled to celebrate the feast on the above-mentioned date. Youngsters have spent part of the night there preparing the festivities, and making out. This year there wasn’t much crowd as usual, many people traveled during the war, and some internal feuds in the village prevent some people from showing up. But some of the rituals are still there: The two masses – the early one at 7:30 and the other one at 10 am. By noon, all trace of the celebrations would vanish. The celebration of Mar Ephram, who is also the patron saint of the village and whose name every family has among their male children, is also an unofficial “end of summer celebration” whereby friends and lovers, and lovers-to-be, and ex-lovers would meet for one last ritual before one of them goes down to Beirut to spend the winter – or both of them for that matter. The old road that used to lead to the church and which is just a small path between thorny patches that ends in a stairway near the church, has been replaced by one which is now asphalted. Visiting Mar Ephram is not the tedious task it used to be, and parents do not have to hold their toddlers on the shoulders for the way back and forth, elderly women do not have to put on straw hats and wear rubber boots they’d wear to go thyme-gathering. and very few people pack their lunches to spend the day there – why bother when one can go back home for the regular Sunday meal now that the coming and going there is so easy? Nowadays, it is a civilized affair, but at least they still do boiled wheat with a bit of raisin like they used to in the old days. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood leading to a church, and I took the schizo"Frem"ia, and that has made all the difference. That end of summer celebration witnessed some many girlfriends splitting from their summer boyfriends, some many loves promised under the scorching sun only to wither with when watered by the winter rains, and so many tapes inside double-deck radios blasting with the compilation of the bygone summer hits, with an AA “re-O-vac” pair of batteries held somewhere in the ammunition bags, and someone always forgets the dried raisins for the boiled wheat so that the whole bucket would only get a handful of drops and lucky is the one who would get just one in his plastic cup. Someone always has to come back to fetch more charcoal because the barbecue would never light up, or because someone spilled water on those already there, or because the meat was not enough, or the ice cubes have melted away in the sun. Any excuse is a good excuse to get back in the car through the “new” road (Before it was asphalted) alone with a girlfriend. Behind the church, candles are burning and incense is offered, on top of it, tents are dressed for those who spent the night, in front of it a set of plastic chairs for those who could not enter the crammed church, which is too small to hold more than a couple of dozen faithful in addition to the priest, and the choir, and the front row sorority members. My first remembrances of Beirut were not about the city itself, it was about coming back to it. It was almost always the day after the Mar Ephram celebration which would be too close for comfort for the beginning of the school year. Mother would be doing the big cleaning that apartment in Beirut needs after the long summer break spent at the village, and she would send us away – the three of us – to spend the day at a nearby uncle’s place so that we wouldn’t interfere with her work. Only once do I remember her getting someone to help here, a Sri Lankese our neighbor recommended. The three matchbox cars we bought during one of the big clean ups (A “Renault 5 turbo” (Still hot from the “Never say: Never again” James Bond movie) for my eldest brother, a “BMW 525” for my middle brother, and a Porsche 914 for me) are still in my possession and whenever I see them in the back of my drawer, I still picture my mother with a cigarette from her mouth (“I can’t work without one”), working on overdrive with her short hair wrapped in an old scarf, perched on a chair and doing the top of the refrigerator. Then everything I would see in the city would remind me of the village: This girl looks like Randa Moukawam, and this car is like that of Amo Azar (Uncle Azar), and this shirt is like the one Zouzou wears. The city, in all its might, would be a tame mirror for the small village where the summer was spent. But that only lasts for a few days, and then Beirut would develop its own references once more: The shop with the Goldorak toys, the bookseller with the magazine with the Madonna poster in it, the discotheque that sells photos of pop stars made from amateurish snaps of posters (Duran Duran with the original line up, George Michael, the odd Michael Jackson, some Kim Wilde, and the only Boy George picture there that I always seem to find). By then, the city’s famed mild autumn (“Autumn in Beirut and Spring in Damascus”) would have set in, and before the “second summer” (“Between October and November is another summer”) there would be a interlude of a season where weather is crisp enough, not for coats or jumpers, but just for the summer wardrobe to be worn without sweating, where the faux-chill of the air-conditioning would not be needed, where it is mild to sit on balconies, and where the city would be awakening from its afternoon nap on the sounds of an ambulant “a’asriyye kaak” (Literally “afternoon twilight cookie”: A cookie filled with thyme and sometimes spread cheese added to it – which most notably was marketed by Syrian intelligence agents) merchant, with their distinctive and melodious “kaak, kaak” yelling – so much that it was assumed that graduating from intelligence school in Syria involved some courses in voice crafting and basics of musicology. And slowly, dark would start to descend on a tranquil city, one that put its political differences aside, its battered and bruised buildings on the shelf, and its scarred inhabitants on the back burner, for the crispy pleasure of “kaak” eaten by children who had just celebrated “Mar Ephram” the day before, and said goodbye to their summer flings (Not knowing they were flings) and their de facto friends to go back to a city that gets only remembered when coming back to it.

Royal comes back to claim the Crown of Cola

(C) The onion - Cola wars monument So RC (Royal Crown) Cola is back. The last time anyone heard of this brand was... a long, long time ago. I still remember vivid images from my childhood with that beautiful blond riding on an Arabian horse in the desert with the jingle going in full blast in an very hoarse Arab interpretation - RRRR CCC.... But naturally, that blonde today is quite old, most likely is not as still in a good shape, and so the RC people settle for another strategy: Going against the two cola giants in the region. If one looks closely at the ad, one sees - with much horror I may ad - the back of the Coca-Cola and the Pepsi cans regonizable by their trademark colors. Whereas this is the Holy Month of Ramadan, neither of the two companies offered any specific discount of offer to entice Muslim families to consume more of their products, so it was with astonishment that I saw that it was RC which started the price battle (A 2,25 liter of its Lime and Orange variations at 1,000 LBP - which equals 0.6666 USD) whereas the other two sell it for 1,750 LBP for the other two. I am not sure going against the cola giants in the region is a sound strategy, I would have expected RC to play the "Uncola" card that 7UP played in the past... Well, the cola wars are back on track I guess (Refer to the sarcastic photo illustration of The Onion newspaper for the proposed Washington DC Cola Wars memorial)... With a new guerilla out and about. This should prove interesting.

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

Monday, September 1, 2008

Le rouge et le noir

So, what's common between 1) Charles Malek (Whose credentials include being the Lebanon representative when the UN was founded), 2) Camille Chamoun (Former president of the Lebanese republic), 3) Pierre Gemayel (Who founded the extreme right Phalange party - by his own admission - after seeing the Nazi Youth in the 1936 Olympics in Germany), 4) Bachir Gemayel (Who was president elect but who was assassinated before being sworn in, and who was also head of the Lebanese Forces militia - a spin off from the Phalange), 5) the statue of the Martyrs (In Martyrs' square), 6) Our Lady of Lebanon (A religious landmark in Daroun-Harissa), 7) and Christ-Roi (Another religious landmark showing Jesus Christ with arms outstretched like the Rio statue on the way to Jounieh)? Answer: According to the last campaign by the Lebanese forces, all these symbols are "The cedar and we (Lebanese Forces) are its red line" (Meaning those defending it). Whereas the use of some of the symbols is legitimate (Such as Bachir Gemayel and his father Pierre) the inclusion of the virgin Mary and Jesus Christ is very debatable - no matter how much they are trying to claim their Christian roots (Interestingly, one of the symbols of the Lebanese Forces is a cross which is titled in its bottom end to symbolize the shape of a dagger). But what is really, really impressive, is that whereas the campaign hit the road sometime at the end of last week, only a few hours later activists (And certainly Lebanese Forces opponents) retaliated while using the super fast world of the internet and so by Saturday afternoon (While using the same layout for effect) I found three spoof photos in my email inbox: They had photos of Rachid Karame (Assassinated Prime Minister), Dany Chamoun (Head of the Noumour Al Ahrar Militia and son of Camille who was assassinated along with his wife and children), and of Tony Frangieh (Assassinated son of president Suleiman Frangieh. Tony Frangieh was killed along with his wife and daughter - leaving his son Suleiman to carry the political torch of the family). What is interesting in the spoofs is that Samir Geagea currently head of the executive committee of the Lebanese Forces was convicted of killing Chamoun, and by his own admittance he liquidated Frangieh, and is largely seen as responsible about the explosive in the helicopter that Karame took (Which landed in emergency in the Halat airport whih was then controlled by the Lebanese Forces after the explosion occured). The line of the spoofs? "You are the cedar and we (Lebanese Forces) are its black line."