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BR:  Guys, when we first started this blog, we had two main goals: to make a change of whichever kind (as absurd as ‘change’ can get), and to grow; this growth kept happening, with us, with you as audience and will start happening on the level of quality posts. No no no, don’t get me wrong, we will not quit the super fun cynical posts, we will not stop bashing whoever deserves to quit his ‘creative’ job, but every once and a while, BR will be taken to a new dimension, by ‘Daniel Drennan’, originally Lebanese with a background in design and a ‘controversial’ experience in design education. (Sorry for the description Daniel, but we both agree that ‘design thinker’ bullshit, is umm.. bullshit). 

Daniel, we’re sure our readers will be as happy to have you with us, and we’re super thankful for this enriching contribution.

BR: Packaging a revolution, selling democracy 

Originally written during February 2007.

Brand America:

Of False Promises and Snake Oil

By Daniel Drennan: On the streets of Beirut, a vernacular of graffiti, political posters, cloth banners and stenciled portraits of leaders and martyrs — and the effacement thereof, whether intentionally or through natural causes — produces a lively debate. Various individuals and groups effectively claim existence, label their territories, as well as write and re-write their histories — Lebanon has no one history. I refer to this as a “debate” because of this back and forth, of placement and replacement, which lies in stark contrast to the monologue that rises above buildings and highways, the one-way beaming of high-priced messages as represented by billboards and advertising space.

Recently, these two “conversational” spaces have mixed, if not melded — with corporate messengers vying for equal footing with straightforward political, theological and economic discourses. On closer inspection, however, they are unequal: messages moving from the street upwards have a rebellious aim; those moving from the ad space down have a much more sinister source.

Independence ‘05

On March 14, 2005, a large percentage of the Lebanese population hit the streets of Beirut, protesting Syrian domination of its political and economic infrastructures. The demonstrations, which arose after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, coincided with the almost immediate emergence of “Independence ‘05” banners, stickers and other merchandise like flags and hats. Designed collectively by some of Beirut’s top ad agency talents, the red, white and green logo soon appeared everywhere [see Fig. 1]. Not missing a beat, the U.S. State Department renamed the locally known Intifada of Independence as the Cedar Revolution, and for a brief time, to the outside world at least, it seemed that Lebanon was going down the road paved by other “branded” revolutions, such as those in Georgia and Ukraine also underwritten by American NGOs.

The manufactured logo’s invasion was striking during those first weeks of co-opted activism, its pre-packaged message disseminating rapidly through the streets. Eventually, Syria withdrew its troops, and by the time Christmas arrived, Dar an-Nahar (the publishing arm of an-Nahar newspaper) came out with a glossy coffee-table book documenting The Beirut Spring — complete with a kit of patriotic artifacts — almost as if to say, yet again: “Mission Accomplished!”

For the past two years, however, a series of bombings, assassinations and all-out warfare has redefined those original ideas of “Independence” and has led to the surreal situation where the absence of dialogue on the governmental level is contrasted by an endless stream of mediated messages.

Since Israel’s war against Lebanon last summer, these different levels of discourse — street and ad, local and global — have scrambled for prominence. Advertisers, mostly banks, plastered the country with ads touting their role in rebuilding; Johnnie Walker, among many others, made reference to the destruction of the country’s infrastructure in both its imagery and ad copy [see Fig. 2]. The line between advertising and public expression often blurred: billboards for General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement featured “hand-drawn” orange checkmarks, only to be rivaled by huge “homemade” banners — mostly featuring Condoleezza Rice as purveyor of bombs for Lebanese children or as schoolmarm to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora — draped across buildings downtown.

Likewise, in Dahiyeh, the southern suburbs, another advertising campaign had taken shape, startling in its assimilation of these “designed messages” and distance from the insular iconography and Arabic-only statements formerly seen on the ground. Aimed at international journalists, it documented the wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods with a retort of victory — Nasr min Allah or “Divine Victory” — playing on the name of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. These banners, in French, English and Arabic, and featuring other messages such as “The New Middle (B)east,” were hung from every building even remotely left standing [see Fig. 3].

The political dialogue that should have been taking place on a national and international level has been reduced to empty sound bites by agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and H&C Leo Burnett, which made sectarianism its target in a new campaign for al-Mujtamah al-Madani (Civil Society). The first run of print ads featured personalized objects like mailboxes, doctors’ office signs and license plates, identifying not only names and numbers but also sect affiliation, a commentary on the factional system that governs all aspects of Lebanese life [see Figs. 4-5].

In corresponding television spots, actors representing other countries proudly declare, in their respective languages: Je suis francais, and “I am an American” [see Fig. 6]. Yet the Lebanese claim: Ana SunniAna Shi’iAna Dirzi, and Ana Marounieh, not Ana Lubnani (“I am Lebanese”). Shots ring out, and our Lebanese protagonists are left with their heads hanging in shame [see Fig. 7]. The ads seem to blame the Lebanese population itself for its “backwards” nature instead of blaming the outside political and economic forces that have long imposed those divisions, and offer an ignominious, orientalist cliche that is absurd in its reduction and shamefully outdated in its casting of a blond-haired, blue-eyed man as the American. Are Americans not multicultural? Do they not take pride in their own hyphenated identities?

Another advertising project reminiscent of the “Independence ‘05” campaign appeared as well, featuring “martyr” Christmas trees, trilingual billboards and mobile ad trucks animated by live actors, broadcasting the message: “I love life” [see Fig. 8]. The slogan is offensive in its equation of the Shi’a of Lebanon as, culturally speaking, “lovers of death.” Further research revealed it to be a campaign sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and reflective of other U.S.-sponsored initiatives in Ukraine and Africa.

In this world of meta-communication, the reality of the situation becomes increasingly obfuscated. What the West interprets as a clash of civilizations is really about class differences — the haves and the have-nots, capital and labor, the first world and the other four-fifths of the planet. Seen through these advertising campaigns, “America” and “Democracy” — and by extension, free-market capitalism — become simply a product to sell, a brand to push, and logically (and cynically), advertisers have been hired to do the job. The greater problem for the pushers of the product is that the peoples of the world have grown wise to the pitch — especially when those pushing this local variant of the global “brand,” Saatchi & Saatchi, are simultaneously working on the rebranding of Israel, to create a “narrative of normalcy” after the war this past summer.

“You say you want a revolution…”

In the past, brand identity was based intrinsically on the notion of an untarnished image. Trying to sell something that was below par was once considered hucksterism; salesmen thereof were seen as peddling snake oil. So ingrained is this accepted notion of pushing a lie that it is part of American folklore and imbedded in its culture, seen in everything from tall tales and The Music Man to the infomercials of Ron Popeil.

As free-market capitalism progressed, this marketing evolved, and at a certain point (as No Logo by Naomi Klein points out) the product ceased to matter. A brand name represented not so much the product itself — sneakers, clothing, perfume, and now, democratic society — but the lifestyle pushed by the company whose logo decorated the product’s exterior. Nike, Gap, Calvin Klein, and now, America — a brand ready for export.

Today no one is sufficiently outraged when images of radical icons are licensed to pimp products (postmortem): think Dr. Martin Luther King for Alcatel and Cingular; William S. Burroughs for Nike. No one gets upset when the environmental movement is effectively stifled by the co-opting of environmentalism as a marketing sales point; when former outlets for the expression of anger by marginalized groups are turned into revenue streams; when “Revolution” by the Beatles is heard in a Nike ad; when AIDSand breast cancer are used as marketing ploys.

And so it follows that no one in the West is fazed by the simplistic notion that a country as incredibly complex as Lebanon, with its millennia of history, should be reduced to its people’s religious differences. Present-day America lives vicariously through the democratic movements of other countries and a projected sense of universal wellbeing that is ever harder to find at home. For just one example, the falling Berlin Wall became the backdrop for the false concept that all ideals of democracy emanate from the U.S., and, furthermore, that advertising is a proper venue for the dissemination of this ideal.

Now, the concept of a “revolution” beneficial to Lebanon is ignored unless it can be used as a feel-good device for Western democracies to perceive themselves as having played a part in the country’s “independence” which, in fact, goes back half a century; the inaction of these countries this past summer paints a completely different picture in terms of their intentions. Whereas here in Lebanon the battle is still being played out (literally and figuratively), the bigger picture is much more serious — and horrifyingly more disastrous — for those of us living on the periphery of global capital’s various expansionist projects.

Countering the Lie

This empty brand identity, the Lie, is betrayed when a demonstration (seen as pro-U.S.) is painted as a “Cedar Revolution,” while the more recent, broader-reaching demonstrations are called “a pro-Syrian/Iranian threat” and an attempted “coup d’etat.” As stated by economist Samir Amin in the book Obsolescent Capitalism, the only political Islamic groups in this region targeted by American opprobrium — Hezbollah and Hamas — just happen to be those that are anti-imperialist in nature; they also happen to be democratically elected. In his article “Mid-point in the Middle East?” Tariq Ali concurs: “Western enthusiasm for rainbow revolutions stops, as is to be expected, when the color is green.” Similarly, South American countries, overturning the pro-imperialist governments that replaced their former democracies, are perceived as “threats” to this new world order, when in fact they only threaten the given economic status quo. Why aren’t their “democratic revolutions” celebrated and advertised?

The Lie, as marketed by Leo Burnett (et. al.), goes back to Woodrow Wilson, who, when the Ottoman Empire was carved up among the post-War imperial powers, stated in his Twelfth Point: “… the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.” Security of life — sounds catchy. But we didn’t get it then, and despite the current ad-based efforts to convince us of the contrary, we don’t see it on our horizon now. Furthermore, when foreign policy goals of globalizing entities in the region explicitly state their desire to continue to “carve up” Arab countries into more manageable ethnic or religious cantons, these calls to difference hidden behind anti-sectarian messages can be seen to be even more loaded, as well as more lethal.

In response to the advertisers, designers and cultural sign-makers selling “Democracy,” opponents have spoken back by sending up the original ads themselves, thus forcing an uninvited dialogue. In Dahiyeh, those Arabic posters stating “We want to live” now include (in simulated spraypaint) “… in tents” (referring to the ongoing protest downtown); and “I love life” is now followed by “in colors” (referring to the multi-colored representative rainbow of all of Lebanon’s political parties).

Some intrepid activists have added their own messages to the mix, such as “I [heart]Aishti” (both a reference to the local chain fashion outlet and aish, the Arabic root for “to live”) and “I [heart] Capitalism” [see Figs. 10, 11]. When those who craft the ad campaigns circulate jpegs of the opposition posters [see Fig. 9] with copy that reads “We want to live … in tents” and labeled “They hate life,” we begin to see the vested and invested interest(s) in these message battles. Quoting Samir Amin once again:

The ideological discourse designed to rally public opinion in the central Triad [the United States, Japan and Europe] has been revamped to focus on a ‘duty to intervene’ in the name of ‘democracy,’ ‘national rights’ or ‘humanitarian considerations.’ But whereas the cynical instrumentalization and double standards involved in this discourse seem evident to people in Asia or Africa, Western public opinion has fallen in with it as enthusiastically as it did with the discourses of earlier phases of imperialism.

The visual creators and designers of this “ideological discourse” of ad campaigns currently running in Lebanon today should consider the ethical ramifications of their efforts, which focus on the purely reductive surface level and are representative of an unproven, and therefore unknowable, base ideology (although we can theorize about what is driving it); compared to, say, a political group with a stated political agenda. The fabricators of the larger discourse behind the ads should know that their message, and their media, are seen for what they are: shills for snake oil.

The bleak cynicism of message makers and the powers they serve — simultaneously blaming the Lebanese for sectarianism while playing to the segregationist, if not “anti-other,” sentiments of a subsection of the Lebanese population; claiming one revolution while condemning any other; placing economic blame on the current opposition movement while fronting an economic reality that will plunder the country; harping on the concept of Lebanon as a unified nation while fomenting discord that would render the nation asunder; working for the destroyers of Lebanon as well as “for” the destroyed — approaches something deeply and darkly Orwellian, especially when using words such as “love” and “life.” There is a huge difference between wanting to live at the expense of others and wanting to live a dignified existence. In light of events this past summer, it can be stated that the current influx of cash to pro-American NGOs, state militias and advertising campaigns is just a continuation of the aggression recently suffered by Lebanon.

Paul Rand stated: “Design … is also an instrument of disorder and confusion. Design for deception is often more persuasive than design for good; seduction is one of its many masks.” Those pushing the current discourse in Lebanon should not be surprised that it should thus be unmasked; that much of the world outside of their frame of reference is no longer buying their line, their lie, or their lifestyle; and that the Revolution, when it comes, will not be to their liking.

Daniel Drennan, originally from Beirut, returned to Lebanon eight years ago, worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut, and is currently the Graphic Design Department coordinator at the American University of Science and Technology. He maintains a website at http://www.inquisitor.com/, which includes a diary of the summer war on Lebanon. This essay was originally published by AIGA  and The electronic intifada and is republished with the author’s permission. 

Pikasso Des copycats 2012

By Admin I: Once again, another advertising awards ceremony, a low caliber event just before the big Dubai Lynx happening in 3 weeks. Les Affichages Pikasso held the annual Pikasso d’Or at Biel, and yes everyone was there: the copycats, the industry’s so-called Gurus and every single creative that went to receive his award then bash the festival for being a small scale event. Guys, it’s your loss not having social media and bloggers invited, your definite loss!

For its 20th edition of the Pikasso d’Or 2012 assessed 176 visuals, presented by 20 agencies. Most of those campaigns were the star-copycats of the year that it’s even too weird to see their creators ‘proudly’ holding the statue. It requires too much balls to be proud of a copied work!

C&F campaign by Impact BBDO was voted the best creative campaign of 2012 by the Jury for this year. (copied)

Pikasso D’Argent Award : Impact BBDO Beirut – Vape (like seriously)

Pikasso De Bronze : Nineteen84 – Sophie’s Choice

Multivisual Award : FP7 CesarDebbas & Fils (the only well deserved)

Digital Award : Wondereight – Dunlop (as floppy as it can get)

Supersize Gold : Nineteen84 Zaatar w Zet

Supersize Silver :Impact BBDO Beirut – Cimenterie Nationale (beautiful art direction)

Supersize Bronze : LeoBurnett Beirut – Beit Misk

Mall Award : Spirit – Jamil Saab & CO

Special Jury Award : M&C SAATCHI – BLF (copied art direction)

Citizen Billposter : Clementine – Yasa (COPIED FROM A STUDENT THAT INTERNED AT CLEMENTINE)

Well, it’s not that we expected hugely creative outcomes having spent a dry creative year in general, but we just cannot and will never be able to surpass plagiarized work getting credited; those results can never ever compete with the worst adsoftheworld submission. Too bad!

Zaatar w Zeit: all ears!

By Admin I:   It seems that in the end, we managed to find a brand that listens in this country; after dissecting its failing rebranding job and the whole social media buzz it caused, Zaatar w Zeit opened up to new horizons.

If you remember well, or still go to one of their ‘not-yet’ revamped branches, you would notice that what characterizes the place, is the welcoming sketchy vibe, the colorful illustrations that were totally dumped when ZWZ decided to go ‘oh la la minimal’.

As much as we hated and still hate the new identity, Zaatar w Zeit managed to fascinate us in its new Gemmayzeh branch. It’s a show stopper!! The illustrations are back, reworked to suit the new urban clean feel of the restaurant, in black and white, depicting a Gemmayzeh typical scenery with all its contradictions and interesting stereotypes.

To say the least, ‘Fouad Mezher‘ managed to execute a marvelous piece of art, bringing back ‘the’ factor that was missing at such a dry environment. The branch is alive, visually stimulating and tells a story, and is a quite live proof that listening to feedback can always make things better (even though we’re not super sure why they changed direction).

Other branches are still screaming for this detailed appeal to the eatery, certifying that ‘branding’ can become a step beyond a clean logo and a hip menu design, it’s a whole experience you guys!

Good job!

Warde’s Quest and a million questions

By Admin I: A new campaign by ‘Warde’ reformulated around the ‘journey’; so it’s beautifully animated, narrative-based because it’s like the new trend in the field and stuff, but what’s striking about this campaign is the credits:

Agency: Leo Burnett Beirut
Animation House: Onesize 
Music: MassiveMusic

So guys, it’s either we don’t have animators in this freaking country, or we didn’t even search because it’s very uncool to commission a local talent.. It’s by no means a technical reason: we do have technically good 3d animators that can get such jobs done! If the reason is creative – which we agree with, our animators are generally software worms – then you – advertising creatives – lack the basic ability to art direct. If you cannot art direct a local animation job, you should most probably resign and go do ‘beautiful’ design works from now till infinity.

It’s just sad to see such work, go all excited about how creative it looks then discover that it was done by some Amsterdam based creative studio. It’s sad because it’s another proof of fake propaganda, a step backwards in a field that’s eager for encouragement.

Disappointed much?!

Gradients are back!

By Admin I: It’s the ultimate nightmare for any conservative swiss-orthodox design teacher and practitioner: the gradient tool! Well guess what, all of you out there: gradients are back! Back to invade your book covers, event posters, your wardrobe and even your furniture. It’s the latest shocking design trend that scared so many of you out there!

You might be the type that’s too arrogant to experiment, to give gradients a shot after more than a decade of hate and misuse. They’re back in analogous or monochrome tonalities and soft pastel usages, but let me tell you, those guys are tricky! The trick behind using the ‘hip’ gradients is to make it look anything but natural!! No small nuances, no bits and pieces, but the whole nine yards!

A final note before ending this design statement is a spotlight on a local super well done gradient usage by who other than ‘maajoun’ for the ‘Minassa Theater Festival’, a poster that mixed experimental  expressive lettering with a blue-green-yellow gradient, an eye candy!

In the end, it’s a matter of having ‘the balls’ to go and try, once, twice and more, simply because minimalism is too easy, too blah! Today’s design practices require much much more than type on white space, unless you are Micheal Bierut, who himself admitted having a case of ‘Chromatophobia’, the fear of using color: (…) I hope one day to begin to conquer mine (the fear). Until then, it’s back to the comfort of my nice dry towel, well away from the water’s edge — suitably striped, of course, in my two favorite colors: black and white.

Be a challenging design freak, or stay away from the water’s edge, you’re probably too boring to swim!

Pulse: Gradated colour application often gets a hard time. Perhaps it is due to two decades of bad clip art and super corporate PowerPoint presentations. But this year has seen the triumphant return of the gradient, as designers start to explore colours pale, dark, and everything between.”

Thank you HF for the research!  

Sagmeister for Aishti/Aizone SS13: experimental advertising

By Admin NK: While everyone was waiting for the SS13 collection, I was waiting to see what Aishti/Aizone had for us as a campaign. Why? Because we knew the holy moly Sagmeister and his partner Jessica Walsh are going to impress us again. (even though it’s still a debatable/problematic approach to many, but guess what?! we’re designers!)

And no, this is not because Sagmeister is becoming the new obsession icon for designers these days (ehm, like Andy Warhol) but because I really admire how he thinks outside of the box (literarily!)

For this post I managed to combine both Aishti and Aizone campaigns even though there is so much to say. For Aishti, Sagmeister & Walsh took thinking outside of the box to a whole new level; Going from Aishti’s signature orange box to building an actual block, a 3D object/installation, causing an optical illusion. As for Aizone’s campaign (which I personally prefer), the installations differed from using colored powder to light painted calligraphy and a giant hair thread of calligraphy. Seriously Sagmeister & Walsh, can I have access to your brains for just 5 minutes? I love it when a different campaign for a brand goes on the same path, using elements such as calligraphy and boxes from the previous campaigns to remind us of the same brand essence. And the results turned out pretty awesome, and highly experimental.

Although, I found a small contrast in all of this, which was the fact that a silly human being could look at it and say “oh, hello photoshop” even though the photographer behind the campaign’s scenes (Henry Hargreaves) did mention that they tried to keep the concept as true as possible without doing so many retouches. But watching the behind the scenes knowing that those things REALLY took place in reality, does blow your mind in both campaigns! It’s a shame that those digital effects took more place than actually keeping it real.

I would give a big applause for this, since I think it is better than the previous campaigns, not to the digital effects made, but to the whole brainstorming and work put behind it. LEARN you agencies to stop visual mass production for a second!

 

“For Aishti SS13 we used the signature orange Aishti gift box as a building block for a series of impossible shapes. These illusions are traditionally 2d shapes which our brain interprets as 3d objects, so we thought it’d be an interesting challenge to take it to the next level and try to build these shapes dimensionally.

For Aizone SS13: As this Spring campaign is the first using color, we thought bright bold powders would be an appropriate and fun way to introduce color to the brand. We were inspired by the Holi Festival of Color which takes place every year in India in celebration of Spring. For the mens image, we hired a talented light painting artist to create calligraphic inspired type using light instead of a brush. The last installation we made is a giant typographic hair piece that we built and photographed in a garage space.”

Art Direction, Design: Sagmeister & Walsh, Pascal Schönegg Photography: Henry Hargreaves Production: Group Theory / Ben Nabors Creative Retouching: Erik Johansson Hair Stylist: Gregory Alan Makeup: Anastasia Durasova Stylist: Don Sumada BTS Video: Brian Petchers 

 

 

Al Rifai Valentine’s causing national feminist drama!

By Admin H: In one of the cheesiest occasions, Valentine’s, we are actually facing some less hideous campaigns if compared to Christmas. One of the ‘red’ campaigns invading the roads is the straight to the point “Al Rifai nuts”, a minimal visual and a play on copy.

On their corporate branding background of reddish gradient with the white typography, typical Valentines colors, (the ones that admin I can’t bear), a perfectly shot piece of nuts introduces an engaging play on form and connotations. In a festive season, where nuts and alcohol are essentials (along with condoms!), Al Rifai went direct with simple lines such as: “Because two can become one”, hinting the indescribable “Love”, trying to treat the cliché with the least possible cliché.

Those campaigns might seem passive to you, but they’re indeed provocative; just after the release, the campaign faced sexist accusations coming from their large facebook audience. The ads were accused to focus on a man’s brains, and a woman’s curves, which is somehow a very demeaning Orientalized look to gender. Whether you agree with those comments or not, the brand managed to keep a class while apologizing to the feminists of the women’s rights group that were offended by the ad.

Girls, girls, girls, com’on! It’s just a classy ad with some sense of humor, relax and think about more serious issues to defend in Lebanon, at least it’s way better than “Castania’s” Happy Valentine’s, and the huge sexual connotation shown in the shape of the pistachio (I guess no offense was taken there/ any agencies involved?)

 “Al Rifai would like to point out that the Valentine visuals were not, in any way, trying to belittle the role of women in society. These visuals are part of a campaign that highlights the beauty of every nut and not our view on the role of men and women in society. We believe in equality, not only among people, but also among all our nuts. We hope that you will be able to see things from our perspective.

We thank all of you who appreciated the creativity of the campaign, your support proves that it was a successful one, but in order not to offend anyone and to avoid any further misunderstandings, we have decided to remove 2 of the posted visuals. Wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!”