Bechara Mouzannar on formula of success in modern advertising business
On the past advertising festival Red Apple we had a very serious jury with a lot of impressive achievements in the industry. The head of this glorious team was Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett MENA, the owner of many awards, the Chairman of the Jury of Cannes Lions Festival Bechara Mouzannar. TheRunet discussed with him the potential of Russian culture, the secrets of success, and also the reason why advertising is not actually an art.
- Your works had won a great number of awards on different festivals, including the Cannes Lions. What is your secret? In the special Lebanese air composition?
- All of the works for which we got prizes in Cannes were made for real clients. They are not those projects which are made only to gain awards on festivals and at the same time don’t work in real market conditions.
We struggle with a lot of advertising agencies from all over the world to have a chance to win with a real advertising for a real business. This is a main secret: we were coming to Cannes with real campaigns and we were losing, but when you lose again and again you start learning from your mistakes. We started to work differently, to think differently, and in the end we got our first Golden Lion in 2009. This was the first Lion in the history of Lebanese advertising industry. Since then our office in Beirut received already 14 Lions, office in Dubai – 9, and Egyptian representative office earned another two. The biggest part of awards belongs to Beirut office because the local market is open to experiments. We still remain the only one in Lebanon who had won in Cannes.
Today it is necessary to refuse the old forms by crossing to the straight dialogue with the audience. After all, the brand pays us so we unite it with the clients, provide this dialogue. It is amazing to see how quickly the format is changing and how the advertising is gaining a power never seen before. Formerly there could be different stories, different brands, different budgets but still the same 30-second commercial on TV or a magazine spread. Today advertising is interactive like never before and is based on synergy of a brand and a consumer by aid of social media.
- In other words, today it is not important in advertising where the people come from?
- Not exactly. Indeed, your origin cannot become an obstacle. But our history is another advantage that we have and that one needs to be able to use. We are very small country which is four time less than Moscow region but our history is one of the oldest in the world. In Lebanon there are cities that existed thousands of years BC.
We are a small country surrounded by enemies and pour on resources. That’s why we have to constantly evolve to survive, and every Lebanese knows that. For example, I speak five languages, and it’s the usual story for Lebanon. We believe that you don’t have to be a big powerful country to win. You don’t have to be from America, Britain or Germany to succeed. We believe that everyone can win if he does a decent work.
The conflicts of recent years destroyed everything that we’ve achieved since the end of the Civil War. Then, during the short armistice many people started their own business and the advertising market started to evolve but since the Israeli-Lebanon conflict in 2006 we returned to the devastation: companies were bankrupts, clients did not want to pay, and there were no money, even no electricity and no internet.
We began to think how to work in such conditions? A lot of Lebanese were leaving to Emirates, or to Canada, or to Europe; they were leaving without intention to return. This situation became the impetus for us and we decided to get into top-25 of advertising agencies of the world. Most people looked at me like I was crazy when I talked about it. But some believed in us. This became our aim. I got EMBA from Berlin School of Creative Leadership which gave me a serious impetus to the development, especially in the field of social media. Coming back to Lebanon, I found a huge interest in this thing among my employees, and we started to experiment. It brought us success, and we started to receive awards around the world and got in top-20 of the best agencies oh the world.
The formula of success is very simple: when you believe in what you do, when you are open to the new ideas and surrounded by a team of like-minded people, everyone will definitely feel it and will appreciate it. It works in every sphere of life and also in advertising.
Here in Russia you have a lot of very talented people, perspective advertising agencies. Unfortunately, most of them tend to make something international, average. But when I read books, or watch films, or listen to the music of Russian authors it is the beauty of Russian soul that strikes me. I really appreciate Chekhov, Eisenstein, German Jr., Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky. Why don’t you use it in the advertising? I want to see the spirit of the people, where is it? I don’t mean it to be the spirit of Dostoevsky or Tarkovsky but it has to be something that reflects the beauty of Russian culture.
During Red Apple I watched through a big amount of works and among them there were a lot of interesting, with a very fresh view, but the best of them were those which were made for real brands considering the features of local market. For me it is a cheap trick to work only for festival audience. If you won at least one Golden Lion in Cannes but your project doesn’t have a real advertising campaign – it’s like you didn’t win at all.
-You mean that in the advertising there is also an idea of “festivalishness” like in the cinematography?
- It actually occurs to me that this issue exists only in the advertising industry. Cinematography is an art, there are other rules there. Art doesn’t necessarily have to pay off. Many artists of the past died in poverty. A true artist can be completely free in his art because art is not about money. Advertising is not an art. It’s a business. The essence of advertising is primarily promotion of the product, increasing sales.
In the field of communications – and I don’t work anymore in the advertising, I actually work in the field of communications – you are paid to inspire people with an orange juice. Who are the artists inspired by the juice? Therein lies the difference.
And in the advertising the issue of “festivalishness” is very serious. Many agencies invest all creative powers not into real campaigns with money and clients waiting for interesting ideas but into getting useless prizes at the festivals. They don’t know how to present the idea to the client and constantly complain that the client understand nothing in good ideas. Then they create works which have nothing in common with the reality and get awards. We all want recognition, it’s okay. But such rewards mean nothing to me. This is not the advertising in which I believe. I believe that it is possible to take into account the desires of the client and to create beautiful and bold projects which would pay off and would work on the promotion of the product.
-You got a lot of prizes for social advertising created for commercial brands. How to maintain a balance in such advertising promoting the product but do not forget about social message?
- For the modern audience, particularly youth, today there is nothing more boring than the brand extoling itself.
When product is really different, there’s something unique about it, everyone will talk about it. And if all the difference lies in a nice packaging or a couple of new features it doesn’t matter anymore. What makes you to choose this product and not the next one on the shelf at the shop? Today we need more – to establish an emotional connection with the consumer.
For example, the advertising that we’ve created for Johnnie Walker — "Keep walking Lebanon". We wanted to help the Lebanese to overcome the crisis in which the country was, to tell them: keep walking, don’t stop before obstacles, believe in yourselves, and don’t let your inner flame to go out.
We used all communication tools – from social media to outdoor screens – to make this campaign as interactive as possible, to make ordinary Lebanese part of the campaign. But most importantly, we’ve never showed a glass of whiskey. Not once. Fortunately, the client was courage enough to agree on such a controversial approach.
And Johnnie Walker became a source of inspiration. Everybody talked about our campaign. Today people are smart enough to allow them to make their own conclusions and do not specify what to buy. Especially if the product is in the market for a long time, like it was with Johnnie Walker – what new could we say about this brand? They sold 20% more whiskey.
- You work a lot with social media. Do you think today with all the possibilities of social networks and new media the society becomes more creative?
- Today anyone can become a star within a minute, and that’s great! This is a sign for all agencies and companies who believe that they can still sell people anything. It’s a good lesson of humility and humanity. We all saw that there a lot of people who are more creative than us, faster than us, younger than us, more receptive than us. I think that it’s the best incentive for change. The advertising industry actually changed very little over the years because people find it very difficult to change. People hate changes, they want guarantees. While the advertising industry is the industry of communications, and if it doesn’t wake up and doesn’t start to change, it’ll just begin to lose clients. It is quite possible that ordinary people from the Internet who did not receive special education but have good ideas will begin to create advertising for commercial brands. The companies will start to speak directly to the activists of social network.
The great example for us was the action Ice Bucket Challenge. Certainly, it is not a commercial advertising but it had an incredible success. Which marketing agency is able to create such thing?
The advertising industry is in agony, and I don’t know how long this agony will last. Advertisers still don’t understand the possibilities of social media. They keep saying: “digital, digital, digital”. And if someone tells you about “digital” it’s the first sign that he doesn’t know a thing. It means that he tries to replace an actual communication by technologies.
I got used to the crises and I’m sure that the crisis is only a stimulus to the development. All defaults, revolutions and wars are only additional obstacles which are easy to overcome if you believe in what you do. It helps to work, to create great ideas, to motivate people. Everything beautiful and cute is really boring. But the real issues and challenges are not goring at all. You have to use every crisis to reform it into new possibilities.
- When you encounter an abundance of advertising in everyday life does it annoy you or you perceive it as a professional?
- No, definitely not as a professional. I’m really annoyed by all this hype that just comes into your life uninvited. It’s as if someone stole the keys from your house and came uninvited to tell you something. I want to see advertising that leaves consumer the freedom and the right to make independent conclusions. It’s like the difference between the religion and the sect. One thing is the advertising which appears in your social networks and leaves you the decision whether to pass on the proposed link, and another thing is the advertising which just punches you in the face: when you walk down the street enjoying the historical buildings and suddenly you see a huge ugly outdoor ad. Today advertising has no ethics. It is time for this to change.
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