My good friend Danielle Baiz (@meinlebanon) commented on my last post about the advertising industry in Lebanon (Read On Sale, An Advertising Industry) and asked me to tell the tale of my “shift” from advertising to branding. With a smile like hers, I had to indulge!
The story of my life.
I graduated (if I may say so) in 1978 with a Baccalaureate in Commercial Sciences, after being fired from one school and joining a smaller one. I never had the right stuff for numbers. I never will. The few times I wrote numbers were to “draw” them. I always had a sweet inclination for design and art. I later found out about the canyon that separates both, but that’s another story.
How I managed to graduate is still considered a miracle. It was that close of being accepted as a genuine miracle by the Vatican! I remember the principal of the Commercial Sciences department, right before being fired from that school, congratulating me. It seems he had been teaching that department for forty years and it was the first time he lands on a student (yours truly) who manages to score zero over eighty in Accounting, zero over eighty in Financial Mathematics and 2 over eighty in Maths (I guess that was for writing my name right )! So I guess, we all agree that my graduation was indeed a miracle… with a little help of tiny sheets of paper with microscopic hand writing…
Right after graduating (if I may say so ) I got hired as a paste-up artist in a small obscure advertising agency right next to home. How this happened is now vague, but I guess someone nice enough introduced me to someone even nicer who agreed to hire an accountant as a paste-up artist!
There were no Macs, no scanners, no digital stuff. It was me, tracing paper, Letraset and rubber cement.
My career in advertising had just started. Long story short, I left advertising in 1987. I was a creative director. Amazingly, most of the marks I left behind were logos… What can I say about those 11 years? Ummmmmm… Nothing!
Did I learn? Yes. Did anyone teach me? No. Did I carry baggage with me? Yes. Do I still have it? No.
That year, 1987, Apple Computer, who was our client with offices on the ground floor of the same building in Dubai, made me an offer… as a Marketing Executive. Uhuuh, Marketing Executive. Cut. During my last year of advertising in Dubai, I used to stay in the office during lunch breaks which stretched between 13:00 and 16:00… Yeah, seems they inherited this from the Mexican siesta concept, backed by a Japanese study that confirms the benefits of a power-nap… So, instead of going home, I use to sit in the office and fiddle with the only Apple Macintosh Plus offered to us by Apple. In one year, I got so into Apple and the Mac that advertising that brand became a passion rather than a job. They noticed that.
Talking about 180 degrees shifts?! Boy! I accepted.
Apple was my first serious encounter with branding. Not that I practiced it at first. Apple was to me what every brand should be, “loved”. My passion was so intense, that a year later, I became the Regional Marketing Manager, and everyone used to call me Mr. “R”. I was so keen on never featuring the Apple logo without the ® next to it. Someone actually made especially for me a T-shirt with a huge black ® on the front. There, I learned what brands are, how they behave, how they strive to sustain visibility, memorability and recognizability. There, I learned that a brand earns both love and respect, just like human beings. I learned that, just like people, a brand should not brag, should not lie, should always keep its promises, and most importantly, just like people, a brand should be exactly what it looks to be, what it says it is.
Seven years at Apple. That’s how long I stayed. Seven amazing years where I saw the prototypes of Macs you’re using today, where I witnessed the launch of future strategies. I saw Steve Jobs deliver a keynote, and I understood how a man can shape a company and how a company can shape people. The synergy between Steve and Apple was simply amazing.
During my last couple of years at Apple, I attained a level where ideas were boiling in my head. I had to do something that crowns my years of experience between advertising and Apple. My best friend was also in advertising. Just like me, he loved creating logos, but far better than me. He still is today my best friend and, in my opinion, the most talented corporate identity designer there is in the region.
One day, we sat at my place and started reflecting on the next move in our careers. And after a couple of hours, it struck both of us. The region was undergoing a major transformation. It was being invaded by foreign brands, by far more powerful and visible than local ones. This spelled danger for local brands… and heavens for us. Corporate Identity, that was the answer.
In September 1994, we started the first corporate identity and Strategic Design firm in the Middle East. We called it “IDentity”, yes, with a Capital “I” and “D”. This was the twist in the brand; “ID” was your physique, “entity” was your character, and the whole “IDentity” was your behavior.
I was so into branding now.
This time, passion was flowing, and the results were clear… Still are. We created some of the most recognized brands today.
There, I discovered that even accountants can be branders…
All it took was to be a “child of the street”. You look at people around you, and you see what no one ever teaches you, what they refuse to teach you. You see that brands make us who we are, but mostly that it’s actually good.
Once you understand the symbiosis between people and brands, and you grasp the breadth of how they feed each other, you develop this kind of passion that brings you closer to people.
So for the “No logo” gents and dames, there’s a continuation to the statement, “No logo, no people”. What makes our individualism is the way we deal with everyday brands. What we wear, eat, drive, carry… all tell everyone else who we are. When we speak, we top it all with our own brand. We are not the brands we carry; we are “which” ones we carry and how we display our choice of brand styles and mix. That, coupled with our own behavior, is what makes us easier to figure out.
Branding is by excellence about people, and hey! I’m a people person.
So, here’s your answer Danielle, I went into advertising looking for a job. But I moved to branding looking for a passion.
© 2010 Ibrahim Lahoud