Archive for March, 2011


From Advertising to Branding, the Few Feet Journey

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




Back in the good old days, advertising was a life enhancer. Situations depicted a better life, a better family, a better job, etc. Even tobacco advertising, thought to be healthy back then, was about the real good things in life.

Marlboro ad – On Flickr by Todd Mecklem

Today, advertising stopped enhancing life and started enhancing situations. Indirectly, instead of showing you how to better your life, advertising is showing you how much your existing life sucks. How? Simply by enhancing situations in an unattainable way, or even worse, using situations you will never experience.

So instead of telling you how good life is and how to make it even better, advertising is telling how much your life sucks, and how worse it will get!

Advertising killed the fun.

Having said that, good advertising still pops here and there, but in the clutter of life-smashing, fun-killing ads, it can hardly be noticed.

In my early days of advertising, the toughest question in a creative brief was “why will they believe you?”. We used to scratch our heads for hours in the quest to answer it. Today, the answer might as well be “who cares”.

Citymall ad – from

I will not expand my wrath beyond the Lebanese territory, and for a good reason, we are by excellence the right place to look in for cheesy, stupid, useless and utterly meaningless advertising that indulges in cheap plagiarism. Hell! We can’t even copy other’s concepts right! We are by excellence the market where any “so called” advertising agency or “self-proclaimed” ad-man can get away with ads like “Mon bijou, mon droit” for a jewelry shop of even worse “Look at my wallpaper, I said wallpaper”…

Moukarzel ad – from

We are probably the only market in the world were advertising regulations revolve around “trying” to win trophies instead of helping clients sell… and still get away with it.

I am ashamed to state that I once was an ad-man.

It used to take us years to mature and acquire the skills to create ads with an oomph. It used to take us years to climb the creativity ladder. Today, we’re simply climbing that ladder down, following clients that are already way down, instead of lending a hand to them and bringing them up. Never the race for a quick buck has been more cheap.

We simply prostituted the advertising industry! And to make things worse, we’ve exported it to the Arab world!

We still use women to sell wallpaper. We still use men to cheapen women. We still use children to sell milk. We still use politics, God! Politics…. to sell everything else! How low can we go?

I look at ads from the 50’s were women were told to cook and clean the house to keep their husbands happy and it revolts me. Trust me, I am far less revolted at these ads in comparison to what is being produced today. Telling a woman to stay at home is by far better than asking her to be a hooker who sells wallpaper, try to make her believe that her only freakin’ right is her jewels, or use her bust to promote cable TV!! Come to think about it, I wonder how these women accept to feature in these ads, but that’s another story.

Cablevision ad – from

There will never be a solution to the Lebanese problems, neither political nor social, and you know why? There are simply not enough brains to trigger change, and if there are brains, they’re busy exteriorizing their sexual fantasies on billboards, rooftops and quarter pages.

To a certain extent I don’t blame them. I blame a stupider client who has never worried about developing a personal marketing culture or at least breed one in his organization. Clients are the ones who pay, and it amazes me how they don’t even evaluate their return on investment based on the level of mediocrity an advertising can attain.

Both the advertising industry and the clients have helped breed the culture of mediocrity by being complacent, indulging or accepting copycats, and settling for the lesser. Although we’re witnessing today a weak attempt (or what I call a nice try) to change things, the Lebanese advertising industry, once the leader in the Arab world, has become like most of our other innovations. We pioneered television and sank to dante’s hell. We pioneered the internet and brought it to a halt. We bred the finest in advertising, and made them wish they never existed.

Diet shisha ad – from

If and when (actually more if than when) the industry picks up again, it will simply look just like the internet in Lebanon, finally working but centuries behind. What a shame.

That’s probably why, we’re not doing anything with the political system in Lebanon. For us, it’s simply business “as usual”!

© 2010 Ibrahim Lahoud


Terrorism and my shattered dream!

We are so narrow-minded. We are so entrenched in concepts, ideas, scoops thrown at us, that we’re confining our judgement to the most visible part of the spectrum. We neglect the ultra violet and infrared of today’s realities.

Most, if not all the misconceptions we have are based on purely judgmental facts that we proudly synthesized from what we’re told, or what we prefer to call “what we read”. I want to discuss one of those facts. Travel.

Travel since the late fifties, early sixties, was the most beautiful experience one could have. The glamour, and the associated exotic emotions. The adventure, the wardrobe. The destination, and most of all, the journey.

Think about one of your earliest trips. Fine, you have got to be at least 45 years old or above for this experiment to work. See? Age does have its benefits sometimes! In fact, those of you who have not been on an airline trip during the sixties or early seventies, have definitely not experienced the true journey. So, for those of you who did experience it, try to teleport yourself back there.

The anticipation, the careless packing where anything can go in your luggage including your carry-ons. The dressing up, mom in her best skirt and silk top, stilettos, eventually her mink. Dad in his Sunday suit and tie. The drive to the airport, the check-in, the café or lounge overlooking the runway. The wide open balconies where you could stroll sipping your minted lemonade and watch people boarding aircraft, greeted at the top of the stairs by heavenly looking hostesses; passenger buses crisscrossing, planes taking off…

The call to board, the bus driving you to the aircraft, the welcome you personally witness this time… Aaaaah! The good old days.

This was the real journey, your trip started the minute you woke up on the morning of your travel. The destination was the culmination undeniably, but the journey? Priceless.

Then came the nineties.

You wake up seven hours ahead, not because of the thrill, but because you have to “plan” your luggage-packing. There should be a clear pre-planned strategy for that; underwear goes in the bottom, your acne cream, bleaching lotion, and aftershave on top. You need to also carefully plan what goes in your carry-on luggage. This means, you have to smell like a bull, feel like a hairy Neanderthal, and wear what makes you look like a New York tramp if you want to escape a full body search (This is not by any mean a guarantee you won’t get frisked!).

So your carry-on luggage will initially contain your laptop and a book that is written in the favor of the country you’re traveling to… if you really want to escape a full body search. That’s about it for your carry-ons. Well, you could take some chewing gum, there’s nothing more inviting than the smell of a full day worth of sweat mixed with the breezy scent of a minted breath…

You have to be at the airport three hours ahead of the actual takeoff, I insist, the “actual” takeoff. If you want to take the risk of coming three hours before the “scheduled” take off, you’d better pack pajamas, a lot of reading, and all the patience in your mood savings account. You’re in for a long… long… long wait. In the latest statistics, 67% of Air France flights for example are always late by 45 minutes or more.

So you get there three hours ahead of time. You go to check-in. You get an avant-taste of how your aircraft will smell from the contact with the check-in staff which include porters rubbing their hairy arms against you. The staff seems to still be taking courtesy courses at the local kindergarten.

You get females in the middle of their PMS, others at the early stage of their menopause and males who are dripping testosterone… all over what’s left of your patience. They are all still trying to figure out who’s the client of who! It’s like the homosexual and transvestite who spent the  night wondering who’s gonna do what to who, and how!!

You get your boarding pass at the total opposite side of your moon. You want window, you get aisle. You want frontmost seat of your cabin class, you get cargo. You want a simple smile, and all you get is that “Can-you-just-f**k-off-and-let-the-next-flying-baboon-in” look. “Next!”

You go through passport check, and then… you get to Dante’s Hell; to the place that makes you think God chose to gather all gays, perverts, voyeurs and fetishists. Security.

In dictionaries, “Security” is described as “The state of being free from danger or threat”. Riddle this! I get to security and I feel danger oozing from every x-ray, and threat discharging from every staff’s eyes… and blue-rubber gloves covered fingers! I mean really!!

But hey, that’s not their fault. No one at the airport or airlines did or does anything wrong! They’re doing their job… Well, give or take a couple of smelly porters… Unless they are considered “chemical deterrents”!

Terrorism. This is the real culprit. This is the real terror!

Terror is when you have to live your life haunted by the idea that you are the one treated like a terrorist while the real terrorist is watching you going through the horrifying experience.

Terror is when you know it will never end. When you know it will get worse.


©2011 Ibrahim N. Lahoud


March 2011
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Reason To Believe by Ibrahim N. Lahoud is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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