Internet Humblebrag: When You’re On A Last Name Basis… On Twitter

The name is: Chemali... @Chemali ...in its majesty's service, and by its majesty I mean Twitter.

For those of you who have no clue what twitter is and how nauseating  it is to be back in high-school with a lot of cool kids and wanna be divas, that must have sounded like a total gibberish. But for the few well versed in the art of 140 character essays, I am sure you are probably already nodding in approval or shaking your head in dismay (some cultural differences in body language  may apply)

I still surprise myself sometimes thinking about the huge responsibility that I have taken upon my shoulders when I committed to using @chemali as my twitter handle back in April 2009.
What cosmic power gives me the right to assume ownership the name that so many carry through generations? Will I be up to the responsibility? What do other Chemali family members feel when they try to get the same handle as they make their baby steps onto twitter and discover that I have already nabbed that one. How much negative karma do they send my way?

Sure, I might be tucked away safely behind a name that no one ever will coerce me into giving away, like what would have happened to accounts such as @FBI or @CIA since they are US based government entities, but in today's regressing world into tribalism, what assurance do I have that the Chemalis won't spawn an organism powerful enough to threaten my existence in order to acquire an official voice?

My only solace is in the possibility of an alternate spelling to my last name. Statistics have shown that 62.3% of people whose last names are "شمالي" (which means litterally Northener in Arabic) are taught at school that their name should be spelled with a Y at the end in the latin form, thus: Chemaly.
Further statistics have revealed that 84% of population will accept both written forms this including banks and some official institutions in the Middle East, so please anyone out there...go pick on the owner of the other account i.e Chemaly.

Finally, I would like to send some non-tungstene light to @Fida Chaaban without whom this piece would have not been possible. Thank you for providing me the motive and the inspiration for this introspection I badly needed, through your article published today:  Internet Street Cred: When You’re On A First Name Basis… On Twitter


5 Ways Lebanon Is Just Like Mad Men

5 Ways Lebanon Is Just Like Mad Men

Eight months! That's how long I will have to wait until the second part of Mad Men's final season (7) is back. Over the past several weeks I have gone through all six and half season like a hot knife through butter. I was completely hooked but that's not surprising considering my love for movies and TV and my fondness for advertising. Think what you may, but shows like Culture Pub and events like The Night of the Adeaters (La Nuit des Publivores) are just soul food as far as I am concerned. Therefore, it was only natural for the adventures of Don Draper & co to captivate my attention for so long.
The series is visually wonderful with its accurate depiction of America's 60s, to the point where many scenes brought back memories of my early childhood at my parents old place, where various memorabilia of that decade was still available while I was growing up.
However, as things progressed, I started picking up references that resemble today's Lebanon. Habits, practices and social norms that have survived in modern Lebanon almost half a century later.

I don't know how much these points I am about to raise qualify as spoilers, but if you are the type who doesn't want to know anything about a movie or series before watching, now would be a good time to hop over to some other page on the blog.

So, here are the 5 ways today's Lebanon replicates Mad Men :

  1. Women in the Workforce: 
    Women are under represented in the workforce, and those who choose career over family are frowned upon and considered either bossy or weird for not wanting a more "traditional" role in society. At the same time sexual favors in the workplace are shown as a staple of the era and something young ladies were educated to expect.
  2. Marriage and Family: 
    Closely related to the first post but also slightly extending to men, a norm for success and accomplishment is if the person has managed to get "hitched" and if they have hatched something.
    Those who are not within those norms are considered marginals and even failures.

  3. Racism:
    Racism in America in the 60s does not more discussion, neither does racism in Lebanon with various NGOs fighting the good fight against discrimination towards foreign workers and other minorities.

  4. Smoking:
    This ugly habit is very apparent in the series and at the focus of most of the action. Pregnant women smoking, business men smoking, teenagers taking up smoking, while the government is trying to raise awareness on cancer and other diseases related to this practice. On the other hand Ad agencies and Tobacco companies plotting to bend the law and keep their business running. Do I need to say more on this in light of the thrashing that the anti-tobacco law in Lebanon has been subject to?
  5. Environment:
    America in the 60s is neck-deep in consumerism and everyone wants more. Bulk buying and bulk littering is also a habit like when Don took his family out on a picnic in a beautiful spot only to throw the garbage around as they hop in the car to leave.

There are probably up to 10 other points that I can draw similarities from, but on a much more subtle level, such as the Hippy movement, the use of recreational drugs or the alcohol abuse, but I think those remain at a much more latent level than the 5 points I chose to highlight.

As for the ads, while the industry has done long strides since the ad concepts we might see in the series, some of those concepts are still way ahead of what local ad agencies are producing in terms of originality and authenticity of material.

One must still wonder, if a TV series about advertising can come up with original concepts and ideas for a fictional ad campaigns, why can't real local ad agencies come up with really distinctive ones?


The Pitfalls of Social Media Powered CSR

Over the past year or so, there has been an increase in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives driven or empowered by social media. Regardless what opinions you or I might have on the motives behind companies doing CSR, the fact remains that these contributions do eventually help people.

The last two major campaigns in Lebanon that I have seen sweeping across social media and twitter more specifically have involved highly commendable contributions to The Children Cancer Center of Lebanon.

Having met the fine people behind this endeavor, I cannot stress enough how much this center is a pillar of the fight against cancer, and should be strongly supported. I encourage everyone to participate in these campaigns so that the center can profit to the max.

Having said that, I must turn to the corporations who organize these giveaways. I might be a stickler here (when am I not?), but there is something deeply wrong with a contribution being conditioned by a company in exchange for users tweeting, liking or sharing their tweets or their posts. Are you or are you not supporting the cause? Why does it have to be conditional to social actions?
if I may portray this differently, if users don't tweet or interact, does that mean you will not be contributing as much to the charity in question?
I have been faced with clients who insisted on using such tactics in Lebanon and abroad, and have always recommended against that, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. My honest opinion is that the "good deed" should not be subject to social media blackmail.

One way of doing this properly is by setting the rules ahead and making the user's interaction decisive in choosing the destination of the donation NOT the amount!
A good example of this, is what INDEVCO Group (Sanita) did, back in 2012, through a Facebook campaign for their Paper Tissue brand Dreams entitled "Deyman Bifikrna" (Always in Mind).

In this case, Sanita decided ahead of time on the sum to be spent in terms of donation, and chose to allow their brand fans to express their opinion by choosing one of  8 different NGOs as candidates to receive the amount.
While they did leverage their CSR giveaway to generate social traffic, they did not condition neither the action, nor the amount to be contributed with users generating viral reach for the brand. This might be a rare time where I am not the cynic I usually am, but I like to think that the good deed itself would be enough to drive people to talk about it, without having to twist their arm and give them a candy afterwards.

That could be one way to do things; the other? well...I don't know...But I am sure with social media gurus out there, someone's bound to strike gold!


Faithfully Unfaithful TV Series

As I was zapping across various TV channels this morning, I came upon a clip by Elyssa on MTV Lebanon.
While the song was unsurprisingly bland, the clip was actually interesting to watch, yet as usual a few scenes into it, I had another House M.D Epiphany moment.

The clip which you can see below showed well acclaimed actor Youssef el Khal  carrying some paintings and struggling in a strong wind only to finally bump into expressionless ex-Miss Lebanese beauty-turned-actress Nadine Njeim (the now skinnier one: I can never tell them apart by their middle initials).

The action goes on with him helping her up to his place to fix her wounded leg as you can see on minute 0:51s onward. This OST (Original Sound Track) video clip is based on scenes from the series "لو" (translates to "what if") and although I have not seen any episode from the series this smells like another rip off from a major foreign production.

In this case, the movie plot that this series was taken from is the 2002 Hollywood remake of Claude Chabrol's iconic La Femme Infidèle, entitled "Unfaithful", starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez. Instead of going on and on about it, I will just let you watch the movie trailer below.

Now there is nothing wrong with reprising a classic like Chabrol's but wouldn't it be a stronger selling line if the series was promoted as a remake of that classic movie?
I, for one, would have been at least interested in watching a bit to see how or if they pulled it off. But perhaps for local audiences such references are meaningless and pointless and do not add any value to the artwork nor to their desire to watch it. Put pretty faces on the screen, some will act some will not and the audience will applaud!


ValetParkingstan Previously Known as Lebanon

A few days ago, a tweet by a colleague of the digital realm, Jacques Bakaev (@jbakaev) got us going with a few repliques which I ended with the graphic above. The original tweets were in Arabic and read as follows in this translated annotated screenshot.

The topic of Valet Parking services hogging the streets and bullying people is not new and has been tackled over and over again. Either through individual incidents either through serious reporting and accusations of political backing but my point here is much simpler and does not involve any conspiracy theories.

The Valet Parking business in Lebanon strives because the Lebanese want it. There is a sense of self-importance that immediately surges in the heart and mind of the average Homo Libanis when a guy walks up to his car door and hands him a ticket that holds the not-so-certain promise that he will be taking care of his vehicle. I mean, seriously, how many of us will ever get to walk a red-carpet event. The closest that many will get to being center stage is at their eventually pompous wedding ceremony but imagine if you could feel that important day in day out.

We need not forget the condescending tone, squinted eyes and dropped edges of ones mouth as they reply to the question "where did you park?" by a very nonchalant "I gave it to the parking guy, let him manage with it" (عطيطا لتبع الباركينغ ينقبر ينضرب فيا)

Another added perk to using the valet parking is the privilege of being able to snub other people who do not like to employ the service. Accusing them of being cheap ( شحاد نوطي) or stupid (مجدوب ما بيعرف يرتاح) or sometimes reversing the situation on them and accusing them of being condescending because they refuse to adhere to the social norm: "so his car is more important than ours?"

Finally, you have the ones that rationalize why they subscribe to the valet parking culture by blaming the state for not offering public transportation, for not having proper parking areas or for not offering decent sidewalks.

While I might agree on the fact that the country is lagging behind in infrastructure, I cannot subscribe to the notion that people are no longer able to take a Taxi or an Uber to a destination where parking is difficult. I have been doing this for years and I know many people who would rather choose a different venue for their outing if the only option is for them to hand their vehicle to a guy who will hand you a paper saying that the management of the valet parking service is not responsible for the car or any of its contents.

Long live ValetParkingstan 

My First Day With Uber Beirut


Zaher Hallab on YouTube

When I set off to write this post, it was meant to be called "My First Ride with Uber Beirut". However, I chose to rename it for the purpose of fairness and giving credit where credit was due, since I managed to squeeze in two rides on the same afternoon/evening with two very different experiences.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed that I immediately reached out to Uber Beirut upon news of their launch. I am a big fan of the hailing app concept and have had the chance to try several apps in several countries starting with Romania.

Uber however is not just any app, and regardless of any controversy that you might have heard, these guys have an excellent business model that is spreading like wildfire and I can totally understand why:
What's not to like about the promise of ordering a timely, elegant transport with a courteous driver and a friction-less payment method from the comfort of your smartphone?

My First Ride in Beirut...Uber-Lebanese

I set out heading from Badaro to LAU Beirut on Saturday (2014-07-12), and placed my order at 18:53. Surely enough, I was notified that the driver would be arriving within 4 minutes. So far so good, but 4 minutes later with no car in sight, I followed up with a short text to the driver indicating exactly where I would wait for him, to avoid any confusion.
From there on, things went downhill. It took the driver 32 minutes to reach me. I was seriously panicking that I would not be able to make it on time to LAU.
I called the driver to inquire how close he was as the car seemed lost in a maze of streets in Achrafieh. He assured me he was close to the museum but what I was seeing in front of me suggested something else. I then finally spotted him coming towards me but stopping to ask for direction, so I called him again. He saw me also and hung up as he pulled up.

Click to Enlarge
As you see from the info above, I was off to a bad start, and had less than 30 minutes to get to my destination. Doors were to close at 19:45 at LAU. As I got into the car I was surprised again that the driver was not familiar with the area and did not know how to make up for lost time to make it there, so I co-piloted and navigated him through my usual road.
I must, however, in all due conscience, say that he seemed really apologetic and stressed that he had been so late and he was really helpful and courteous through the ride, adjusting the cooling and proposing me a drink of water since he saw I had been sweltering in the heat for 30 minutes. He also did his best to get me to my destination on time. I eventually made it on time  and got off just 15 meters away from the lower gate although he proposed to drive me exactly there. I did not want us to get caught in the Koraytem road maze.

I was left perplex on what to make of this experience. On one hand, I had waited in the heat for half an hour and lost my chance for a decent seating at the event, on the other, the vehicle and the driver were up to my expectation in terms of quality and behavior.
I still do not want to categorically draw any conclusions and perhaps traffic was hard on the way to Badaro from Abdel Wahab Street although on a Saturday afternoon in summer, Beirut is usually traffic free.

Uber Redeemed by Abbas

After the ceremony in LAU had finished, we decided to grab a bite at the nearby Deek Duke restaurant (Google Map). I wanted to try again taking Uber. My girlfriend had ordered a ride a few hours before me that day and was extremely satisfied. So I opened the app, GPS blasting, and placed an order. A car was assigned to us a few minutes away. I then monitor the driver skillfully avoiding congested roads to make it on time and arriving at the marker that was supposed to represent our location.
However, as we look around, there was no car anywhere near.
I immediately call the driver, and we quickly realize the app had placed us in Bliss not in Hamra. I bare a lot of the responsibility this time as I did not really zoom in and look at the pin.
However, he reassured me he had understood where we actually were, and sure enough, a few minutes later a sparkling new BMW Series 5 pulls up.
A neatly dressed driver disembarks, introduces himself as Abbas, opening the door for us.
Once in the car, he apologizes once more (although he was not to blame for a faulty GPS location in the app) and asks if the air conditioning setting was to our liking and we were comfortably seated. The rest of our drive home was smooth as can be and upon our arrival we got the same royal treatment as when we boarded the vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Sure, some of you will say I am being tough on the first driver and the company, and that a normal Taxi will have lied and weaseled its way out of this, and even not shown up at all.
But you know what? This is NOT a random taxi company managed by some fat-bellied, sweat-dripping, flip-flop wearing driver. I based my expectations on the reputation of what is the fastest growing company in this field. Just consider this: Uber had recently been seeking $12 Billion valuation in its latest funding round

In the entire commotion I had not noticed that I had received a mail follow up. Uber had reacted to the rating of the first drive that I had input on the app even before I got to write this blog post and reacted by giving me a 5$ coupon on the spot. I think this is just one facet of how professional these people are. I also think the driver which I had the unfortunate experience with, has the potential of being an excellent driver as he gets more used to the roads and the process as a whole.
Uber did warn us this was a sort of a "beta" release. Therefore, I will cut them some slack in that area but above all I will thank them for one of the best rides home I have had in a very long time.

Regular Lebanese taxi providers are still in a slumber, but they better wake up really fast and get up to speed with the century. They are about to be heavily outclassed and I honestly do not think they can do anything about it, especially those among them with new fleets and cocky attitudes.


Emotional Blackmail, A Lebanese National Sport

OK, we get it, Lebanese are emotional people. You can tell it by the way they talk loud, get angry fast, kiss an make up faster, love a lot, hate even more and all the picturesque descriptions you can muster up.
But in the midst of all this feelings fest we remain most and above all masters of emotional blackmail.

It starts with kids at a very young age. I have seen them over and over manage to get their way just by faking a cry. You know those tearless cries where the eye muscles don't even twitch? Well, parents are suckers for those and their over-protective nature makes it so they fall for it every time.
But hey, parents are not the only victims here. Flash-forward many years into their old age, and parents will whip out any excuse they have, in order to keep that kid nicely attached to their waist.
From the traditional "wait until the war is over and you will see how great Lebanon will be", to "neighbors don't even say hello to each other abroad", down to " I have a few years left and I want to see your kids grow", they have everything you can imagine up their sleeve.

Recently, brands and official entities have also decided to ride the same wave of shaming/manipulating/arm-twisting/blackmailing targeted at ...yes you guessed it...the Lebanese Diaspora...inviting them into "staying connected" *cough* send us more money*cough*.

Here, check out this collection of ads for yourself:

As unpopular as what I am about to say might be, I will say it: Leave the Expats Alone.

Stop showing them their friends back home with the iconic "I miss you bro", stop showing them weeping mothers to "my heart melts to see you once more", lonely fathers sighing to "I wish my son can come and settle in his village".
They can do well without that single road where there are a few nice trees left (before the latest real estate project took it down *wink*fire*wink*), that sunset that you can catch only from a certain angle (because private resorts block the view most of the time), that Lebanese dish that I am sure they won't miss once they realize they live safely where they are or the plethora of jumping, wiggling, boob-dangling masses at a rooftop bar which have nothing to offer except occasional self-indulgence to forget that we live in total chaos and anarchy.

So before you start humming a pointless melody to make them nostalgic, how about you stop for a second and think why these people left in the first place?
In a country so well oiled like ours they could not have left because of job favoritism due to family ties or other. They definitely did not leave because they escaped death by explosion a few times and they did not leave because someone humiliated them at some random official or unofficial checkpoint. Did they just get up and pack because they realized that every trip in a car is like playing Russian roulette? Or have they just realized that slaving to make ends meet is somehow not that attractive under the Mediterranean sun while some fanatic from either side is sharpening the tools of his trade in some shed.

No, expats left for a reason, and I am pretty sure that if you lay off the emotional blackmail for a while, they will no longer want that "Goat barn in Mount Lebanon", and settle for the comfort of the civilized places they have moved into.

For those who argue that the expats are those keeping Lebanon afloat economically I say: Maybe it is time for this country's economical model to fail instead of always hanging by a thread. Perhaps then, and only then we will really find out if the story of the Phoenix rising from its ashes is true, or just a sorry excuse to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over!


Wooden Bakery Aces Flour Art With David Myriam [Updated]

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted a new TV commercial for Wooden Bakery that clearly stood out from the usual, "good morning neighbor", mushy feel-good sort of ads that we've grown accustomed to on the Lebanese scene.

The ad featured creative live animated work depicting the art of bread making using, what else, flour!

I tried locating the ad but for some reason it was not available neither on their Facebook page nor on their YouTube channel. So I reached out to them and I got notice the video was available now (Published on June 29th)

The TV version I saw did not show the opening credits so my initial reaction was that they got inspired by a highly viral video of an Kseniya Simonova's Sand Drawing on Ukraine's Got Talent and was wondering if and how did they find a local talent that was able to pull this off.

Things became clear when the intro provided special thanks to David Myriam renowned Sand Artist who has been doing amazing work since 2006. You can see some of his work here:

The only thing that seems a bit off is the loaf of bread shown at the end. Shot from above it just looses all appeal and depth. Perhaps an additional frame of with a bit more perspective would have improved this.

Wooden Bakery and their agency really deserve a lot of credit for breaking out of the mold. This is truly creative advertising that is leveraging artwork and introducing a bit of the wow factor we have been clearly missing.

UPDATE (2014-07-11)

Shortly after I released my blog post, Wooden Bakery's Facebook page shared the video. Like any shameless blogger I plugged my piece in a comment under the video. Only a few days later I noticed another comment highlighting another piece of by David Myriam for a...wait for it...yes you guessed it...a Bakery.

Naturally as you see above there was an attempt at justifying this by someone whom I assumed was on behalf of the brand or the agency. Anyway, I let you be the judge of this yourselves by watching the video below. For my part, I can safely retract myself and say "No molds were broken during the making of this ad"