Will the region’s adland ever turn green?

March 31, 2009

Across the world the words ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco’ have become the buzzwords for a host of conscience-tweaking brands, leading some to demand that their advertising agencies mirror these ideals. A new sub-industry of ‘green’ agencies has taken root, whose entire operations centre on their ability to deliver communications of low-environmental impact using eco-friendly technology. But could such set-ups flourish in the Middle East and is the region really ready to think in terms of greener media?

heroes-of-uaeLeading the ‘yes’ vote is Dr. Tony Youssef, CEO of Dubai’s Ecocube, the region’s first eco-centric communications company. “Everybody needs media here and it’s a fast running region. So they started thinking about the environment, but why don’t they start thinking of the environment in the media sector? We can show entities how they can keep doing their traditional media, but instead of using the normal PVC they could use the environmental friendly PVC, which is 60% faster recycled than the normal one. As for the print, instead of the normal print we provide them with chlorine-free print or soy print.”

Though for others, that any campaign could be 100 percent environmentally friendly is a claim to be wary of.

“I think one of the challenges is there’s not much of an evaluation of the total manufacturing process,” says James Duthie, CEO of Touchpoints Consulting, the agency responsible for the environmentally aware ‘Heroes of the UAE’ campaign. “For example, you can print on the most environmentally friendly stock with the most wonderful environmentally friendly inks, but unless you take it right back to the manufacturing process of the product that you’re trying to sell, it’s not going to have an effect.”

In view of the current downturn, other agencies suggest that ecological issues have gone to the back of the queue of clients’ concerns. “As an agency we don’t have a policy to push green initiatives down the throat of our clients. We can direct towards things that we learn about that would be, with an equivalent cost, more of a greener thing. But at the end of the day clients are going to want to know ‘Do they achieve brand awareness? Do they achieve their objectives?” says Clark Williams, COO of Bates Pan Gulf in Abu Dhabi, whose clients include alternative energy specialists Masdar. “To me ‘green’ probably means more expensive.”

Sympathetic to these concerns is Isabel Kurata, managing founder of Act Responsible. The France-based non-profit organisation promotes ethical and eco-friendly practices across the industry and encourages the use of creativity for the greater good. “I think that the pioneers that have already put in a sustainable development process will probably suffer less from the global financial crisis, because they already have made the economies and the savings,” says Kurata. Though she suggests small gestures such as printing less and fully shutting down computers can have a huge impact. “Take it step by step and don’t think ‘I need to be at the top of the mountain,’ before you’ve started climbing it. If the Middle East is not yet the best example, then great, because you’re going to be able to do really good by just doing a few things.”

Anastasiadis quits Saatchi & Saatchi

March 29, 2009

anastasiadissteveSteve Anastasiadis, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi’s Dubai operation, is quitting the agency to return to his native Australia.

His decision represents the latest in a string of high level changes at the agency, which is in the midst of a serious restructure following the arrival of Elias Ashkar as CEO for the Middle East and North Africa last October.

Ed Jones, the network’s former regional creative director, left the agency on what he described as “good terms” in January, but it had become clear that there was no place for him in the new set up instigated by Ashkar, who has the backing of London-based Simon Francis, CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Anastasiadis (pictured), who joined Saatchi & Saatchi’s Dubai outfit in August 2006, said he is due to leave at the end of the month and will be back in Sydney the following week. “I’m looking at a few things in Sydney which I can’t confirm yet, but I’m basically going back home,” he said. “I’ve been here nearly three years and the family was keen to move back. My wife has been offered a position back at an investment bank, and I’ve been talking to people in Australia for a while.”

It is not yet known who will replace Anastasiadis, but he said, “there will be a whole new structure, a whole new team, and a new era”.

Recent arrivals include Joseph Attallah, who joined as chief strategy officer for the MENA region in January, and Danny Higgins, who is the Dubai office’s new creative director.

Jones is due to leave Dubai this week in order to take up a new position as executive creative director of Publicis Groupe in Croatia.

Some serious soul searching is required

March 29, 2009

So Ramsey Naja was right. The aftermath of the Dubai Lynx has descended into a war of words, with fingers being pointed all over the shop.

There is genuine cause for concern surrounding some of the winners at this year’s Lynx and an investigation is fully justified, but there are aspects of the fallout that remind me of the worst traits of the region’s media industry. If certain individuals spent as much time trying to move the industry forward as they do spouting anonymous vitriol, we’d be in a far better position than we are now. This should be an open debate, not an anonymous argument.

Euro RSCG’s Steffan Postaer must be sitting comfortably back in his office in Chicago wondering what the hell’s going on. Here’s a region, according to him, that’s stuck in the 80s and can’t be judged by international standards. That is a worry. How can an industry progress if it is being treated like a child? And – others have already said this – what must the world be thinking as it looks on at the mess that this has become?

Still, all this talk of copycats, scams, frauds and cheats is only one of the industry’s worries. This was not a vintage Lynx year. Apart from the odd exception, the industry appears to have regressed, not progressed. Where was the brilliant and genuine outdoor, where was the inspiring print, why were there so few entries in the integrated category, and why is the industry so fixated with traditional media when the rest of the world is moving on? The organisers of the Lynx went to great lengths to provide valuable seminars that offer guidance into the murky waters ahead. And if you made it to the seminars held by Strawberry Frog founder Scott Goodson and chief creative officer of Pereira O’Dell, PJ Pereira, you would have discovered that the future lies in the creation of bona-fide cultural movements, not two-dimensional executions.

The big danger from all of this, of course, is that agencies will be discouraged from entering future Dubai Lynx awards. That must not happen. It’s the only credible awards show we have, and I doubt we’ll get another. If Cannes Lions can’t succeed, no one will. That’s why the organisers are acting quickly to make sure the integrity of the awards is kept intact and that those who have cheated are punished accordingly. But it’s time for some serious soul searching, because without each other, without a respectable awards show, and without an eye on the future, the industry is going nowhere.

Samsung ‘Jesus’ ads removed from Lynx website

March 28, 2009

jesus1The Dubai Lynx has removed all of FP7 Doha’s winning work for Samsung from its website following a request by the Korean electronics company.

The move has been made in response to the religious fall-out in Lebanon caused by an FP7 Doha ad featuring Jesus taking a photograph of a group of nuns with the new Samsung SL310W.

The ad has been depicted as an attack “against Christian symbols” by certain factions in Lebanon and is causing significant damage to Samsung’s image in the Levant.

FP7 Doha’s Samsung work is currently under investigation by the Dubai Lynx, as is its work for clients Higeen Mouthwash and Nissan. FP7 is also undertaking its own internal ‘fact-finding mission’.

Steve Lane, festival director of the Dubai Lynx, said the presence of the ads on the Lynx website had been fanning the flames of the controversy in Lebanon.

A decision on whether FP7 Doha will be stripped of its awards is expected early next week. If the decisions go against the agency, it could be stripped of its Agency of the Year title. Other FP7 Doha ads have also been removed from the website.

Update: In a statement released by Samsung in Lebanon, the company has categorically distanced itself from the ad.

“The company did not commission, develop or approve the publishing of the religiously insensitive advertisements,” said the statement. “This advertising campaign was produced and submitted by marketing agency, FP7 Doha, without the knowledge or consent of Samsung Electronics.”

Sunny Hwang, president of Samsung Electronics Levant, added: “At no time was Samsung Electronics aware of these advertisements and the company has not approved or commissioned FP7 to create any advertising campaigns. Samsung has the utmost respect for all cultures and religions and would never produce or approve the use of such culturally insensitive advertisements.”

Phillip Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions, the organisers of the Dubai Lynx, said: “We accept all entries to the Dubai Lynx Awards in good faith and trust the agencies competing to be honest and accurate with their submissions and details of client sign off. It appears in this case that FP7 Doha has knowingly tried to mislead ourselves and our jury regarding work they claimed to have created on behalf of Samsung Electronics, which in reality the client had never seen or approved.

“We have openly stated that any submissions to the awards found to be in breach of our entry criteria will be withdrawn and that will be the case here. We will be vigilant in checking all winning entries meet the criteria in all ways, and if they are found wanting then we will act.”

FP7 launches its own internal Lynx investigation

March 26, 2009

FP7 has launched its own investigation into the legitimacy of some of FP7 Doha’s winning Lynx entries.

Azmi Yafi, CEO of FP7, UAE, is leading what he calls ‘a fact finding mission’. He said:  “Yes, we are prepared to take decisive action regarding any submission by FP7 Doha which genuinely contravenes the rules, regulations and the spirit of Lynx.”

Yafi and the management team are looking at every winning or shortlisted entry and investigating the accuracy of all pertinent entry-related information.

“This is not just about winning or losing at Lynx,” said Yafi. “This is about ethics, and practices, and about Promoseven’s responsibility towards our industry.”

The internal investigation was launched by the group’s top management after several allegations about irregularities. Yafi added: “We are looking into the allegations and if we have discrepancies from our end, we will take immediate and swift action to remedy them.”

The move follows the launch of an official investigation by  Dubai Lynx organisers into work for three of FP7 Doha’s clients (see previous post).

Dubai Lynx launches investigation into FP7 Doha’s winning work

March 25, 2009

samsungThe organisers of the Dubai Lynx have launched an official investigation into a string of winning work by FP7 Doha.

The investigation follows the publication of a damning entry on bloganubis, in which the legitimacy of FP7 Doha’s work for clients Higeen Mouthwash, Samsung and Nissan was questioned.

Steve Lane, festival director of the Dubai Lynx, confirmed that complaints had been received from numerous agencies as a result of the blog, as well as from clients.

“There are two or three prongs to the investigation,” said Lane. “With Samsung – specifically the camera campaign – the washing machine and the printers. We’re trying to get to the bottom of whether the camera stuff actually ran and was actually approved.” He added: “I am in contact with Samsung and we are having an ongoing discussion with them, trying to get to the bottom of who exactly said yes to this stuff.”

Lane said official complaints had been received about the agency’s Higeeen mouthwash work. He also confirmed that a campaign for Nissan had been withdrawn from the Lynx shortlist prior to the awards ceremony following complaints from Nissan that the ads were nothing to do with them. Shortlisted work for Matchbox had also been removed.

FP7 Doha was named advertising agency of the year at the Dubai Lynx awards ceremony on 17 March, but is now in danger of being stripped of its title if the investigation goes against them.

The original bloganubis posting was the work of an agency insider going by the alias of ‘John Doh’. He had originally sent his letter to a number of different media, including Campaign.

According to Lane, the Samsung work is being looked into the most seriously.

“If we withdraw any of the stuff that’s actually been awarded, we will recalculate agency of the year,” said Lane. “They [FP7 Doha] may be so far ahead they’ll retain it, but we will see.”

A new age for the region’s media?

March 25, 2009

The region’s first grass-roots professional community will hold its inaugural get together this evening. Adwomen Middle East’s first gathering will be held at Dubai art gallery The Jam Jar from 8pm and promises to be an informal affair “with beanbags and pizza,” said its founder Preethi Mariappan of Dubai’s Ogilvy One. The group will hear two seminars from speakers within the industry as well as seeing showreels of fellow members’ work.

The group’s successful incarnation provides a positive note in a period when, more often than not, inter-agency dealings seem to be defined by ill will. That more than 70 female professionals have signed-up, with the only inducements being to share knowledge and meet their peers, bodes well for the industry’s future.

So are these the early days of a new age for the region’s media – one where openness and collaboration moves everyone forward – or does it represent a false dawn where others are unable or unwilling to follow suit?