June 5, 2012

Locating Beirut

This part of the world is boiling. Arab spring this, Arab spring that, and everyone has an underpinning theory and outcome scenarios.

Locating our strange and terrible ciTy in the middle of this murky regional state of affairs is intricate. We hold our breath with every burning tire and we summon the gods of composure to bestow upon our fellow ciTizens the gift of intelligent speech. Above all, we keep hoping that the very little we have built so far would not be allowed go up in flames.

Thorny is the road to democracy in this part of the world, which makes us stand out as quite unique in the region: an imitation democracy, a society indulging in the practice of representative government, but utterly inexperienced in the founding principles of such a system.

The lack of job opportunities, the continuous brain drain, unemployment, no sustained economic growth, the underworld of nepotism and corruption, the ever thinning middle class layer, the debt fueled political system - all of which will never provoke an upheaval of the masses. We have our safety valves: guaranteed freedom of conscience, of thinking, of expression, of gathering, of association, of movement – all to a large extent - and of entrepreneurship. Under the feeble cover of democratic practices lies a terrible economic and socio-political dejection. But the grassroots have enough safety valves to let the steam off.

April 30, 2012

Why Lebanon will never be Egypt

I came across the summer 2011 issue of Bidoun and it opened a chapter. Rarely do I keep last year's publications, but this one was still around as obstinate as the Arab Spring. Flipping through it, the content unfolds in a series of articles, with small headers in bold print: “Egypt is not Libya, Egypt is not Tunisia, Libya is not Egypt, Egypt is not Gaza, Egypt is not Iran, Iran is not Egypt (yet), Jordan is not Tunisia, Libya is not Iraq, why Algeria is not Egypt, Syria is not Egypt or Libya, etc.”

And Lebanon is Lebanon. Do we answer the ancestry question as being Lebanese, Arabs, Middle Eastern, Phoenicians? I ask. Is the latter even an ethnicity to associate our cultural identity with? The closest we are to a population census is a wavering figure between 3.6 and 4 million. If we are indeed 4 million, then there are 4 million ways to being Lebanese. That is why Lebanon will always be Lebanon.

March 26, 2012

What about March in the ciTy?

Twice celebrated on women’s day, and mother’s day. Besides the commercial hype of the latter occasion, what about the woman? 
4:1 ratio, competing for the scarce male counterpart; nose job; Botox dolls; confetti outfits; glittering heels; fallen; virtuous; elegant; fashionable; libertine; libérée; conservative; sexual; faithful; unconventional; sexy; fragile; beautiful; modern; superficial; committed; feminine; oriental; and the list could go on. But beyond the universally obvious: she is half the world and larger than life. She is powerful but unaware of how powerful she is. Forgetful or oblivious of that, she sometimes asks to be empowered or treated equally, with unfinished “we can” slogans. SHE has yet to discover the great power she owns:  that of raising the generations that will rule one day, the generations that will shape the future of this region. How ambitious is that. I ask.

February 23, 2012

Only Lebanon: suffering from SLS syndrome?

The Suffocating Lack-of State (SLS) syndrome is not yet at its most acute stages. Only Lebanon, or the illusion of democracy? Surrounded by devastating totalitarianism, stifling dictatorships, debilitating monarchies, consuming extremism, enlightened fundamentalism, and what have you. Only Lebanon, a true democracy by regional standards, with incapacitating SLS syndrome: a de-facto dictatorship, where ciTyzens are incapable of influencing the decisions - or lack of, for that matter - affecting the quality of their lives. State builders for social foundations and economic reform - where are you? I ask.

February 1, 2012

Are we stuck in 1984?

With the promise that technology would set us free?
In a recent AdAgeDigital article, 3D Modeling, Wifi Sensors, and Augmented Reality, are three new technologies with the potential to ‘change the way we shop (full article). Guest blogger Jad Sarout shares his POV (Point Of View) of on the matter - no pun intended, just a free standing opinion under the new-tech sun of our strange and terrible ciTy.

Jad says: “Interesting, but in my opinion these ‘new technologies’ are not capable of changing how we behave towards shopping unless they play the game by the new rules: free access and free sharing of information without control or censorship. For example, 3D modeling will remain, at best, able to attract attention as a novelty, unless it gears towards social sharing. I was once commissioned for a 3D clothes modeling project. This was the single selling point. A mentality where you build and sell your own investment story to your consumers. But in increasing numbers, they don't care where you put your money. Build a genuine story with your consumers, and let them do the work. Just look at Google. They don't need to market. They just release great products, users  do the rest. Google, of their own confession, spend a huge sums for a faster Internet, because the easier it is for users to interact, the better Google's sales. So instead of spending on marketing, they invest in their users. Everyone wins. CDs didn't change the way users behaved towards music; Myspace did. Better ads didn't change the way consumers reacted to online product shopping; customer reviews on ebay did. What will mutate the way we shop is users generated content, sharing, and free access to information. I might be wrong. Future will tell.”

And the Macintosh ad is still vivid in my mind, when Apple came with the promise that “1984 won’t be like 1984”. As marketers go back to the drawing board trying to understand how new technologies will shape the way consumers shop – are we still stuck in 1984? I ask.

December 22, 2011

11 Reasons why Santa quit his Job

My wish list to Santa this year:
1- less nepotism (aka wasta)
2- less bribe and forgery
3- more Foreign Direct Investment
4- less sectarian mind sets
5- less political tribalism
6- more citizenship
7- less drugs for the youth
8- less attacks on girls on our ciTy streets
9- less littering and polluting
10- less delinquent driving habits
11- and no tearing down of the Theatre de Beirut...
And that's when it occurred to me that Santa might quit his job. Since many young at heart still believe in the magic of this season, let me not rain on their parade.
Season's Greetings and best of health to you and yours!

November 18, 2011

My country is not ambitious

A boy soldier billboard campaign on our ciTy streets in anticipation of our nation's Independence Day. The big message that came across from my point of view: my country is not ambitious. Anything can be branded. If we agree on that premise, and on the basic definition of branding being the process of creating a defined image at mind level, then our national Independence Day campaign is the illustration of a country running out of intangible attributes. Try giving into the exercise of making the sum of the parts that define what my country stands for and you will face the question: is it about time our institutions started hiring brand managers. I ask.