After three days of high impact conferences, an epic storm and lots of snow, the eighth MENA Cristal Festival came to an end on Thursday. The festival, launched in 2005 by the organizers of the Cristal Festival Europe, recognizes the best advertising creations from different media as selected by juries of international and regional advertising professionals. But it also acts as a forum for advertising executives to share ideas, debate approaches and ponder the future of the industry.
Among the biggest attractions was the star guest. Having previously hosted former Soviet Union chief Mikhail Gorbachev and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, the awards have a record of high-profile figures. This year the keynote speaker was Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper who set the world record for skydiving an estimated 39 kilometers and breaking the sound barrier in October last year.
What, you might ask, does an athlete – albeit an incredibly brave one – have to do with advertising? Well while the event may have broken records and been a true representation of a human’s physical capacity, it was also an advertising spectacular – having been sponsored by Red Bull and streamed live on the internet.
“They say Felix did the jump, but its not just the jump; it’s the first and biggest operation of brand content ever done in the world because behind Felix is Red Bull and behind that is online video, YouTube, the new era of communication,” says Christian Cappe, director of the Cristal Festivals in an interview with Executive.
With a “Born to Fly” tattoo on this right arm, Felix described how it felt to free fall and break the speed of sound, how he signed death papers before going off for his endeavor, how his parents felt about his ambitions and what his future projects are. The Austrian also suggested his days of crazy stunts may be coming to an end as he plans on pursuing his dreams of becoming a helicopter pilot.
While Baumgartner took the headlines, there were also awards handed out to the Middle East’s advertising agencies and media companies during ceremonies held over two nights. Numerous awards were given in 13 categories, with FP7/RUH & Initiative, KSA, JWT Beirut and Impact BBDO Beirut among the winners. For advertising firms, Leo Burnett Beirut took the ad agency of the year award while JWT Beirut took ad network of the year.
Several senior executives in the advertising industry in the MENA region also gave speeches to a packed auditorium during the festival. CEO of Impact BBDO – one of the Middle East’s leading advertising agencies – Dani Richa compared his communication needs to his 13 year old daughter’s needs and suggested they are the same – from corresponding with friends to sharing photos to texting and calling yet only the means have changed.
Farid Chehab, Leo Burnett’s Beirut chairman, also held a highly anticipated presentation. Entitled “10 ways for 1 million returns”, Chehab presented 10 insights he claimed pertain to how people operate – from “people love to follow” to “people love to fight” – recommending that brands engage with people based on these insights.
Several other senior executives presented during the festival from the BBC’s Tom Bowman to Souheil Soueid, Google’s head of agencies MENA. An engaging panel discussion comprised of Roy Haddad, executive director of WPP MENA, Yasser Akkaoui, this magazine's chief editor, Michel Bou Abboud, general manager of Air France KLM Lebanon and Ahmad Nassef, Vice President and Managing Director of Yahoo Middle East and Africa debated the challenges for agencies and publishers aiming to create more engaging online advertising.
As the festival comes to an end and the sun comes up, advertising executives leave the mountains – some might be hitting the slopes ahead of another year of hard work in a challenging and evolving advertising industry.
In our March issue, Executive will be featuring a special report on Lebanese in the advertising industry.