With Bank Audi, Exotica and Johnnie Walker among their clients in Lebanon, Leo Burnett Beirut recently received international recognition by being ranked the sixth most creative agency in the world, according to the Big Won 2012 Rankings, published by London-based Directory magazine. The report also ranked Bechara Mouzannar, chief creative officer (CCO) of the agency’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as fourth-best CCO in the world. To discuss what it takes for Lebanese advertisers and agencies to be internationally recognized, Executive sat with Mouzannar as well as Kamil Kuran, managing director of Leo Burnett Levant, and Nada Abi Saleh, deputy managing director of Leo Burnett Beirut.
- Congratulations on Leo Burnett’s recent ranking. What does this recent recognition represent and what is the key to Lebanese success in the advertising industry?
Kamil Kuran (KK): It shows that anything is possible for any Lebanese. It can be done. It became reality through Lebanese people living and working here, and not abroad. Look at any [advertisement] that won; it tells something about the local culture, the Lebanese society, how we behave and communicate. This is what a lot of international judges and award shows find interesting.
Nada Abi Saleh (NAS): The beauty of the win is that it is based on Lebanese talent, that it is a local campaign with local insight and yet, it incorporated the window that Leo Burnett as a global network offers us. We are very receptive to integrate all global marketing and communication trends, yet what sets us apart is the local insight. We were true to what we stand for, to ourselves, to our culture, our people, our talent and our origins.
Bechara Mouzannar (BM): Today we are thinking local and acting global. From your office in Lebanon, you are doing a campaign in Lebanon but it has a resonance abroad. Today advertising and communication are not about the star product, the magic and the miracles. It is about an idea that is relevant to human beings. If you come with a new idea, an observation, something they feel, makes them talk, makes them part of your campaign, then you achieved something.
- What campaign are you proudest of?
KK: What really transformed this agency in essence and time was the [2009 campaign] Khede Kassra [developed for the Hariri Foundation with an aim to empower women]. It was so simple and insightful.
NAS: We used to do [these sorts of campaigns] long before [Khede Kassra] with many brands. It has always been in our DNA but now we manage to package it and sell it more on an international map.
- Tell me about a campaign in which you faced significant challenges…
BM: During the war in 2006, some left and some stayed. Bridges were being blown up; people couldn’t move around. We wanted the world to know about it. How can we do that? CNN and other media [avenues] don’t relay this information. There were people in the office here that got the idea of a broken bridge with the man of Johnnie Walker on the other side of the bridge. The client loved it right away. He wanted to go to print straight away. The ad was featured on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, etc. Abroad they were very happy that Johnnie Walker was helping the Lebanese express an opinion but then [the client] forbade it. A whole argument arose that this is a conflict. Why is a brand taking a stand for Lebanon instead of Israel? A brand that is international should not take those stands. The president of Cannes Lions [International Festival of Creativity] wanted us to send [the campaign to be nominated for an award] and we could have won [a Cannes Lion] award three years earlier than when we won, but the client refused.
- What are the biggest trends in the advertising industry? Is it still the growth of digital advertising?
KK: For Lebanon, the MENA region and globally, the biggest trend is that people don’t have time for you anymore. You are intrusive, so unless you can grab attention in an interesting way, you cannot achieve anything. It is not digital per se, it is everything. The mindset is totally different. The trend is engagement. It’s the name of the game.