The Lebanese Army is renowned for producing classic advertising. Some of the most memorable are the "Who said blood does not turn into water" campaign with former President Emile Lahoud drinking water from Qana after the sacrifices of the soldiers there? Another ad boasting the slogan, "full-eyed country", taken from our national anthem, had a similar powerful effect cementing the army’s role that year.
This year, the army, which celebrates its inception on August 1st, settled on a campaign comprised of two visuals that showcase this simple numerical copy: 24/24/10452 - they protect the entirety of the Lebanese territory round the clock. As a visual, Phenomena, the ad agency behind the campaign, picked the tank with soldiers standing on top of it with the tank’s gun nozzle protruding in the photo.
Yet despite the clear-cut message, the visual received plenty of praise as well as criticisim (Mind you it takes an average of 20 people to keep one soldier on the front logistically grounded. So by choosing that image, the army was, to some degree marginalising its own people) and was seen plastered throughout Lebanon, especially at military checkpoints!
The creative team behind the concept certainly managed to communicate a powerful statement without saying a single word.
Still, this years' crop of brands, which celebrated Army Day was - in the words of Lebanese blogger Claude Al Khal - "obscene" and the word is not misplaced. A sofa, a chair, a bedspread, a car, a cupcake, a pantsuit, a phone, a hamburger, a beach parasol, a bottle of water and the list goes on, were all dressed in camouflage prints to promote and greet the Lebanese Army.
Inserting your brand in whatever the topic du jour is, has become a sport openly inviting everyone to take part. Sure, we, as advertising professionals, are aware of the real-time marketing of the "here and now" and the "You can still dunk in the dark" Oreo tweet during the Super Bowl, as the power went off in 2013 during the game, which epitomised that tendency.
Real-time marketing has opened doors to creating ads based on up to date events, a strategy that has the advantage of garnering immediate feedback from customers. Yet, one of its major drawbacks is quite risky since it is an opportunistic discipline and a new marketing tactic as opposed to the traditional well thought-out campaign, which is usually planned out in advance to launch. This explains why many of the brands that employed such an approach lacked editorial control and made noise rather communicated a message.
Real-time content is often lighthearted and humorous, and if created and published in a timely manner, fits in well with the always on, always up-to-date nature of social media, which has the potential to go viral. The Oreo tweet worked because it was relevant, witty and new. However, because it worked so well, it created something of a storm in marketing making every major event a vehicle for real-time content. But no one foresaw the plethora of ads, which were to follow precisely on the Lebanese Army Day, which made so many cringes. Everyone felt the need to create a relevant piece of content that ties the brand to the event. The problem is that very few were relevant!!
As matter of fact, we are now at the level of lowest common denominator advertising when a house is dressed with a helmet to advertise a dental clinic, or when brands are pushed so irrationally and illogically into advertising just to create a correlation with this and that.
Local brands have advertised furiously in hope of nailing the theme of the day. Their messages were off the mark and distasteful, which, as a result, earned them a lot of bad press instead of praise. The wrong tone or the wrong event can create a backlash that damages reputations, and with little time to edit, there have been some unbelievable fails.
Perhaps one should start with the blunder, which eclipsed everything that day. Virgin Ticketing Office issued a Facebook post (authored by Softimpact) with the line "Keep an eye on us, champ!" accompanied by the visual of an Israeli Defense Forces soldier pointing his binoculars at Lebanese territory. The backlash was understandably violent and Softimpact issued an apology, which amounted to anything but one as they ended up shaming the naysayers who eventually discovered the mistake.
While Virgin Ticketing Office dominated the airwaves, little by little, the ads that trickled - and they were in the hundreds - showed a flagrant lack of creativity. Camouflage this and send off to the presses. The abysmal disaster was truly one of the worst crops when compared to other similar works on such occasions.
There was a time when the army was solely responsible for its image, but these days anyone with access to the Internet, can become "creative" by taking part in such communication. Whereas it is understandable that some brands have no agencies and therefore do things quickly or/and in house, others who deal with surrogates produced some atrocious results, which left us scratching our heads.
Smeds cheese was one of the worst such examples. Trying to insert their tomato paste - or "rebb" in Arabic - into the ad they headlined "may God protect you". The trick is that "rabb" or God, is so close in pronunciation to "rebb" and the rest is part of the advertising annals of shame.
Kababji - a national grill chain - said that the army "grills its enemies", producing another meager ad not worth writing home about.
Tatra, the milk brand, insinuated that they congratulate the army with "hearts whiter than milk" obviously trying to push themselves into the conversation, with varying degrees of success.
While it is desirable to have relevant content that is ripe for sharing, the rush to be part of the minute crowd comes with its own pitfalls. On August first, the online media landscape became cluttered, making it hard to stand out from the crowd. Of course when we get to the level of a hamburger with a helmet, or a beach parasol with army camouflage, or chopsticks as mast for the army flag, then obviously something did go astray.
Actually, so many spoof ads were created, one for Durex with a rather unflattering hashtag, one with Lebanese porn actress Mia Khalifa with the line "it enters everywhere", and one that plays on the word "Nike", which in Arabic is a word for sexual penetration. But the confusion was rampant as to what was "real" and what was a parody since the level of officially branded advertising was so bad.
Should the army have contested the flagrant use of its image, especially since some even altered its sacrosanct logo in the process of doing their own ads? Is it still possible to ban ads out of dignity and misuse of the image when everyone is trying to jump on the train and portray themselves in a sycophantic light?
Naturally everyone wanted to praise the army and shed a positive light while creating some exposure for their brand, which brings us back to the question: Is any advertising good advertising?
However, few exceptions stood out. One is the Smoking Barrels bar, which in the hands of a lesser art director could have flopped but the colours, effects, shotgun traces, and the two cups seen from above as the barrels of a shotgun just make it so lovely and redeeming. The line complements it with "our shots are nothing compared to yours".
Another ad worth applauding comes from Al Rifai roaster brand, which has willingly omitted inserting its logo stating that "Today it's not about us." Though the approach may have been an indirect one, considering the theme, it nonetheless is evidence to good taste and creativity that transcends tact beautifully.
Another well thought out approach goes to advertising agency Clementine, which doubles down with a cute, simple but not simplistic ad accompanied by their own emblem on top of the military tank.
However, when only few exceptions manage to prove the rule, it is worth asking what could be done to limit the damage? Forbidding people from expressing their gratitude to the military is unthinkable and banning them from free exposure to their brands is also wrong. Perhaps we simply have to appeal to their common instinctive sense of dignity because they did disservice to the Lebanese Army brand.
Although some events are sure to generate buzz-worthy situations where brands feel the need to capitalise on, retaining a degree of planning and control is a must to deliver higher quality content with less risk, not forgetting the brand's overall strategy. Last but not least, the only good thing these ads ended doing is encourage a conversation and open a debate around how all this energy and good will could have been put to good use. While some managed to tie their core business model to the brand by capitalising on the occasion, other works proved too ‘wordy’ even distastefully- shameful and a perfect example of what not to do.