Sunday, May 14, 2006

Coffee with Lowe Dubai Copy Writer, Ma'n Abutaleb

DC: What role do Arabic copywriters currently have in the region?

MA: A passive one at best. Arabic writers in this market are on the receiving end. They get handed the idea - whether for print, outdoor, TV etc - and then they force it into Arabic. Arabic writers rarely participate during the thinking stages, and when they do, their contribution is minimal.

The reason behind this sad state of affairs is that agencies want it this way for penny-pinching reasons, and the writers think that this is the way it should be. Arabic writers translate. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure it falls under polished labels such as adapting, rewriting and “arabizing”, but that’s all crap. It is precise, safe, politically correct translation.

DC: Someone made a comment on the scarcity of Arabic conceptiualizers in the region. Do you feel the region holds an abundance of Arabic conceptualizers.

MA: They are very scarce indeed. And anyone who argues against this should just take a look around at all the advertising being produced. The good advertising is in English, and its “arabized” version hardly works.

Some have a way around this, and it’s called the visual pun. Sham of all shams. Visual puns hardly ever work in English or Arabic. Using an element of the Arabic culture like a cup of coffee in a visual pun – we’ve all seen that a million times - does not carry an idea. It is a shallow, overused form of advertising that the whole world has put behind. Yet here it is the first and favourite solution.

What we lack is idea driven advertising, that is born from contemporary Arab culture and that recognizes its potential as a rich source of inspiration.

DC: So if you owned your own agency and had full autonomy to hire, fire and structure, what would be different from the traditional agency?

MA: I would set up a department that develops ideas relevant to the market. Irrespective of the language used. The department would comprise of Copywriters (without a preceding adjective) Art directors, and planners. Planners play a huge part in developing ideas that are relevant to the market. And yes they will – and already are in many world-leading agencies – work as part of the creative team.

I would separate Editors and have them as a team of their own and as part of the studio. Those guys will be responsible for all the brochures and proofreading.

The creative head that runs the department will have to trust his Arabic conceptualizers and see the potential within the local culture to inspire great advertising.

DC: Arabic is known to be much richer than the English language, how would adapting the other way work? By adapting Arabic poetry to English the results would be much poorer than the other way around. Your thoughts on this?

MA: The Arabic language is indeed very rich, and was one of the richest languages in the world. But I doubt this is true at the moment. English– being the dominant language – developed at great speed and acquired new lingo that enables it to serve the growing arrays of communication. Arabic on the other hand - which was definitely richer than English when the Arabs and the Muslims were at the frontier of cultural and scientific developments - have failed in the past decades to evolve and add new vocabulary that convey new notions, concepts, even descriptions, and of course technical terms.

The fact that classic Arabic is not used anymore and was replaced by many different accents doesn’t help either. Still, this is gradually changing now, and there is a version of the language that’s picking up slowly. We don’t really feel it, but it’s there. If you listen to some of the football matches now, the commentary is done in a subtle, beautiful, very accessible classic/slang Arabic that everyone understands and relates to. Even in contemporary Arabic literature, this new form of Arabic is being used more and more and is gaining in popularity, and this is the Arabic we should use in advertising.

DC: Some marketers insist that Arab consumers don’t read period!, Your thoughts?

MA: This one is a favourite amongst idea killers. And it’s absolute bullshit. This claim is not based on any kind of research whatsoever, and is just a way to hide behind bad advertising.

If this claim is true, then who reads all the newspapers out there, who reads all the daily columns, who reads the sports page and the horoscopes, who reads the business news and who buys all these Arabic magazines and books out there. Or is it that all journalists, poets, writers novelists and reporters are living a big lie and they’re oblivious to the fact that their work goes straight to the trash.

There are new magazines and publications in Arabic everyday, and they have a market and they are successful. To the purveyors of this condescending, rude, unsupported assumption I say, write something interesting enough, and people will read it.

DC: Any advice for Arabic creatives trapped in translating houses?

MA: First of all, think why you got into advertising in the first place - since you’re interested in your job enough to read this blog - you’ll probably remember that great ad that gave you goose bumps and made you think “this is must be the coolest job in the world” If this happens, then worry not my friend.

Tomorrow morning, go to work as usual, sneak into your CDs office, and snap one of them “creative” briefs that never seem to make it to your desk. Now push all the donkeywork aside for a few hours and think. Think Hard. Come up with a few ideas that are on brief, sketch ‘em up and present them to your CD. If he welcomes your “intrusion” into the creative realms and is willing to discuss the ideas – they have to be worthwhile of course – and maybe even tells you to develop one of them, then you have no problem. All you have to do is make sure you squeeze yourself in briefing sessions and work a few extra hours every night until no one can deny your contribution to the creative output of the agency.

If, however, the CD dismisses your ideas immediately, and reminds you that you have a brochure to deliver in an hour, then go back to your desk. Put your book together, update your CV and immediately call your recruitment agent.

Advertising is the rock and roll of the business world, and I’m sure you haven’t been rocking lately. Don’t be scared. Look for a better job, maybe in a small creative hot shop somewhere, might be a rough ride, but you’ll end up getting a job as a COPYWRITER and nothing else. And you’ll do ads you’re proud of and you will rock and roll.

Many thanks Ma'n for your time!


Anonymous Wal said...

Great Ma'n it's good to know there are people like you. I just might take your advise on stealing a brief from the creative director

11:36 AM  
Anonymous She' said...

I totally agree with your point:
"Arabs have failed in the past decades to evolve and add new vocabulary ..." This is something we struggle with everyday ... when like you said "we adapt" work from English. This is one of the many things the Arabs have failed to evolve.

Despite the richness of our language I don't think we even have a thesaurus in the arabic language.

On that new use of language... could you shed some more light on that ...

12:05 PM  
Anonymous 4597 said...

very well put... couldn't have agreed more.

you're the MAN Ma'n ...

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not an Arabic creative but your point pretty much trancends all language barriers. Its comes down to the all important "idea". a crap idea will be crap in any language.

Its good to see Arabic creatives/ creatives in general taking a more aggresive role to the belief in a great idea and proving to the rest of the middle East that Dubai isn't about corny, cliche Real estate advertising.

Ma'n, its good to hear the passion and glad to know that there are people out there in this industry who give a shit. Keep on rockin'...

12:24 PM  
Blogger X said...

So Lowe are indeed starting out on the right foot.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question, I don't speak Arabic but I'd like to know people who have grown up in the middle east or are fluent in Arabics thoughts on the Barbican Campaign by face2face.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Spin Dr. said...

Based on your answer to DC's question:

"So if you owned your own agency and had full autonomy to hire, fire and structure, what would be different from the traditional agency?"

I'd say you should brace yourself for a great influx of CV's when you run your own agency!!

"Chapeaux bas" to Lowe...

3:01 PM  
Blogger tokara said...

How can a language as old and diverse as Arabic emanating from some of the world's richest cultures be accused of being devoid of conceptualisers?

As an expat in the ME, and a new one at that, it is totally incomprehensible to me that this region can be accused of a lack of imagination. Or perhaps the expats don't want thinking from people whose language they don't understand.

Rise up copywriters of the Arab world. Your time is here. Follow Ma'n's advice and polish your porti's. The advertising world awaits your long overdue contribution, and your consumers will love you and your brands for it too.
And ignorant of the region as I am, I challenge anyone to explain to me how this place is not brimming with homegrown talent.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ma'n... There is so much promise in your enthusiasm. It defiantly brings hope.
Now I am what you creative people call “THE SUIT” and what you guys don’t realise is that there are so many complications to what you are saying.
I trust my creative team and wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of their brilliant ideas sometimes. I do push my Arabic writers to sit with us on any new brief! I would fight till right before the end. With that I mean I was this close many times to loose my job, but I don’t know what is the point in loosing it and loosing another soldier at the battle front?
Business owners, agency heads, CEOs, Regional Directors, etc…. all of those people who are TOO BUSY, TOO BIG FOR SMALLER THINGS that are the core of their business. How many times have I heard someone saying: “well if the problem is the CEO, then why don’t we meet with him?”. The simple truth of this fact is that they wouldn’t want to get down to business or else they would be looked down at!!!
All I’m saying, it takes time and effort. It takes passion.
All the best.
And by the way, I am an Arab and a fluent English speaker! I couldn’t hate something more than people saying that everything in Arabic is 3rd class, and that English ads are better than Arabic ads always. I believe that as you said we should plant some courage in the heart of the writers and get them to start from within!

11:44 AM  
Blogger X said...

"Rise up copywriters of the Arab world. Your time is here. Follow Ma'n's advice and polish your porti's. The advertising world awaits your long overdue contribution, and your consumers will love you and your brands for it too"

Tokara, I loved this paragraph.

2:10 PM  
Blogger tokara said...

So I see no one is prepared to take me up on my challenge? Interesting that. I wonder if the comment is a little too close to home.......

12:55 PM  
Anonymous farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

Guys in Saudi are doing some exciting stuff. Did anyone see the grilled falcon ad by the funny people at 3Points advertising - this agency claims that its strength is local talent.

I have worked with a lot of Arabic copywriters and most are very literary people who write language that is not spoken. There is somehow a fear of writing in ads colloquial Arabic.

But things are changing.

If only we could get some young and funny people in the business, people who are not afraid to write as people speak. And write fun stuff.


3:00 PM  

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