Sunday, April 29, 2007

Coffee with Y&R's strategist, Maria Iankova

D: So tell us a little about your professional background…

M: I've been working in the field of marketing, marcom and research for more than seven years already. My career began as a consultant in the area of economic and social development promotion in Bulgaria. Then I moved to North Carolina, USA to complete my MBA and worked on market research and brand management projects for clients from various industries such as Sara Lee Branded Apparel, biotech companies in Research Triangle Park and others.

Formally, I became an account planner in 2004, when I came to the UAE. Initially – at Zaman, a boutique brand consultancy in Dubai , and then – at Young & Rubicam, Abu Dhabi.

Looking back, I believe I've been quite lucky so far because I had the opportunity to work on superb assignments: re-branding of large family holding companies, launches of newly-established corporate brands, product launches… I also got involved in various aspects of planning: from getting consumer insights and brand strategy development to ad testing, developing IMC programs and creative briefing.

That's pretty much about it.

D: How would you describe a snapshot of the UAEs planning scene?

M: In my opinion, planning is still in a state of flux, searching for its own identity and its own place in UAE agencies. There's a lack of unanimity (and clarity)as far as the role and the unique value added of planning are concerned. Thus, the shape that planning assumes in the various agencies depends very much on the philosophy of agency management and the personal strengths of planners.

On the other hand, it's indisputable that large UAE clients do expect deep understanding of their customers' mindset, good knowledge of market trends, and carefully crafted messages that reflect their brand's mantra and vision. Their requirements highlight the value of strategic planning and encourage agencies to strengthen their planning capabilities.
As a person who believes in research, I also can't help observing that the account planning approach in the UAE has become more "scientific". Perception audits, database research, copy testing, campaign evaluations, theoretical frameworks etc. - they are no longer just tools requested by global players, but are being more and more often used for local brands. Which I believe is a great sign that the UAE market is maturing and planners have many more opportunities to base their work on a solid foundation.

D: What in your opinion is the world's greatest proposition?

M: Well, that's an ambitious question :)
I'll tell you one of my favorite ones: Apple's promise of technology for "the crazy ones", so brilliantly articulated through its "Think different" statement.

Stemming from a clear understanding of human needs & motivations. Capturing the essence of the brand. Desirable. Distinctive. Breaking all conventions. Deliverable. Providing an inspiration. Crossing cultures. Relevant over time… It provides all preconditions for building a great brand.

D: Actually one of my favorites as well!
But Maria, today, do you think some people are starting to grow cynical of such communication by realizing the duplicity it represents? 'Creative tools for creative people' telling people to think different when the actuality of the matter is, every tom dick and Harry has an Ipod and every graphic designer an Ibook...Apple today stands for the antithesis of thinking different…it stands for conformity. Do you think such a platform is as powerful today as it was during the anarchistic 1984 campaign?

M: Driven by the desire to capture a larger market share and to demonstrate higher growth to shareholders, companies often face the danger of diluting their brand's equity and making people cynical about their brand claims. But, in my opinion, Apple hasn't reached that point yet and its proposition is still relevant.

Yes, it's true that some of its products like the iBook and the iPod are being adopted by more mainstream users. But, that's what happens when you move down the product lifecycle path. They are facing a challenge and need to think harder on a product level.

I disagree, however, that the corporate brand of Apple stands for conformity. In my opinion, it still keeps its promise and continues to offer innovative, stylish, user-friendly technology for people who expect something beyond the norm. Today, for example, the iPhone is redefining the world of the traditional phone customer and its market entry was almost as powerful as that of the iBook decades ago.

D: Very valid point. What do you think is the most interesting piece of content occupying any medium right now? (movie, print ad, TVC, Youtube, song, game, anything you want)

M: Well, probably Seth Godin's "Idea Virus". I particularly like the thought that ideas spread whether you want them to or not, so you might as well take control.

For me it's also intriguing that it became one of the best selling hard cover books, even though it can be downloaded for free.

D: Damn it's goanna take me a while to read up!!! Thanks for sharing.
So if you were conducting this interview what would you have asked yourself?

M: was hoping you would skip that question :)

Probably I would ask: Which is rule of thumb/ philosophy/ generic insight/ principle that guides you in your work as a planner?

Personally, I try not to forget two things:

1. People don't say what they do and don't do what they say. So, be careful with the insights. :)

2. "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence rests in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." (Sun Tsu) – There's a very nice article by Simon Silvester, which explains how this is relevant to planning. (LINK HERE)

D: Maria, really glad we managed to chat, thanks so much for taking time out for us :) Good luck at Y&R.

note: The opinions expressed in this conversation are those of the respondent and may not always reflect those of Y&R.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

All blogged out...

So this week has been one of those weeks, were every Idea I cough up precedes a series of moments consisting of awkward silence and a long drawn out ‘yeeeeaaahh thanks for that Nic’. One of those weeks, where my focus bears a resemblance to a toddlers’, I can’t read past a paragraph and if I do so, I’m on autopilot. Never thought a book could sometimes transpire into a passively consumed medium where I’m simultaneously reading about ‘The changing value of brands’ while asking myself what the difference is between parsley and coriander...Yes it has been one of those weeks, were my output resembles that of a pug…
So in a nutshell, im all blogged out, got nothing to write, nothing of any value to say, nothing to rant on but my inability to rant… But I’m not too worried, as they say ‘It will pass’.

Thankfully a fellow blogger, colleague and friend is on a role at Telecomadvertising… Fadi Khater is definitely on to something interesting with his impulse advertising.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Coffee with JWTs creative director, Mazen Fayad

D: What’s an award and how come we have so many of them?

M: Naturally, as people, we need to be recognized and acknowledged. It's a need that motivates us and - in most of the times - massages our egos. We created awards simply because a tap on the back wasn't good enough for mass recognition. So many people in so many fields with diverse specializations who simply want to be more than wallflowers. They want to get up and celebrate with the ego parade. Very human. Some smart people, saw an opportunity there, as a new market development, a lucrative area for expansion..etc. They capitalized on these people's longings and behaviors and hence the various award ceremonies.
At the end of the day, we all seek a certain form of immortality. We want to see our names chiseled somewhere other than our tombstones since that we won't end up seeing anyway!!

D: True true, but Mazen we have more award ceremonies than heart surgeons, police institutions and non profit organizations…Why isn’t there a market there? Would you label us a supersuperficial industry?

M: Heart surgeons have their Freddie's and other guild awards, police institutions have their medals and non-pofit organizations... well this is interesting, they have a CAUSE and it's selfless, hence their prefix: non-profit. But never underestimate their bloating (after achieving a certain environmental, humane,...objective) in the form of press releases to achieve their award, more funding!

Idealistically, awarding oustanding achievement in relation to the respected field is hardly an act of superficiality. However, winning in a class C award ceremony just because the great ones weren't there, and then shouting it from roof tops is non-debatable hypocrisy (prefix needed)... again whatever it takes to satisfy the need for recognition...we all know what we're worth and we all have a tendency to multiply its projection. Then again, you can debate superficiality becoming the norm if we take things at face value.

D: What in your opinion is the most interesting piece of content occupying any medium right now?

M: By far, it's the Mcdonald's Sundial Outdoor!
Enough said.

D: In their essay on The Media Society Fred & Farid of ex Marcel, stated quite adamantly that we, as advertisers, are by far the worst storytellers out there and clients could get more for less by simply throwing their money in Hollywood’s direction… Your thoughts?

M: Interesting article and quite amusing... funny enough it was written at a time when I had had enough of advertising and had started film directing.
Look at me now, answering your question after having sold my soul back to the devil, but for a better bargain :)

I agree that generally we are not as good story tellers as Hollywood is or the likes of it. It's simple, films are in the business of entertainment. We are in the business of business - less contraints. Now how boring is it that I couldn't find a better synonym for what we do for a living. Moreover, how pathetic is it that our story is assessed on the basis of making business sense rather than building a certain affinity with people. I also agree that people love a good story and need to be moved. They are ready to pay handsomely for the prospect of excitement even if it's at the expense of truth. Give me something interesting to rattle about irrespective if it's real, fabricated or tweaked and I'll ensure you a quick word of mouth. Have you ever wondered why 5 tabloids in the UK rank before The Times and the other newspaper spreadsheets in daily circulation? It's one of the best examples where content prompts circulation rather than frequency force feeding the content.

Now having said that, there are two very important points I'd like to tap on regarding getting more for less from Hollywood.

1-Statistically speaking what makes a blockbuster movie is a viewership rate of only 5-7% of the nation's population. Now at best, and it's hard to assess because its stratified segmentation, how much of that population is your brand's target? How about the non- blockbuster movies? The rate definitely drops. It's risky but good for general by the way branding or new product introduction that caters for the masses. But I see it more of a supplement, a complimentary medium.

2- What happens to the brand image, identity, character? Will it change and metamorph with every Hollywood story?

D: but couldn’t you make the same claim for the over stratification of the television audience?

M: That's one of the vices of mass communication. You can't avoid the spill-over factor but you can try to control it. With TV it's easier since you can pick both the programs that appeal to your desired target and the time of day to catch them. However, television proved to be a better medium not only for nailing a specific target group but also in the integration of engaging brand stories. Sunsilk has done it twice so far. Once with "Hairapy" and another with "Love Bites".

The resulting "Hairapy" program centered on a Sex and the City-inspired promotion with gay male characters showing up in ads and on the streets to help women get through their various hair traumas. The Hairapy guys offered their version of tough love to women in need of honest feedback about their problem hair, creating a snarky tone that jibed nicely with the personality of the brand.
Where as the mega succes came afterwards with "Lovebites", a 2 minutes episode mini series produced to promote Sunsilk's haircare products. They ran on HBO right after "Sex and the City" reruns. The New York Post wrote the following about it:

"Lovebites" represents a striking change in television advertising and the latest thinking on Madison Avenue: An ad should not only be as entertaining as the show, it should be the show.The series, consisting of 65 episodes, has averaged a 0.5 rating - equal to or better than the numbers cable channels such as VH1, BET and Bravo put up in prime time."

D: So from an adman to a director back to an adman, you think you’ve found your calling? What is Mazen Fayad goanna be doing this very second when he’s 60?

M: As usual, rebounding ;)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I always promised myself I would never promote the agency I work at on this blog or discuss any issues related to it but we are looking for good people to fill in some new vacancies and I know this is one place to find some. That, and I have published vacancies for Bren’ at Saatchi before so hey why not my own agency!

Anyhow, I’ll testify to the fact that Leo is a great place to work, with good people and good management…Rarely do you get an agency where an MD pops around every morning to ask everyone how they're doing and actually listens to their replies. Even rarer to find an agency where a balding regional executive creative director hits the beach with agency peasants like myself.
Genuinely good people here and a passion to do good work.

For those living abroad and want to trade in their umbrellas and tax forms for flip-flops, this post also extends to you.

For further propogation I’ve put up the above pics with some captions (click to enlarge) to give you a deeper look into the agency life and stuff you wont find on our website or in communicate magazine.

So here are positions:

Account Handlers



Art Director
Senior Art Director/Associates
English Copywriters

For those interested or who know of anyone who would be contact who unlike most HR staff is a sweetheart.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Coffee with BBDO strategist Omar El Gammal

D: So Omar, you’ve recently made the jump from account handling to planning, any advice you would offer someone wanting to make the same transition?

O: Be persistent. Most people will try to convince you to stay within account management with tempting offers and the promise of moving into planning later. It's not that they have bad intentions – it's just because it's so tough to find/keep talented and dependable people that manage and build a relationship with a client. If you really want to get into planning though, don’t put it off – keep at it and stick to your guns because the right door will open up if you keep looking.

Some people will also tell you that there isn’t a strong demand for planners in the region and that opportunities are scarce and the career ladder is slow. The reality is that more clients are demanding strategic planning and a deeper understanding of consumer insights and market trends. More and more agencies are opening or expanding planning departments as a result. Media conglomerates have already picked up on the need for it and are also evolving their various strategic departments. Planners are going to be in big demand the more savvy consumers get and the more competition tightens. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise should start looking for another industry to work in.

Finally – make sure you're really into planning and not just running from the day-to-day of a client servicing job. If you think planning means you get to do all the fun stuff just without contact reports and cost estimates – you're probably right, but there's a lot more to it than that. Planning is not about being the philosopher and creating fun looking presentations – it's about being able to analyze loads of research and your own observations and pinpoint what really matters to consumers and how that can make your brand more successful. You can make as many colorful presentations, edits and philosophical statements as you want – if they don’t actually lead to better creative that builds business than your role as a planner is useless. If you’re not ready for that, planning is not for you.

D: You seem to have developed a pretty good grasping of exactly what planning is so early on when you’ll find some seniors still struggling with the definition. Why do you think it’s the case?

O: There are different kinds of planners and different agencies have different definitions of what a planner should be. In some places, their role is purely a 'new business' role. In others, planning is just a fancy word for a research department. In some agencies, planners are there to make the creative better. It really depends on what the agency's philosophy is and how management look at the role of planning in the brand building process.

Planning is really what you make of it at this stage in the region as it's still quite a young discipline (here) and it will still evolve further to suit the region and its consumers.

The funny thing is, I'm still learning more and more about 'what planning is' every day. What I know today is mainly from reading and personal experience. It will probably evolve as my experience as a formal planner grows.

The one unshakable truth I'm sure of though is that our responsibility is to better understand our consumers and uncover insights that will build a brands business. If a planner, senior or not, is not about getting brands to connect with consumers and result ultimately in higher sales – than something is very wrong and they should rethink their role.

D: What about future job prospects for planners?

O: Anywhere you find a need to understand and connect with consumers. Design agencies, new product development departments, branding consultancies – anything and everything that needs to communicate with consumers will need to understand consumers. That's why you see in the West, planners have started to find prospects on the client side (Russell Davies for Nike for example).

Whether or not planners will stay in the confines of the ad agency is in the hands of the ad agency itself. If agency managements recognize the opportunity in their clients' needs, than that's where our job prospects are. If not, we'll definitely be in demand elsewhere.

D: Ok so, what worries you enough to keep you up at night and what excites you when it comes to planning?

O: The answer to both those questions is the same: Ideas.
Ideas that I believe in but can’t make others believe in.
Ideas that I fear I won’t end up acting on.
Ideas that don’t mean anything to anyone.

Those are the things that make me worry most.

Likewise, what I love about planning is the challenge to come up with ideas that are original and relevant.

It's almost like I have little voices in my head constantly going off on tangents and getting excited over ideas – some stupid and some not. Yet there's nothing as wonderful as uncovering an insight.

There's a very good article I read recently by Jeremy Bullmore about how a good insight is like a refrigerator – the moment you look into it a light comes on. Love it.

D: So what question would you have asked yourself had you been conducting this interview?

O: That one. No, not really. I guess I would ask 'If you had the chance to get any job in the world right now what would it be?' (a classic lunch break favorite). For me I'd say it's a toss up between a planner at Nike and ditching the rat race to sell tacos & margaritas on the beach.

D: Omar, we know from personal experience that BBDO made one hell of a good decision by bringing you on board, we wish you all the best.
Thanks so much for chatting with us!

O: A pleasure X. Or the blogger formerly known as…

Monday, April 09, 2007 launched by Fadi Khater

So the first Telecom Advertising blog kicks off...What better place to do it from then the Middle East and what better person to do it than Leo Burnett’s' Fadi Khater (aka Hat Sauce). With 5 years telco ad experience, 3 launches, a passion for...'hardware' and a seriously cynical outlook on life…his blog should make for an interesting read.

Here is a tidbit of his latest post on what it would be like to have coffee with Robocop.

A conversation with Robocop

Fadi Khater (

Tone of Voice: “Our brand needs to sound human, and our copy should read as if you are having a conversation with someone over coffee”

Brand Values: Approachable, Honest, Humble, and Friendly.

If your dreaded brand guideline booklet does not have any resemblance to the above, I’m sure you have come across many brands that do. As trivial as it may sound it is the sole yet high rising and mighty pillar that holds up marketing managers’ false sense of hope. Everyone wants to have an approachable brand that is friendly and human-like; but is setting strict communication guidelines and adhering to preset values the best way to do it? Do you actually set guidelines, values, and conversation parameters before you go out to have coffee with your friends? Imagine that, human beings with tone of voice guidelines…I believe the closest we can get to imagining that would be a cup of coffee with Robocop.

read the rest of the article here