Blogs & Comment

Less of the stupid and less of the pretension

By Ramsey Naja, chief creative officer, JWT MENA

“Stupid; and pretentious to boot”. As a means to sum up a person, this Lebanese phrase is one of the most insightful you can find. It’s the kind of thing that military personnel should wear as a badge, along with anything connected with pomp and circumstance. But it also applies to much of the advertising we see around us in the region.

Now let me make myself clear: it is elsewhere in Campaign that the handwringing, headbanging, and often toe-curling matter of “Middle Eastern creatives compared with their peers in the West” rears its ugly head and gets thoroughly shampooed by the industry’s luminaries. So this is by no means meant as an indictment of our standards. Instead, it is to underline the misguided thinking that drives many of us, too often, to be
pretentiously clever instead of straightforward, and end up looking stupid as a result.

Pick up any magazine or newspaper from the so-called ‘advanced markets’ and take a look at the ads; what do you get? A huge majority of simple, straight-to-the-point, direct-talking ads that are as clear as they are, well, perhaps boring. But clear they are. And they make their point without artifice. And they are, more often than not, as neat and pretty as can possibly be.

This is no bad thing, believe me. “Choose your battles” is not just a piece of advice that US president George Bush ignored: it is the most potent weapon that a creative director holds in the war against mediocrity. But what many fail to understand is that it doesn’t mean that you should fight on significant fronts only. It actually means that, to be able to deploy your best efforts on those, you have to hold all other fronts and keep them quiet – a delicate task, and one that requires the ability to attract as little trouble, avoid provocation and cause as little danger, as a piece of work that is simple and straight to the point. It is an art by itself and, as such, one that simply cannot be left to anyone stupid, never mind pretentious.