…whether there is a lot more to be learned from the latest revolutionary developments in parts of the Arab world than we commonly acknowledge. And I wonder, whether the implications are bigger than we think – not just for politics but also for brands, marketing and communication.
You might say: Yeah, sure, but I don’t live there, so what do I care. I would argue that in our flat, connected and fluid world changes over there do have big importance here. And in the case of the Arab world a few other things are also interesting, giving me reason to write this long post this week. Some food for thought. Enjoy. Debate. Whatever.
It all starts with a minute of silence.
Let’s remember: This is a special week. A week of remembrance leading up to 9/11. That day that has changed our world for the last ten years. All media is full of special reports and insightful dossiers. And as one would expect, ten years have been long enough a time to be a bit more analytical, neutral and also less aggressive in the evaluations.
Many stories from behind the scenes are emerging – making clear that the understandably angry and drastic reactions by “the West” did not always follow best judgment. Then again one needs to note: the actions by the sick terrorists did not either. Quid pro quo?! I leave this whole discussion to all those smart political historians out there – and I will read it all, because it impacted my life. (For those who care, I recommend the documentary by the German station Das Erste called “Die Falle 9/11” by Stefan Aust – I believe so far only in German, but well worth translating.)
So here’s the connection I want to make to the current developments: Our reactions back then to 9/11 and our reactions to the revolutions in the Arab world of late are ironically similar – we stand in shock and awe. We wonder what is going on.
9/11 and the Arab revolutions – two somewhat contradictory “events”.
When the planes were made to crash on 9/11, the political, social and human shockwaves were dramatic. It was not just thousands of people that died (btw: sources say that since then more than 300.000 people have died in the “war against terror”). No: our Western liberalism, openness and the readiness to accept other perspectives also took a huge blow. For many, all Muslims were now terrorists. The Arab world lost even more of its already rather low levels of trustworthiness. And there was a general sense that democracy needed to be brought to “those people” in order to make the world a better place. Roll the tanks…
So now cut to 2011: Suddenly the people of many Arab countries revolt, oust their leaders – or shall I say: dictators – and pursue their own road to social independence. More or less without help from the West. We wonder: how can those people “suddenly” behave so “democratic”? Where do they get their sense of “people power” from? And of course there are many questions about the future: Are these people pro-Western and is that really important? What do they actually envision for their future?
Let’s face it: the revolutions of the Arab world do not really fit into our picture. Here are a bunch of countries that the West did not invade to free them and suddenly the people are freeing themselves. Who would have thought they want to and are able to do that?! Aren’t these the very same people who were under general suspicion of being everything but liberal minded, active or future ready?
The Arab world isn’t black and white.
As some of you will know, I spent some years in the Middle East . Not only did I travel to many countries that have been in the news recently (I’m shocked when I see pictures from Syria lately). I was also responsible for the regional communication of many global brands and thus got to work with some bright local people and saw a lot of audience/ market research.
It opened my eyes. Many of my pre- and also misconceptions about the Middle East were questioned or even shattered, others underlined. And I noticed that Western depiction of the region was often missing the point. In reality it wasn’t all black and white – there were many shades of grey…
I tried to bring it to life at the annual German Art Director’s Club convention in 2009 in a lecture called “Vom Öl- zum Ideenbusiness” . And it is fun to read some of the main points made in that lecture:
- There is a huge social struggle happening. The societies in most countries are extremely young. And many young people are educated. They want, need and will fight for a better opportunity.
- The young people of the region are connected, understand the modern world out there and do not want to be left behind.
- The governments of the region need to find ways to share the riches of their countries more evenly.
- The people of the region are looking for a third option. Not simply adopting Western ideals, but marrying the benefits of modernity with Arabic tradition in what some call an Arabic Renaissance.
- There is a new, modern, young Arabia emerging. It is still looking for its voice. And it will also want very different marketing and advertising.
I guess some of these observations were not wrong. But I guess you had to be there… Anyway: And as you can imagine, I was not all that surprised by the recent events.
Yet now, back in Germany, the same old feeling is creeping up: I’m missing the shades of grey in the news. Especially in the advertising and marketing press I’m not reading a whole lot about the implications. Do we not care? Why not?
There are many lessons to be learned.
Let me put it this way:
As Europeans we should care, because the Arab world is actually our closest neighboring region to the Southeast and South.
As international marketers we should care, because global brands operate in the region and will want to continue to do so.
As German marketers we should care, because we can find many new fans and customers in the region – if we care to understand it.
And as communication people we should care, because the revolutions are also nothing less than an amazing example for the new power of the people.
So let’s put things into perspective.
The following is by no means an exhaustive list. But a well informed one – not at all limited to personal observations. In fact: Being the worldmade company we are, we did a bit of regional research with our friends of JWT MENA. We also conducted a number of very interesting interviews in Cannes – see the Caught in Cannes edition 3 and edition 5. And then we put it all together.
As a foundation: Once you have tasted freedom you will not want to give it up.
This statement is especially true if you have seen your neighbors, friends, brothers or sisters die. Which is what many people in Tunisia, Egypt and now also Libya have sadly experienced (and are continuing to do so in Syria, Yemen and other regional states).
After years of indoctrination and harassment these people rose up. Amr Salama , one of the leading Egyptian activists who’s posts have become famous, explained in our interview: “It was a moment of collective courage. (…) If you are being put in the same position now you might not have the same outcome. But in the moment you do it you have this collective energy between all the people – we are not going to back down. (…) It’s the energy of the people that drives you. It’s not really you.”
And Nicolas Courant , Creative Director with Memac Ogilvy in Tunisia, added another interesting twist in his interview: “I was scared. But when I look back I’m very happy to have seen that. It was what we learned about the values of freedom, equality, fraternity. They are empty words now in Europe. Everyone uses them like a concept. But I witnessed them brought to life.”
The point to be made is the following: The revolutions were not some hedonistic, fun stunt all about expressing individuality – like a flashmob . No: they were the real stuff. A collective struggle for a higher cause. These people have seen what they can achieve together. They have stood strong for an ideal. And they did it by themselves. So one should not think the same people are now ready to be indoctrinated yet again with messages – be they political or commercial. And they also do not want to see their achievements abused by foreign media, brands or corporations.
Tomorrow, I will post what I believe are some implications for marketing and brands. Stay tuned.
08. September 2011 von editorial staff
Categories: Industry, Worldmade | Tags: #Jan25, #sidibouzid, #tunisia, 9/11, @alya1989262, ADC, advertising in Arabia, Amr Salama, arab revolutions, arab social media, arab spring, Arabic branding, Cairo, Charles Moore, Die Falle 9/11, Egypt, Egyptian revolution, facebook revolution, Frank Schirrmacher, Germany, jwt, JWT Germany, JWT MENA, Markenkommunikation, Markenwerbung, marketing in the Arab world, Memac Ogilvy, Nazia Hussain, Nicolas Courant, Ogilvy Noor, Philippa Clayre, social media, social revolution, Stefan Aust, Syria, Tahir square, Tanya Dernaika, Till Hohmann, Tunis, Tunisian revolution, twitter revolution, WPP Atticus | Leave a comment