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INTERVIEW: Ad guru Ahmad Abu Zannad takes on Noam Chomsky in latest book ‘Adman vs. Chomsky’

INTERVIEW: Ad guru Ahmad Abu Zannad takes on Noam Chomsky in latest book ‘Adman vs. Chomsky’
Written by publishing team

Dubai: “As an industry, we may have lost our charm,” Ahmed Abu Znad wrote in his book “Adman vs. Chomsky.” He talks about the advertising industry, of which he has been a part for more than 15 years – first as a marketer at STC Zain, then in various strategic roles at Leo Burnett, including a stint as General Manager, leaving in 2020 to the foundations of his own consultancy, Native Communications. .

He explains that the book “is not memories of the history of the industry, nor is it another piece of thought about its future, of which there is now more than enough (considering that a Google search for ‘the future of the advertising industry’ returns 600 million results and counting).”

The book is “a defense of the industry as it has been in its recent history and as it is today. In fact, I would argue that there has been a severe misunderstanding of what the advertising industry is all about.”

Besides being a creative marketer and strategist, Abu Znad is also an author. His first book was published in 2012, Speaking for Humans in a Land of Divisions: A Guide to Leo Burnett’s Humanitarian Approach to Brand Building in Saudi Arabia. In 2016, he published his second book “Decommercialization of the Advertising Industry”, followed by “Adman vs. Chomsky” in 2020.

Arab News spoke with Abu Znad to discuss his latest book as well as his thoughts on the advertising industry today.

What prompted you to write this book?

“It is the conviction that it is so important for everyone to feel good about their job and be proud of the work they do, day in and day out – even if they are still just working towards an aspiration or an ideal.

And as the great Khalil Gibran said: “Work is love that appears. And if you cannot work with love but only with aversion, it is better to leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take the alms of those who work with joy.”

Why man ad against Noam Chomsky?

“If the intellectual community sees a practice as manipulative or part of a malicious agenda, it is a slippery slope. It becomes less attractive to talented and ethical individuals, discourages investors from buying into the industry, pushes customers to seek alternative solutions and creates a general negative perception among the masses.

Today, the most intellectual human being alive is Dr. Noam Chomsky. He has described the advertising industry, throughout its entire history, as being part of an enduring agenda with only one main task: “to ensure that uninformed consumers make irrational choices.” Therefore, in the book, Dr. Chomsky represents not only the intellectual community but all other academics and theorists who have an unrealistic view of how our market works.

“While Dr. Chomsky and others have made such statements, we have not seen anyone from the industry come to our defense. So, the ‘Chomsky’ in the title is an alternative for theorists, and ‘Adman’ represents the practitioners who have to deal with the realities of the market and how it actually works.”

Leonard da Vinci said, “He who loves practice without theory is like a sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and a compass, and never knows where he might cast.” I believe that advertising, as a practice, cannot be run efficiently and ethically without the support of clear theoretical frameworks.

“And no theoretical framework for advertising can be properly validated if it is not fully taken up by practitioners of advertising. Unfortunately, we are far from achieving this, and the book is an attempt to bridge the gap between theorists like Chomsky and practitioners like the man of everyday advertising.”

The book defends the growing negativity around advertising. However, lately, especially with social media and data-driven targeted advertising, there are reasons for concern more than ever. What are your thoughts on this?

The problem arises when advertising operates without a strong scientific framework or a clearly defined core mission. Every industry is using new technologies and increasing access to data in order to be more efficient and effective. But, we should not completely redefine the industry’s mission to its ability to be more efficient. This is what happens in the advertising industry – we no longer care what our primary mission is, as long as we get things done more efficiently.

“When scholars and theorists look at the frameworks applied by marketers and advertising professionals, they are disappointed at how short-sighted and unscientific we are.

For example, as we race to use big data to understand consumer behavior, psychologist Jeffrey Miller tells us that our methods are outdated and incompatible with the past 30 years of advances in psychology, warning us that viewing people as numbers will make our efforts meaningless.

At the same time, ecologist Dr. Ethan Decker asked himself: ‘What is the science of marketing? The only answer he could come up with was: “Turns out, there isn’t much.”

“More and more advertisers are using their capabilities to personalize and target messages, and intrusively go after individuals, leading the public to use similar tactics to avoid such targeting. 50 percent of consumers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are using some form of online ad blocking tool. That, the same people would voluntarily search for great content. After all, 67% of Arabs followed the Arab Idol finale. What we have to do is give them something worth paying attention to.

Just as advertising can transform a brand for the better, it can also have serious consequences for the brand. what do you think about this?

“Yes, of course, advertising can have serious consequences for brands. However, without a clear framework on how advertising works, it is difficult to clearly characterize such activities as malpractice.

“One consequence could be that people start finding the brand annoying. An issue we need to highlight is the fact that 90 percent of people find targeted ads annoying. Marketers are blindly taking their budgets away from creative purposeful work — which 63 percent of people say is You will attract them to a brand – in order to focus strictly on targeted advertising, which most people find annoying.

“Another result may be that the brand appears to be ignorant of the culture of the audience. This happened in the US with Pepsi and Kendall Jenner, where the brand appeared to be completely oblivious to the cultural issues surrounding police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Recently in Egypt, We saw a similar backlash to the Citroen ad with Amr Diab. In an attempt to get the new photo-taking feature down people’s throats, they had male celebrities take Diab’s photos of a woman passing by, making the brand appear completely ignorant of local sexual harassment issues.”

Can you give us some examples that illustrate the power of advertising for good?

Here are three of my favorite examples from the book: Dove did a study of 3,000 women in 10 different countries that revealed that only 2 percent of women think they are beautiful.

In response, they launched an ongoing advertising campaign containing encouraging and motivational messages, inviting women to adopt their natural beauty with confidence, and 71 percent of women who interacted with these positive advertisements said they felt more beautiful.

In Turkey, Ax decided to tackle the general cultural stereotype that real men never apologize. The deodorant brand wanted to fight this stereotype by fusing its ad with the popular local TV series “The Pit,” which has long promoted this specific stereotype. As a result, in just 30 minutes, 3,750 messages of apology were shared on Twitter by Turkish men.

“The brand has always dealt with the difficult problem of girls’ self-esteem, which usually drops dramatically once they reach puberty. Boys experience something similar, but the decline is weak for girls. Worse still, while the data shows that self-esteem In men it eventually rises higher than it did before puberty – it’s the opposite case for women.

“In response, I always decided to challenge the cultural stereotype of what it means to do something ‘like a girl.’ Rather than presenting any specific stereotype, their ad showed that doing something ‘like a girl’ just meant doing it like everyone else. Nearly 70 percent of women and 60 percent of men said that watching the ad changed their perception of the phrase “like a girl.”

Do you think there has been a shift in power from creative agencies to media and digital agencies? And what are the consequences of that?

“Data from Google’s Media Lab shows that 70 percent of campaign performance is attributable to creative work, yet only 10 percent of the budget goes to creative development.

As one New Yorker article put it, we’ve gone from creative ‘crazy men’ to genius ‘mathematicians’. We have done so in pursuit of short-term profits with complete disregard for what science tells us.

“All of the behavioral sciences tell us that people look for brands with a purpose and people are drawn to storytelling. They seek beauty and color. Our customers tell us that humans are symbolic creatures, and they want to know what a brand stands for. This is the power of creativity: to move audiences and move them toward brands. which they love.”

Having worked for large multinational agencies, I set up Native. What distinguishes it from others?

“Native is not an agency but a consulting firm. We help agencies and brands find a “native” role for themselves in people’s lives, and we also help them create branded content that fits with the platforms in which that content resides. Our mission is to fill the market with brands that You play an original role in people’s lives, along with branded content that goes with the original content.

“We think that brands who populate content with original content but don’t care about the original brand role are intrusive brands. They are there at the right time and place, but they are not really welcome – by 90 percent of consumers.

“On the other hand, the brands that have an original role but whose content is rarely found within a local event are the tourism brands. Consumers understand the brand, but cannot hear it, see it or experience it enough.

“Brands that lack both are weird brands.

“Today, we strongly believe that no other consulting firm is able or equipped to offer such solutions.”


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