In its investigation into consumerism, Executive Life sat down with seasoned advertising executive Omar Nasreddine, CEO and managing partner at Triptikum, a boutique creative and integrated communications agency based in Beirut.
E Do you do think the advertising industry is driving consumerism and debt?
I don’t think advertising is the cause. As a marketer, I think there are two ways you can sell a product or service: you can either play on people’s insecurities, or you can play on people’s motivations and say ‘here is the solution’. Advertising that plays on people’s insecurities is one hundred percent manipulation. Obviously, there are the good and the bad examples, and not all advertising agencies are the same, but in general, clients and agencies are riding that wave to a certain extent, and I think it is a blow below the belt.
E What are some of the tactics advertisers use?
I think technology is taking the world to a bad place. Freedom is lost. It’s like George Orwell wrote in “1984”—Big Brother. I know clients who have gone all the way to using neuroscience to understand how the subconscious works to create something that unlocks it. I think any company that uses neuroscience to go into people’s thoughts and insecurities should be well governed. Also digital data—now they know which topics you like, and they target you online.
But also, because of the internet, people are waking up. They are not taking crap from brands anymore. There is a certain heightened awareness in people with certain levels of education. With time I hope human values will win, those who are ahead can lead those who are behind, and with time it can help shape the industry.
E Are there rules that ad agencies abide by, especially regarding banks’ non-essential products?
There are codes of conduct for everything, which advertising agencies are bound to by law in any country, and they are similar. You cannot deceive the consumer, for example. In Lebanon, you also cannot mention competitor brands in your ads. I also believe that banks have to justify their bottom line. It’s not a shame to want to make money because you are in the business of making money, but you can make money by doing good or bad or in-between. Loans are what banks sell, and at the end of the day whatever word you put in front of “loan,” it’s still the same product wearing different a face. But the usage of the word non-essential here is brilliant because it is the question and the answer in itself. What is essential? But I don’t think the problem is with regulating how creative agencies or banks communicate their non-essential loans.
E Where is the problem then?
The root cause is financial illiteracy—it’s an epidemic and it’s scary. I work with all kinds of companies, big CEOs, and it is shocking how financially illiterate people are. Financial illiteracy is worse than illiteracy.
We’re vulnerable, and I am against taking advantage of that. The Lebanese people like to go out and have fun, and they mean well. Even when they take a loan, they just think that to be accepted in a certain group they have to look or act a certain way, but they mean well. Sadly though we don’t have enough information that can empower us. I think more banks should do the right thing. One large Lebanese bank says they are a bank for life, like a friend, and you see them doing financial literacy in all shapes and forms without taking credit. This is what differentiates the brands that are playing on people’s insecurities versus those who are taking people by the hand and educating them.
E What should the role of advertisers be?
We have a big responsibility to get the industry to be creative and intelligent. Advertising agencies should have the role of elevating society, and if you don’t do that it’s a crime in my opinion.