CREATIVE ARABIC COPYWRITING
In an Ad agency, a role and function of extreme importance is that of the Creative Arabic Copywriter.
There was a time when our MENA Ad industry was laden with foreign Creative Directors or Copywriters who invariably came out with concepts in English and, understandably, in how they would have conceived them, and perhaps even for, their home markets. And I remember how we, as management, used to struggle to transpose those headlines, sub-headlines, body copy, voice-over copy, strap lines and slogans into Arabic meaningful enough for our clients’ Arab target audiences so that they could identify with and relate to.
In that maelstrom, a “rare bird” that would have made life easier for us truly eluded us: the Creative Arabic Copywriter-- to think up concepts in Arabic and in Arab-culture relevance to begin with. S/he was nowhere to be found if ever, and once an agency invested time, development and money in one, and S/ he started to gain fame, other agencies were out to poach them through “offers they couldn’t refuse”. This put us as management in the awkward position of “doubling the offer”, so-to-speak, and consequently scurrying to re-adjust the salary scales at our agency. More staff cost, that is, and extra strain on business development in order to make the target figures.
In time, more of those rare birds started hatching and entering our industry. But to this day, the problem hasn’t gone because: a) demand still exceeds supply; b) some agencies do not put in place a succession plan, so they get caught up by surprise when that long-tested, senior experienced talent leaves; c) a good number of the “refills”, albeit Arab, tend to rather think in English or French, depending on the educational system which produced them; and d) a good number of communication material (TV commercials and related) for multinational brands still come to our region from overseas to be suitably “glocalised” along the same concept and lookand-feel.
To illustrate what a professional Creative Arabic Copywriter really does in developing Arabic copy that is culturally relevant to an Arab audience, I’ll borrow from the thought process with which a seasoned writer, Mr.
brought the Arabic title of the book “Play It Again” into being.
For intros: besides an illustrious career in writing for TV and the Print media, and in teaching the craft at prominent universities in Lebanon, did Copywriting in MENA for such multinational companies as Procter & Gamble/p&g (multi-brands), Pepsico, Philip Morris, Kraft, General Motors, and Kellogg’s among other, through leading agencies such as Intermarkets and Leo Burnett between 1980 and 1997.
When (Assaad; As’ad) selected Marwan Najjar to transfer the book “Play It Again” into an Arabic version, Marwan did a superb job by effectively copy-writing its content, not merely translating it. But it’s how Marwan “minted” the Arabic title, which
further attested to his master craftsmanship. Arabic literates would know that it could have been literally put as “il’abha thaniyatan”. Instead, Marwan set about dissecting how the original English title came out to be.
First, Marwan asked himself: Is it an idiom, a Call for Action, a message? Does it conjure a sense of purpose, or a motivating big idea? Second, he analysed the book’s Foreword for its underlying messages. Third, he researched the roots of “Play It Again” as an expression, and he found that “Play it” had “a musical connotation, a musical history… a musical function” from its association with the song “As Time Goes By” from the classic movie “Casablanca”, which was replicated by Woody Allen in “Play It Again Sam”. So in his wisdom, he decided that the Arabic should have a parallel relevance to Arab music, which he found in the repertoire of the great singercomposer Mohammad Abdul-wahab and the legendary diva Oum-koulthoum. And since his multi-dimensional culture pointed him to the musical structure of Play It Again being made up of two weak syllables surrounded by two strong syllables, he further decided on the Arabic to have just that as well. Accordingly, he set to himself a brief that he formulated as follows:
Creative Arabic Copywriting is an art, even imbued with scientific methods, and those who master it can make a difference…