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

Marwan Na­j­jar,

Marwan Na­j­jar

Mustapha As­sad

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…

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