Strik­ing gold

‘The line-up song’ won cy­ber gold at Cannes. Di­rec­tor Maged Nas­sar talks steady cams, ori­en­tal­ism, and the time needed to make great films

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“Like ev­ery­thing good in life, it leaves you want­ing more,” says Maged Nas­sar. “Be­fore win­ning your first, you think, ‘I’ll just bag this one and that’s it. I’m grat­i­fied’. But that’s just not how it works, I guess.”

Nas­sar is talk­ing gold Li­ons, and so he should be. He now has two of them thanks to Coca-cola’s ‘The line-up song’, which de­picted a group of grown men in a run­down ta­ble tennis hall singing a rewrit­ten chil­dren’s song. And all be­cause no­body knew or recog­nised the new Egyp­tian football team.

“You know when you wake up with a tune stuck in your head? That’s ex­actly what hap­pened,” says Nas­sar, de­scrib­ing the process that led to the cre­ation of the cam­paign with FP7 in Cairo. “We’ve been fa­mil­iar with that song since we were kids at school. They were teach­ing us how to mem­o­rise the dif­fer­ent kinds of an­i­mals, and I guess that was pretty much what we were try­ing to do – fa­mil­iarise the Egyp­tian peo­ple with the new line-up be­fore the Africa Cup of Na­tions.

“With the ex­cep­tion of the steady cam guy, we all had a lot of fun. Think about it, if you want to make the line-up song more fa­mil­iar to ev­ery­body, you gotta look like ev­ery­body. I’m a child of the mid­dle class, and ever since I at­tended my first game in the sta­dium I’ve been sur­rounded by folks who look and dress like that. They had to make it into the com­mer­cial.”

In the­ory Nas­sar shouldn’t re­ally need much in­tro­duc­tion. He’s one of the re­gion’s most awarded cre­atives and yet has shied away from the lime­light, leav­ing most of the talk­ing to his long-time cre­ative part­ner Ali Ali, with whom he now col­lab­o­rates as part of di­rec­tors’ col­lec­tive Good Peo­ple. It was with Ali that he formed the now de­funct in­de­pen­dent agency Ele­phant Cairo way back in 2008 and won his first Cannes gold in 2014.

It was with FP7/CAI, how­ever, that he won a cy­ber gold at Cannes in June for ‘The line-up song’, which also picked up sil­ver in film and two fur­ther bronzes in film and en­ter­tain­ment.

In­ter­est­ingly, the cam­paign won noth­ing in film at the Dubai Lynx (it won a gold in film craft), yet has now been awarded at the two big­gest ad­ver­tis­ing fes­ti­vals in the world – Cannes and D&AD, where it picked up a graphite pencil.

“If we look at the his­tory of the Lynx, we’ll see a re­mark­able de­scent in the as­sess­ment of par­tic­i­pat­ing work,” says Nas­sar. “Some­thing smells like ori­en­tal­ism to me: a jury made up en­tirely of non-arabs is bound to be deaf to lo­cal nu­ances. It also ap­plauds un­de­serv­ing work be­cause it looks at it as though it’s the best the re­gion can put out. Yet it’s hard to blame the jury, when ev­ery year we face the usual dilemma: should the win­ning work be uni­ver­sally un­der­stand­able? Or should it be tai­lored to its lo­cal tar­get?

“Then again, how come we keep see­ing en­tries that seem to be speak­ing ex­clu­sively to the jury and have no rel­e­vance what­so­ever to the Mid­dle East­ern lay­man? You see, it is in­deed a rather con­fus­ing fes­ti­val, inevitably con­fus­ing its own jury. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not be­ing bit­ter here, this is my con­struc­tive crit­i­cism of the whole thing. The Coca-cola line-up song didn’t win, and that is fine by me. One day you win, one day you don’t. That’s how it goes.”

A for­mer cre­ative at agen­cies such as JWT Cairo and FP7/DXB, Nas­sar has, how­ever, won pretty much all there is to win at both a re­gional and in­ter­na­tional level, in­clud­ing grands prix at the Dubai Lynx and a yel­low pencil at D&AD in 2015 for his work on du Tues­day with Ali.

“We need to think less about get­ting golds and fo­cus on what sells,” he says,

If we look at the his­tory of the Lynx, we’ll see a re­mark­able de­scent in the as­sess­ment of par­tic­i­pat­ing work. Some­thing smells like ori­en­tal­ism to me: a jury made up en­tirely of non-arabs is bound to be deaf to lo­cal nu­ances.

re­spond­ing to the rel­a­tively low num­ber of golds won by the re­gion at Cannes com­pared with pre­vi­ous years. “If we had the right ideas that com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter with our au­di­ence and tar­get – less pre­ten­tious wannabe work that im­me­di­ately breaks through to the hearts of peo­ple – nat­u­rally it will have the same ef­fect on the ju­ries at Cannes or any other in­ter­na­tional award show. We waste pre­cious time do­ing Mid­dle East self-pity, in­dul­gent stuff for NGOS, for ex­am­ple, rather than us­ing the same en­ergy to do great ad­ver­tis­ing.”

Only ‘The line-up song’ won any­thing in film for the MENA re­gion at Cannes. Why? Where is the re­gion go­ing wrong? What can be done to make sure more is won in the fu­ture?

“Time is the word,” replies Nas­sar. “I think great films need time. Time to write sharper scripts, and then re­write them again. More time for sound de­sign and post pro­duc­tion. Time to be spent more with ac­tors, cin­e­matog­ra­phers and crew. It’s all about craft now. And I guess we don’t have that ne­ces­sity with our ex­tremely tight dead­lines and over­rushed clients.”

We waste pre­cious time do­ing Mid­dle East self-pity, in­dul­gent stuff for NGOS, for ex­am­ple, rather than us­ing the same en­ergy to do great ad­ver­tis­ing.

Coca-cola launched a cam­paign about the African Cup, a mega na­tional soc­cer event through a mu­sic video. Not a typ­i­cal an­them root­ing for the coun­try in the up­com­ing games, but an ab­surd one, a nurs­ery rhyme re-sung by awk­ward look­ing Egyp­tian men play­ing ta­ble tennis. A nurs­ery rhyme that was watched, re­watched, shared and re-shared in the mil­lions, ul­ti­mately, help­ing an en­tire na­tion mem­o­rise its team’s line up

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