“When you love what you do, you live it and then en­cour­age oth­ers to love it as much as you do,” says Ed­mond Moutran, Chair­man and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Memac Ogilvy & Mather, about the big love in his life, the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, one that he has helped nur­ture in the Mid­dle East and North Africa.


Just when you have been re­in­forced with a rare sense of con­fi­dence, a chance in­ter­view with Ed­mond Moutran, Chair­man and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Memac Ogilvy & Mather, who has been in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try for over 40 years, makes you re­flect on the ir­rel­e­vance of your decade-long con­tri­bu­tion to pub­lish­ing. Moutran, who rode the first waves of the Mid­dle East's ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try in the early ‘70s, has had a bird's eye view of the sec­tor. At the Four Sea­sons Doha lounge, as he sits rather awk­wardly on a small arm chair that is not tai­lored to con­fine this giant of a per­sona, Moutran is not the least bit un­com­fort­able as he re­counts some mem­o­ries and in­nu­mer­ous in­sights har­nessed dur­ing his ca­reer in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try.

“When I ar­rived in Bahrain in Fe­bru­ary 1973 there was al­most no me­dia to speak about. There were two or three mag­a­zines in the whole of the Mid­dle East, in­clud­ing Qatar, all of which were so­cial in con­tent with some in­for­ma­tive news and very lit­tle po­lit­i­cal cov­er­age. There were no dailies in the whole of the Gulf and only na­tional ra­dio and tele­vi­sion. There were no com­mer­cial pro­grammes.

“Look­ing at the Qatar tele­vi­sion scene from an ad­ver­tis­ing per­spec­tive, there was just one chan­nel, Qatar Tele­vi­sion, for the whole fam­ily, which used to air pro­grammes dic­tated by the man­age­ment. If we were lucky, and if the weather per­mit­ted, we could catch a glimpse of some pro­grammes aired from Tehran. They had some movies and a few West­ern pro­grammes which were of in­ter­est.”

Moutran paints this sce­nario to com­pare with what we now have lit­er­ally at our fin­ger­tips: hun­dreds of ra­dio sta­tions and so many more tele­vi­sion chan­nels, to cater to the choices of each fam­ily mem­ber. In the late 90's, so­cial me­dia as a medium mul­ti­plied the list of choices for the con­sumer, and the mar­ket broad­ened so much that it is now quite im­pos­si­ble to keep count of the var­i­ous ways of en­gage­ment in the en­ter­tain­ment seg­ment.

“The con­sumer is spoilt for choice,” he says. “We as ad­ver­tis­ing spe­cial­ists have a large medium to cater to and me­dia plan­ning is prov­ing to be paramount in our in­dus­try. Who is watch­ing what, and when, is a ques­tion we be­gin to ask our­selves when we start with our me­dia plan­ning.


“From a mes­sag­ing point of view, the di­ver­sity or the cre­ation of these mes­sages has be­come revo­lu­tion­ary not evo­lu­tion­ary. The change that has hap­pened is in­de­scrib­able. To­day the con­tent that we, as pro­fes­sion­als, cre­ate is a re­sult of enor­mous re­search brought to­gether by the study of the con­sumer, the prod­uct, com­pany, mar­ket and the en­vi­ron­ment. It is then that the mes­sage is cre­ated.”

But the core prin­ci­ple of mes­sag­ing, ac­cord­ing to Moutran, still re­mains the same, through all the changes that have flashed past. “If there is no core idea that is cre­ative while throw­ing light on the ben­e­fits of the prod­uct, then your mes­sage is a waste. Mes­sag­ing needs to have a pur­pose, it has to be mem­o­rable and ef­fec­tive to cre­ate an im­pact, and that is where pro­fes­sion­als like us come in to make an im­pact through in­flu­en­tial mes­sag­ing. We cre­ate mes­sages that are pow­er­ful and pen­e­trate through to the peo­ple.”

Has mes­sag­ing got tougher due to the plethora of de­vices that are lined up to de­liver the var­i­ous mes­sages? “It is not tough, but yes, it has be­come more chal­leng­ing. Noth­ing is tough when you put your mind to it. We need to think and ar­tic­u­late much more. The com­pe­ti­tion is high, the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion is not healthy, the clients are hard to come by and hence the ROI for a client has to be ab­so­lutely im­pec­ca­ble. If we do not de­liver, the client will make sure that we are re­placed.”

Rem­i­nisc­ing about the first ad space he pub­lished, Moutran re­lives nos­tal­gic mo­ments. “The very first ad that I pub­lished in my pro­fes­sional life was a Space for Rent ad. My land­lord had space on the main road for rent and wanted me to in­sert an ad for him, a gift

for me for choos­ing his prop­erty. The very first cam­paign I did was for Sin­ga­pore Air­lines which was also my first in­ter­na­tional client, for which the ma­te­rial came from abroad. My big­gest lo­cal client was Zay­ali, a Bahrain-based car dealer.

“Khalid Zay­ali, who is now a dear friend, asked me a few ques­tions like, 'You don't seem to know much about ad­ver­tis­ing, and you are run­ning an ad agency?' I said, I might not know much to­day, but I prom­ise you that I will learn about it to­mor­row. And Khalid said, 'I be­lieve you.' He is still a dear friend and we have a 44-year-long as­so­ci­a­tion.”

Moutran's mem­ory of his first trip to Qatar and his as­so­ci­a­tions there­after are still fresh in his mind. “I first came to Qatar in 1973 and started to work with Al Arab news­pa­per. I am proud to say that the first ad­ver­tise­ment that ap­peared on Qatar TV was booked by me. We re­mained one of the big­gest ad­ver­tis­ers with them for years and years.”

Sher­a­ton Ho­tel's ad­ver­tis­ing and PR were han­dled by Moutran's agency for the launch of the ho­tel and he re­mem­bers the first GM of the prop­erty, Ger­hard Fotlin, “a very tough but fair gentleman”. He re­mem­bers be­ing in­volved in the launch cer­e­mony of the first mall in Qatar, The Cen­ter, and “bring­ing four hostesses from Bahrain for the wel­com­ing com­mit­tee and that was done for the first time in Doha”, bring­ing the Eng­land's 1966 World Cup team to Qatar, and then later the same team in 1974 to play against the Qatar team.”

Moutran trav­elled with King Ab­dul­lah of Jor­dan to Qatar when he was the Prince to drive in a rally against Qatari Said Ha­jri and Emi­rati Mo­hammed bin Su­laim. Moutran was in charge of the ad­ver­tise­ments for Silk Cut cig­a­rettes for the Chal­lenge Cup – “we spon­sored the Prince and got a lot of pub­lic­ity be­cause of that”.

The sto­ries of ear­lier as­so­ci­a­tions are plenty and Moutran has a flaw­less mem­ory of all things past. “When Con­corde, was be­ing launched, it was based in Bahrain. We had many heat bear­ing tri­als to go through and also ini­tial test flights were con­ducted here. We even took the Emir on the Con­corde on a test flight to Kuala Lumpur,” he says. First flown in 1969, Con­corde en­tered ser­vice in 1976 and con­tin­ued fly­ing for the next 27 years. It is one of only two supersonic trans­ports to have been op­er­ated com­mer­cially and Bri­tish Air­ways and Air France were the only air­lines who op­er­ated the Con­corde.

Did be­ing in the Mid­dle East in the early 70s put the fo­cus on the lack of avail­abil­ity of tal­ent in this part of the re­gion?

Moutran dis­agrees: “Tal­ent is tal­ent; there is noth­ing called global and lo­cal tal­ent. You have amaz­ing tal­ent in ev­ery na­tion­al­ity and it ap­plies the other way too. Tal­ent de­pends on the level of ed­u­ca­tion, ex­pe­ri­ence and mo­ti­va­tion peo­ple get from their lead­ers. I have seen in this re­gion peo­ple who are brighter than any­one I have ever met in my life, and many of them even with­out much ed­u­ca­tion. Their bril­liance shows even in the ab­sence of the pol­ish that ed­u­ca­tion gives and their wit­ti­ness has been proof of their tal­ent, a re­flec­tion of the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment in which they are bred.”

Moutran feels that the eye of the lo­cal or a Gulf con­sumer in tweak­ing an ad is much su­pe­rior to any other in­di­vid­ual. He ex­plains, “The Gulf con­sumer sees things in an ad that a nor­mal con­sumer does not. The West has lived with ad­ver­tise­ments their en­tire life, we have not. When I ex­plained that I was in the ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness, peo­ple asked me what that was. When they have not seen an ad­ver­tise­ment how do they know what it is? It was more a form of boost­ing some­thing which was not ac­knowl­edged as a form of busi­ness.”

He tries to ex­plain the im­pact ads had in the early 70s and 80s in the re­gion, “In 1980, when Saudi TV first ac­cepted ad­ver­tise­ments, the ad­ver­tise­ment breaks in be­tween were one of the most pop­u­lar on TV be­cause the rest of the pro­grammes were re­stricted. On Kuwait TV, you would be lucky to get six slots for ad­ver­tise­ments; get­ting two was nor­mal, more than that was a lux­ury. This was sim­i­lar for Qatar TV too.”

Hence they scru­ti­nize ads with great at­ten­tion, go deep into

it and look at it from all an­gles, and to get the right mes­sage it is al­ways worth­while to get the lo­cals to com­ment on the mes­sage that the prod­uct wants to por­tray.

“If you ask an ex­pat to com­ment on a prod­uct, say, silk, he or she would say it is soft and silky while the Gulf con­sumer would add that it is a fe­male prod­uct. They as­so­ciate ev­ery­thing they see with their lo­cal tra­di­tion or even to the Qu­ran, in which silk is clas­si­fied as a fe­male prod­uct. It is these nu­ances which makes it much more in­ter­est­ing to work with the Gulf con­sumer as they bring out small facts that might oth­er­wise be missed.”

But hav­ing said that, Moutran picked a new tal­ent from the West for the agency. Paul Shearer joined the group as its Chief Cre­ative Of­fi­cer two years back, bring­ing 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in ad­ver­tis­ing to his new role and he is based in Memac Ogilvy's Dubai of­fice. “Paul is one of the most awarded guys in the in­dus­try, his record speaks for it­self and we are con­fi­dent that he will drive our group for­ward to even higher cre­ative lev­els,” says Moutran.

“Hir­ing peo­ple like Paul is a ma­jor step for us. When you look at the way ad­ver­tis­ing is con­sumed and see how ad­ver­tis­ing is de­signed you get to know that many of the big lo­cal clients go to the West to get their mes­sages de­signed. Clients like Qatar Air­ways and Qatar Foun­da­tion are al­ways go­ing out­side the re­gion to get their cre­atives. Look­ing at that phe­nom­e­non, I de­cided it would be bet­ter to bring those peo­ple who de­sign those ads to our agency,” he says. “So the phi­los­o­phy be­hind me hir­ing peo­ple like Paul is very sim­ple: to get these lo­cal clients and to get the at­ten­tion of lo­cal and re­gional agen­cies. We win all the de­sign awards in Cannes and our of­fice in the MENA re­gion is the third most cre­ative agency in the world and now we have tal­ent from around the world; all that we need now is to be given a chance by these lo­cal giants to show our ex­per­tise.”

This pref­er­ence for global agen­cies is more preva­lent in Qatar than in any other coun­try, re­marks Moutran.

On what 2017, a post oil-era and a Trump-ruled Amer­ica hold for the re­gion, Moutran first asks for a crys­tal ball, but later he re­flects, “2016 was the tough­est year for me, from all an­gles. It was tough eco­nom­i­cally be­cause of low oil prices; it was tough po­lit­i­cally, be­cause of the prob­lems in Syria, Le­banon and Egypt. Luck­ily we do not have a prob­lem so­cially, but slowly, peo­ple are re­gress­ing, as we go into a mod­ern era; glob­ally we see an era which is more re­ces­sive than it ever has been.

“It is not happy days for peo­ple who have a busi­ness; I worry about the salaries I have to pay my staff. Luck­ily for us we have had good fi­nan­cial wis­dom over the years and we are quite solid with re­serves which we have put aside for days like this.”

On the Trump era, he says with wis­dom, “Some­times we need a Trump in our lives to shake things up. We do not re­alise our bless­ings un­til we have some­thing like this weigh­ing down on us. Trump makes us ap­pre­ci­ate the Bush, Clin­ton and Obama eras. But I do have to say that Trump is only do­ing what he said he would, so why are we shocked?”

Moutran of­fers his ad­vice on the path the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try needs to take in these dif­fi­cult times: “No­body can can­cel any­body. What I mean is that when tele­vi­sion came, ra­dio did not get can­celled. Sim­i­larly, when so­cial me­dia be­came pop­u­lar, no one stopped read­ing mag­a­zines or news­pa­pers."

He says that it is the tra­di­tional me­dia which is pro­mot­ing so­cial me­dia across medi­ums. “The mo­ment you stop that, their im­por­tance will die. The rea­son why so­cial me­dia is so pop­u­lar is sim­ple; it is their abil­ity to talk to each one of you di­rectly and hence the eu­pho­ria is much more. It gives power to ev­ery­one. It is built on


the power of hu­man van­ity.”

Moutran be­lieves that the so­cial me­dia on­set is a phase. “Peo­ple use it be­cause it is ‘the' in thing to do. Imag­ine say­ing to your friends that you do not have a twit­ter or Face­book ac­count. It is al­most a crime not to be on so­cial me­dia. It is like ask­ing your friend whether he has read the lat­est best­seller; you have to con­form to the ma­jor­ity...”

But Moutran be­lieves that even this phase will die off. “Ev­ery­thing has its own place. As long as all me­dia out­lets are in­formed about their read­ers, know what they want, have a pulse on their in­ter­ests, they have noth­ing to fear. If you know your reader, then you are a smart pub­lisher. So don't just sit on the prob­lem at hand, get out there and if you want to sur­vive, find out what you need to do.”

“If I was a pub­lisher, I would con­duct re­search af­ter re­search to un­der­stand what the read­ers ex­pect from me and keep chang­ing as they dic­tate.”

Moutran's one phi­los­o­phy that has al­ways been his lucky charm: “Work, work and work,” says the man who is touch­ing his mid-70s, known in the mar­ket­ing field as the man who cre­ated many “firsts” with his spe­cial “Ed­die way”. “The more I work, the bet­ter I get, and the luck­ier I am.”

HIS­TORY IN THE MAK­INGLeft: Moutran in Pitts­burg, Penn­syl­va­nia, with a group of Ara­bian jour­nal­ists at the West­ing­house Radar fac­tory which built the radar used on the Awacs planes Above: Con­corde on the tar­mac in Bahrain in prepa­ra­tion for its flight to Doha in 1975

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