Beirut Beer — a young, fear­less and de­fi­ant brand

If there’s an al­co­hol brand that has suc­cess­fully el­bowed its way into the pub­lic con­scious­ness, it’s Beirut Beer. Through a com­bi­na­tion of cre­ative sto­ry­telling, hu­mour and real-time mar­ket­ing, it has firmly es­tab­lished it­self in a cat­e­gory that was once

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In off-trade sales (re­tail out­lets) it now sells al­most bot­tle-for-bot­tle against the “old brand leader”, as Nayef Kas­satly, man­ag­ing part­ner at Kas­satly Ch­taura, the fam­ily-owned busi­ness be­hind the brand, de­scribes the com­pany’s ri­val. Brand aware­ness is also on the rise.

A lot of this is down to an am­bi­tious, four-year-old brand po­si­tion­ing it­self as in­no­va­tive, hip and “truly 100 per cent Le­banese”, but a large debt of grat­i­tude is owed to the com­pany’s mar­ket­ing. In par­tic­u­lar, an amus­ing run of ads pok­ing fun at Al­maza.

Al­though com­par­a­tive ad­ver­tis­ing is banned in Le­banon, there are sneaky ways around it and Beirut Beer has found them. There’s the time it re­ferred to Al­maza as mjadra (a tra­di­tional Le­banese lentil dish) and asked ‘who said you have to eat mjadra ev­ery day?’. Or the time it took fake Baal­beck self­ies and went to the beach in jovial mock­ery of ‘Le­banon’s na­tional beer’. Re­cently it even pointed out that Al­maza had im­i­tated its best-sell­ing 250ml bot­tle, us­ing the op­por­tu­nity to launch a new 150ml bot­tle and con­tinue its light-

May/june 2018 hearted jib­ing. It’s all good fun of course, with healthy com­pe­ti­tion, balls and hu­mour much needed in the ad­ver­tis­ing realm.

But pok­ing fun at a ri­val can be risky busi­ness.

“We see no risk at all,” says An­thony Tawil, dig­i­tal di­rec­tor at Op­er­a­tion Uni­corn, the in­de­pen­dent agency re­spon­si­ble for Beirut Beer’s ad­ver­tis­ing. “If any­thing it has been pay­ing back div­i­dends for the brand. The strat­egy was adopted be­cause Al­maza was try­ing to sand­wich Beirut Beer be­tween its prod­ucts – price-wise and im­age-wise – by introducing a new low-key beer in the mar­ket called Al Rayess. They wanted us to com­pete with Al Rayess in­stead on mar­ket share. Our strat­egy placed Beirut Beer di­rectly on par with Al­maza in the pub­lic eye, ig­nor­ing any other brands in the mar­ket.”

Ac­cord­ing to Kas­satly the brand has never made fun of the com­pe­ti­tion with­out rea­son. With the mjadra com­mer­cial, “we had to ex­plain to Le­banese con­sumers that they had to give us a chance, to try some­thing new and dif­fer­ent with­out drop­ping their beloved brand”, he says. Sim­i­larly, when Al­maza said it was the only Le­banese beer “we had to make a point and say that we ex­ist and that we are truly 100 per cent Le­banese, whereas they were truly pro­duced in Le­banon but owned by a multi­na­tional”.

The key to all of this is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the client and the agency.

“Sin­cerely, I say the chem­istry be­tween our team and Op­er­a­tion Uni­corn is the main rea­son for our suc­cess,” ad­mits Kas­satly. “We are fast in ex­e­cut­ing their crazy ideas and they are faster de­liv­er­ing.”

It’s a free­dom that Op­er­a­tion Uni­corn, which was orig­i­nally founded by cre­ative di­rec­tor Nathalie Masri and Tawil in 2014, rel­ishes. With around 10 full-time staff and a net­work of free­lancers, its two other se­nior fig­ures are as­so­ciate cre­ative di­rec­tor Nadine Chal­houb and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Wis­sam Mat­tar.

“I think that to be able to pro­duce such work, the out­come is a com­bi­na­tion of two things com­ing to­gether,” says Masri. “The first thing is the qual­ity, tal­ent and char­ac­ter of each in­di­vid­ual in our team.

The ideas and con­cepts we’re pro­duc­ing have to come from sound and spot on strate­gies that we put down, then I come up with the cre­ative foun­da­tion for the cam­paign that I de­velop fur­ther with the team by branch­ing it out and adding all the el­e­ments that are nec­es­sary for it to be strate­gi­cally com­plete. The cam­paign is then pitched to client for go-ahead. But dur­ing this process is where the qual­ity and char­ac­ter of the in­di­vid­u­als in our team make the dif­fer­ence.

“I think we are a group who share a com­mon sense of wit­ti­ness, so it is al­ways easy to build on each other’s ideas. We also share a com­mon view on life, in terms of what we value and what we seek. We share a com­mon drive to stand out, to stay true to our ideas and to the bold­ness of our thoughts.

We are also a group that gets bored eas­ily, so we’re al­ways on the look­out for some­thing new that stim­u­lates us, and we share a com­mon in­ter­est and pride in our iden­tity as Le­banese, a sen­ti­ment we can say is not yet fully adopted by our so­ci­ety. This has al­lowed us to pick up cul­tur­ally rel­e­vant in­sights that were defin­ing fac­tors in the suc­cess of many of our cam­paigns, be­cause these in­sights were na­tion­ally rel­e­vant. I think it takes great ob­servers to be able to look past the first layer and find such in­sights.”

One of the chal­lenges now is for Beirut Beer to com­pete with its ri­vals on an on-trade level (res­tau­rants and bars). And that, as Kas­satly ad­mits, is “way big­ger and harder” be­cause “our mar­ket­ing bud­get and price po­si­tion­ing does not al­low us to be as ag­gres­sive”.

Which is why cre­ativ­ity plays such a big role.

“What’s also im­por­tant for us to pro­duce such work comes from the client’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept such ideas with­out ex­ert­ing lim­i­ta­tions and bound­aries that hin­der what­ever edge our sug­gested cam­paigns have,” says Masri. “In the case of Beirut Beer, our ideas end up com­ing to life be­cause our client val­ues bold­ness and cre­ativ­ity, and this has been piv­otal in the suc­cess of our Beirut Beer cam­paigns be­cause it al­lowed us to push the bound­aries while earn­ing their full trust and back-up. A mat­ter that has ben­e­fit­ted both of us greatly so far.”

Beirut Beer is still a rel­a­tively young brand and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see whether the mo­men­tum it has built can be sus­tained over a longer pe­riod of time.

Op­er­a­tion Uni­corn, mean­while, has built a rep­u­ta­tion for it­self as one of the most ex­cit­ing in­de­pen­dent agen­cies around. A rep­u­ta­tion that is founded on pas­sion, com­mit­ment and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, hu­mour. The lat­ter, it would seem, is wo­ven into the agency’s fab­ric. Masri is cur­rently work­ing on a com­edy fea­ture film and Chal­houb runs the blog How I Take My Cof­fee, which re­flects hu­mor­ously on the idio­syn­cra­sies of Le­banese so­ci­ety. An agency that’s def­i­nitely go­ing places.

We are a group that gets bored eas­ily, so we’re al­ways on the look­out for some­thing new that stim­u­lates us, and we share a com­mon in­ter­est and pride in our iden­tity as Le­banese, a sen­ti­ment we can say is not yet fully adopted by our so­ci­ety . The Uni­corns

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