Inflated number of awards disproportionate to region’s true level of creativity

Source: mediaME Interview: Louai Alasfahani “Inflated number of awards disproportionate to region’s true level of creativity”

Source: Louai Alasfahani: Inflated number of awards disproportionate to region’s true level of creativity

Louai Alasfahani of Paragon Marketing Communications is a dedicated and outspoken advertising professional, founding member of the IAA Kuwait Chapter and a well-known blogger (BlogAnubis). mediaME spoke to him about the state of creativity in the region and much more.

Q1. Kindly introduce yourself, your experience and your company.

I am a passionate, dedicated industry professional licensed by the LCCI in the fields of Advertising and Public Relations.

An advertising practitioner with 18 years of experience working in the GCC that is credited with establishing several agencies in Kuwait including Bozell Worldwide, Graffiti and Paragon Marketing Communications – Kuwait’s most awarded agency; with offices in Kuwait – Bulgaria and Oman.

In addition to being a founding member and secretary general of the IAA Kuwait Chapter my work is featured in many international books on advertising, graphic design and corporate identity which have won many awards on the local, regional and international level.

I have also been an elected judge at the Summit International Awards, which is one of the few recognized awards on the IAA global website, and the first and only Arab national to serve on the judging panel. Paragon has been the only agency from the Middle East to ever win the Platinum Best of Show print at the summit.

I am also a regular contributor to a plethora of professional trade magazines and an active member of CIM and IPRA.

I love photography, art, travel, reading, music, hiking, basketball and graphic design but not in that exact order.

Q2. As the head of a prominent Kuwait-based advertising agency, tell us more about the status of the advertising industry in the country, both in terms of media expenditure and levels of creativity.

In terms of levels of media expenditure Kuwait is ranked 4th overall – according to both PARC and IPSOS but in terms of creativity levels, it ranks much, much lower than that according to regional and international creativity awards.

Although I believe there is still a small pool of good talent left in Kuwait the fact is that the majority of published creative work is either bad, very bad or based on cliché/copy-cat advertising which is not so good.

For those of you reading this who have already jumped to conclusions and labeled me bias – answer this simple question, why are several prominent Kuwaiti clients employing the creative and media services of agencies in neighboring countries as far as South Africa or starting up their own in-house agencies?

Q3. Your agency has won awards in several competitions, what’s your view regarding the regional versus international award competitions?

We all agree that the aim of all advertising awards are noble in terms of promoting creativity and raising the bar, etc. etc. and I acknowledge the fact that judging mistakes can and do happen all over the world, but what I do not agree with is the alarming amount of mistakes that happened in regional competitions, take the Dubai Lynx, KAAA, KREA, JAA and MENA Cristal for example.

Some of the regional competitions’ problems are related to mimicking international awards while others are a direct result for not placing Arab judges in Arab creativity awards that take place in Arab countries, where the majority of ads are created in Arabic, target Arabs and use the Arabic language.

Bottom line is that the inflated number of awards given to the numerous agencies is disproportionate to the region’s true level of creativity – the proof being the poor performance of the same agencies at the international competitions.

Q4. Middle Eastern creativity is a hot topic that you are engaged in, through your well-known BlogAnubis, which is a copy-cat catcher. Tell us more about this blog, and an interesting story or two that you faced since this blog’s launch.

Establishing, the Arab world’s first copycat blog and then partnering with joelepompe who is an authority on copycats has been an organic growth from co-founding Awraq, the Arab world first Arabic language advertising critique magazine.

BlogAnubis was born out of necessity, to fill a void created by the absence of industry regulatory bodies, consumer watchdogs, lack of enforcement of the intellectual property rights laws and the proliferation of copy-cat, spoof and cliché ads, in addition to the regional awards’ organizers turning a def ear to complaints about awarding such work.

When the organizers’ mission deviated from celebrating, promoting and raising the creativity bar to that of pure profitability, Anubis was waiting for them to weigh their heart against the feather of Maat [Truth] and report his findings to the jury of the gods.

I don’t know if being threatened by competition organizers, agencies and anonymous individuals qualify as interesting stories, But what is really interesting is that BlogAnubis has contributed towards establishing the true level of creativity by ensuring that the organizers do a good job in securing scrutinizing judges, and that they have adopted tighter rules and regulations to disqualify scammers, but most importantly, copycat creative directors have been fired and replaced by talented deserving individuals who would never have had the chance to get that position because it was occupied by copycats who were busy stealing ideas from advertising annuals, winning awards, top positions and top cash by doing so.

Q5. What’s your view regarding online advertising potential in the Middle East? What’s the level of client awareness and does it seem like there’s considerable online advertising in Kuwait?

According to a recently published study, online advertising in the Middle East represents less than 1% of the total advertising expenditure, which means the only way is up; having said that – don’t hold your breath – progress is slow in this part of the world, I estimate that it will take another five good years to see considerable growth. In my opinion online is great, we have used it for some of our clients, even those from the traditional media of radio and newspapers, but in general, the problem is twofold, when it comes to online only some agencies are ready but most clients are not. Not yet anyway.

Q6. As an IAA Kuwait board member, kindly tell us about the chapter’s aims, recent initiatives and the industry response so far.

Through my role in the current board, I aimed at breaking the status-quo through much needed industry related exhibitions, workshops, seminars and activities of which I succeeded in with the help of a few board members.

Although I believe in social activities, however, I resent the portrayal of the Chapter as a catering company and as such I am offended that the participation of the remaining members was limited only to the Ramadan banquets! Is it because they think so poorly of our industry and the people working in it? In all fairness judging by the overall attendance of the intellectual events verses the banquets I must confess they knew their target audience better than I did.

Q7. Anything else you would like to add?

“The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor are the minds of the oppressed” – Steve Biko.


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Louai Alasfahani

ANUBIS was a very old god of the ancient Egyptians, universally worshipped throughout the land and became considered the gatekeeper and ruler of the underworld; the “Guardian of the veil“ he was “Lord of the Cleansing Room” and the opener of the roads of the North. “He observed the weighing of the deceased’s heart against the feather of Maat [Truth] and reported his findings to the jury of the gods.


Skype: louai.asfahani

Oman Mobile: +968 94 009977

Kuwait Mobile: +965 66 009977

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