Following the recent Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, Beirut’s billboards, newspapers and magazines have been filled with supportive advertising campaigns – some of them from the most unlikely clients, writes Roanne Bell.
Lebanon has a 60% muslim majority, yet some of the most visible, and supportive, ads are those for Johnnie Walker whisky (from H&C Leo Burnett, Beirut) and Absolut vodka (TBWA). Both allude not only to the destruction inflicted by Israeli airstrikes but also to the resilience of the Lebanese people. One Johnnie Walker ad, a local adaptation of BBH’s international Keep Walking campaign, stretches across a multistorey billboard overlooking one of Beirut’s main roads. The ad (shown above, photo by Charles Onians) shows the iconic Walker striding across a damaged bridge, one of dozens destroyed during the conflict.
These Absolut ads, meanwhile, reference both the rebuilding of Lebanon (an illustration depicts the laying of new bricks, with a bottle-shaped mould, shown above) and the return of Lebanese citizens who fled abroad during the fighting (a plane whose boarding passengers form the shape of a bottle, shown below).
Reactions have been as mixed as Lebanon’s ethnic make-up of Christians and Muslims. Beyond the irony of a war waged by the Islamist Hezbollah being linked to advertisements for alcohol, some within the Christian community frown upon what they see as the commercialisation of the deaths of over 1,000 Lebanese civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes. However, with arguably the most cutting-edge advertising in the Middle East, Lebanon has a media-savvy population who have a history of emerging with pride and humour from the many conflicts of the past 30 years. Thus, both campaigns have been broadly welcomed.