Advertising with Purpose: A Q&A with Leo Burnett MENA

Leo Burnett MENA’s recent campaigns in Lebanon reinforced the power of advertising to transform human behavior while creatively calling out injustice.

Two campaigns by Leo Burnett MENA – “Lollar” for the Lebanese Transparency Association and “#TheMissingPeace” for U.N. Women Lebanon – drew attention to the country’s history of socioeconomic injustice and mobilized audiences in unexpected ways.

Both campaigns underscored Leo Burnett’s ethos first and foremost to help people solve real-world problems.

Read on for rich insights behind the work and how advertisers can act as an agent of change when governments fall short, by evaluating the risk versus reward in a politically charged climate.

How can advertisers play a role in creating change where governments may fall short? And how best to ensure the change is lasting?

Advertising is about communication, finding a way to “sell” an idea and creating a narrative that will engage the larger public. “#TheMissingPeace” and “Lollar #Not PayingThePrice” are about just that. We found a narrative compelling enough to engage people in a subject that they felt very removed from: the lack of women in peace-building dialogues in the case of the UNW campaign, and life savings earned in US Dollars that are stuck in Lebanese banks in the case of LTA.

The surest way to affect change is to create something that leaves an imprint, something people (and ideally government officials) can’t unsee—a truth that, once uncovered, can’t be hidden again.

Who are the necessary stakeholders, beyond the traditional advertising community, who must inform campaigns like “#TheMissingPeace” and “Lollar” that tackle critical socio-economic issues?

Media and opinion leaders are key for maximum exposure. “#TheMissingPeace” wouldn’t have had the scale it did if it weren’t for the hundreds of opinion leaders and buy-in of the two largest media outlets in Lebanon. Because of their support, we created a media wall that practically no one could escape.

As for the “Lollar” campaign, our exclusive partnership with the leading TV station in Lebanon allowed us to ensure a unique and innovative intervention in prime time news in addition to a creative media buy in the economic section for 12 days consecutively informing the audience about the fluctuations of the Lollar bills allowing for national awareness.

What factors informed where and how you launched “#TheMissingPeace,” as a digital-first campaign?

We needed to interfere and create chaos where people go to find news. That’s why we partnered with Lebanon’s most trusted news sources: Twitter, An Nahar, and LBCi. Twitter is usually the first place people in Lebanon turn to if they are trying to make sense of things happening in the country—except this time, it’s Twitter that didn’t make any sense. Anywhere people turned, news updates made no sense, because they were missing 50% of their characters, which generated the buzz we were looking for.

What were the most meaningful results of these campaign?

The space and visibility that was created for an unprecedented conversation was especially meaningful for “#TheMissingPeace.” This was a very niche subject, which was one of our main challenges, but thanks to the impact generated by our campaign, our hashtag, and the importance of including women in the peace process, we were able to trend organically on Twitter for three days during a busy news cycle.

People made the discussion their own and we saw it all. We saw the very positive reactions, but also very negative reactions, which fueled the discussions even more. And four months later, during parliamentary elections, Lebanon saw the largest number ever of female candidates.

As for “Lollar,” the campaign is still ongoing. Not only were people engaged in our call to action, as well as local and international media, but official institutions are now showing serious signs to answer our demands. More to come…

How did you select the artist to design the “Lollar” bills?

The criteria for selecting the artist were primarily to stay true to the authentic craft of creating banknotes by basing them on oil paintings. We chose Tom Young, a well-known oil painter whose works focus on Beirut. He liked the idea and painted the seven paintings for the “Lollar,” which were later displayed alongside the banknotes at an exhibition.

How did you evaluate the risk in mounting such politically charged campaigns?

With this type of campaign, there is always going to be a risk because we are “attacking” government and institutionalized behaviors. But we need to weigh which risk is more worth taking: the risk of exposing what needs to be changed, or the risk of doing nothing and maintaining the status quo. Lebanon is in the middle of the worst crisis of its entire history. It needs to change, and part of this change is putting out work and ideas that make people uncomfortable. The risk of just standing back is far worse than any backlash.

What’s next for Leo Burnett MENA? Anything you can share for the future of work with U.N. Women and/or the Lebanese Transparency Association?

The U.N. portfolio has been a client for several years now, and we’re very proud of this partnership.

The Lebanese Transparency Association is a new client; however, they are a strategic partner and an integral piece of what’s to come for the “Lollar” campaign.