Bilal Zaiter

The Goddess of Fear

Are Syrians creative?

I published this article with FW: magazine - october 2007 issue and i beleive i am obliged to share with those who are itneretsed in exploring " creativity in syria " and " branding industry"

This is the first article in a series of research & opinion articles discovering the (creative & cultural industries) in syria.

Are Syrians creative?
If measured by billboard ads in Syria, the answer will probably be: ”no”.
But why? Why this unfair self-image depiction?
To find a real answer we decided to delve into the “advertising world”. A country with a well developed advertising industry after all, usually enjoys a higher degree of creativity appreciation.

But let us reconsider this question. Doesn’t it sounds a little strange, as if one were asking "Are the French smart ?" or "Are the south Africans punctual?"

Let is have a look at our “cultural production”. The “intellectual releases” indicates much about its development potentials. In this sense, creativity stands as a main stimulator to produce innovative ideas, and eventually services, works, products. Creativity decides how much innovative our culture is and how positively distinctive our contribution as Syrians can be, both to our society in particular and humanity in general. If we are not creative we simply, can not create. And if we cease to create, we simple no longer exist!
Creativity is the shield that protects our existence; it guarantees that our identity will remain dynamic and well-protected.

The Fear Goddess:

The old wisdom tells us "shaky hands can not build". That is true. In similar sense, the blinking – or shaking - minds cannot see. The shacking minds cannot create.
If we want a zero-risk life, we will end up caged, fed in particular hours, washed in particular hours and took to the cirque in particular hours. Off course the audience will clap for our marvelous and astonishing jumps and plays, but they will never call us creative, we will be always referred to as tamed and obedient animals. No wise human would accept having a caged mind.

Worshipping our absolute security, our properties borders, our accessories, our stable status. Is the first enemy of our potential creativity. As Syrians we can no longer afford to sit back, watch and be afraid. We are genetically obliged to participate in events making. Creativity has many contributing factors that help adding to it, but it is one thing that kills creativity. It is fear. The fear of upsetting the status-quo, the fear of knowing before challenge. Freedom of choice then is the main engine that fuels creativity.

The Advertising sector:

Back to the advertising industry, a good example of our country's creative capital. Why is it crippled, ;aging behind, and taking too much time to develop? Is it the system, regulations, human resources, or all above?
Advertising is an industry based on two main components; research, and creativity. If either one of them is unavailable, then the advertising industry will simple never develop.


It is not a hidden fact that research entities in Syria are almost absent. This is for many reasons that go beyond the intention of this article. What is so central to this topic we are discussing here, is that [if you do not know, then you can not create]. Or in the best scenarios, you will re-create the tire again. You will end up creating something that either people are not interested in or they are too familiar with. That said, creation starts by researching. OK, here is a nice surprise to make your day. We go back to the roots. You have to be creative in creating your research. So it is the sexy cycle again, the art of knowing. Creativity is at the core of our daily choices, and actions.

Branding & Communication:

The advertising field is basically based on the branding; the science of establishing identities. This can be achieved through accurate articulation and good management to huge amount of information/signals related to a product, a service, a destination/city-country or even a human being. The colors, associations, logo, attributes, features, country of origin, dressing codes, tonality, smell… and so on. All accumulate if genially put together to generate an impression. A perception. It is the science of perceptions management.
Before commercial packaging era, the term "brand" was not born yet. It is the industrialization, and more particularly the mass production, that made this term come to life. Because the term grow in association to packaging culture, it has always been mistreated by many parties, while over appropriated and manipulated by others. For example, countries, refused to adopt terms such as "destination or country branding" for many years, stating that a country is not a packaged good. NGOs, specially those active in the humanitarian aid, stood against the term long enough before realizing the fact that it is a science that should benefit everyone. In contrasts, corporate sector, who had initially invented the term, insisted on keeping the lion's share of the cake "brand".

An integrated element of a certain culture is the level of creativity enjoyed by its business people. If they are not adventurous; if they are worshipers of the Fear Goddess, unwilling to take a calculated risk aimed at delivering positively beyond customer expectations, then the potentials of this culture evolution become quite questionable.
A very shocking, sad, and unacceptable fact is that majority of business managers in Syria are still unaware of a science called “branding”. This is like a nation in the year 2007, unaware of genetic engineering as a science, or IT as a field of knowledge. And this explains why we still see very direct, dull, and not attractive, images on our billboards. Businesses without branding are planes without wheels; they simply can not take off no matter how long they stand on the runway.

Branding in Syria
Clients didn’t get exposed to this knowledge in a readable format. Until today, branding agencies are very few in Syria. Instead of investing their time in transferring needed knowledge to others, advertising agencies quarrel with each other. Adding to the damage, in trying to cut their spending, they recruit the cheapest human resources and thereby become of minimal use to clients. Generally speaking, they could not prove the value of their knowledge/work to their clients. They could not render a success model to inspire clients. Not only this, the worst is coming, many advertising agencies played the hit & run game with their clients. They totally distorted the concept of branding and took clients to the no return point. Most of recognized advertising agencies had concentrated their efforts on convincing clients to buy more media space, presenting solutions that are based on selling more media. End result? Loss of confidence. End of relationship. Too bad there are no such active anti-trust laws in the country to punish those destroying the industry by playing unethically.

Those working in the advertising business also didn’t put an effort into establishing an NGO that represents their interests. Until today, the sole manipulating power in this field is a state-run entity, the "Arab Advertising Association (AAO)". It remains the only legislation and execution authority for advertising in Syria. Two in one. Just as in the classical shampooing promotional offers.
Taxation wise, and knowledge transferring wise, the (AAO) is contributing negatively to the advertising industry in Syria.

Had these professionals managed to establish their own NGO instead, the advertising industry in Syria may have experienced a positive, yet slight improvements.
Another slight positive change would have been accomplished if the industry people had organized relevant events to establish the category even if that was not through an NGO. Branding, communication, design and similar conferences, workshops and seminars targeted at CLIENTS and industry peers, would have created a positive change.

The lack of different complementary production channels in this industry had made the production, and deliverance of creative outputs a difficult mission. Professional printing houses are lacking, so are production houses, post production houses, and companies for promotional items and events management. Once again it was the vicious cycle of (investment-qualified human resources- market demand) that ceased the development of such parallel facilities for a long time.

For several years, Syria has been limited to one medium to deliver the creative outputs. Until recently another two mediums emerged; radio stations and the magazines. With such scarcity of vehicles to transfer the message, creative Syrian in the advertising industry and clients themselves didn’t have a variety of options to communicate with their audience.

Syria needs branding and communication?

It is not to label its exported and locally commercialized goods and services only. It is not to better market its tourist sites. It is not to better position its artists worldwide. It is to leverage its identity.

The Identity

Syria should go forward. She can not do that, however, without Syrians themselves. People make the change. Limits create challenges, and creative people come up with smart solutions. But If the people are limited by just too many external factors, then it is not a challenge anymore. It is tying. If people are worshipers of the “Goddess of Fear”, then no one can change or liberate them. No one can stop this very dangerous internal enemy but the Syrians themselves. The worst part is that within time fear and acceptance of limitations as fact, become an integrated part of the Syrian identity. That is not fair. The Syrian identity is colorful enough, it is vivid enough, challenging and creative enough. Not communicating our identity will create alternative identity that we do not want to have. Communicating our identity starts by being creative, and living creatively.

The magic wand!

In advertising, unlike other fields, there is a magic wand. It is the field of perceptions. Think about repeating the Syrian Drama case with some modification. As of the year 2000 the government provided many facilities to those interested to invest in cinema, and TV production. Soon after Syrian investors decided to go into creating this category based on calculated feasibility studies. The industry had flourished in seven years and become the second in the (Arab world) in terms of quantity.
The only one difference with regard to advertising industry is that we need professional Human resources. This is not hard, Syrians have always proved their level of creativity.

Are Syrians creative?

Getting exposed to the billboard advertising in Syria you will end up answering the above question by "definitely no". but this is not enough to judge whether a country's people are in essence creative or not. Watch the diversity of micro-busses and taxi statements, the different ways Syrian's salute each others, the fast adoption to new trends, amount of solution they invent on their every-day lives to keep a live, the way they fly their pigeons. Syrians are creative being in the way they call out to sell their fruits, or hosting their guests, singing to the world, or even participating in international movies.…etc.
Syrians are creative in essence, it is only the environmental and institutional limitations that are banning them from releasing their creativity in a rewarding and feasible format.
If we want a more creative Syria, we need to fix the systems, we need to be more generous in transferring the relevant knowledge and we need to start appreciating the "freedom" value. We need to break the Goddess of fear.
Creativity protects . It is who we are . It is what are we looking for. It is it is in our genes.

To explore the case further, supported with relevant evidences, I am showcasing some professional Syrian’s creations working in the advertising/communication/design industries outside Syria. November issue.

Bilal Zaiter is a communications consultant and he is the managine director of "Roumooz" for cultural industries and art management.