Ali Ali’s Creative Lament

The founder of Elephant Cairo want to push things forward

     Ali Ali’s Egyptian creative boutique Elephant Cairo has had quite a few successes to date—from Google to Coca-Cola to, most beloved of all, the “Never Say No to Panda” series, an Egyptian cheese commercial that went viral last year. So the creative director’s presentation at Cannes Lions Independent Agency Showcase on Sunday won quite a few hearts and minds among the audience, who seemed to love each Elephant campaign video more than the last.

     But Ali had quite a few criticisms for the state of his industry. It wasn’t just his conviction that big agencies were, almost categorically, “dinosaurs” restricting the creative imagination. It was that even the smaller, independent agencies had lost their edge."I remember coming to Cannes in 2003, and things were just a lot funner back then," he said. "Today it's a lot of talk about digital and social media, and every seminar starts to sound the same."

     Digital takes a fair share of the spotlight this year: Google chairman Eric Schmidt is media person of the year, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley is here, there’s even a panel on “What brands can learn from Angry Birds.” But that’s not Ali’s issue.

     “I'm not saying digital is wrong, obviously. Digital is the future. But digital is old,” he said. “Crispin, Porter did Subservient Chicken [the famous web campaign for Burger King] in 2004, which is nine years ago [sic]. So we need to think about that."

     In today’s climate, Ali continued, “marketers aren’t competing against each other on YouTube—they’re competing against Lady Gaga’s 100 million page views.” Instead of reiterating what we already know about the new digital landscape—a talk that usually focuses on such familiar buzzwords as “engagement” in favor of “interruption”—why not talk about how marketers create engagement and push things forward.

     His talk starts just after the 2:40 mark.