An egg is being fried on the pavement and items hanging on the walls are melting. This first scene of an air-conditioning advert by CrazyTown draws on every Iraqi’s memory of coming back home on a summer afternoon. This exemplifies the philosophy of the Baghdad-based creative agency – to communicate a client’s key message that addresses a pain point the target audience feel in their day-to-day lives.
“When I studied mechanical engineering in university, it was based on the typical traditional route of choosing a field based on your school grades”, says Mohammad. “I did like the field and was even looking to pursue a Masters in the topic, but the unstable political and social circumstances in the mid 2000s meant that I spent most weekends trapped indoors scrolling through forums learning how to use photoshop.”
Mohammad’s interest grew and he began volunteering and looking for work experience in graphic design, photography, and post production. “I felt that this was my calling. I realised I could use my passion for creative ads to solve people’s problems.” Mohammad packed his bags leaving Baghdad to work for Leo Burnett, growing his portfolio and learning the global best practices of the creative industry.
“Anyone interested in the advertising sector would really benefit from working for a multinational firm to learn how things work. I found the experience really useful but then realised I wanted to do my own thing when I felt like my projects were starting to get mundane and repetitive.” Mohammad says this is precisely the reason why companies need creative and advertising agencies. “Anyone, however good they are, need an outsider fresh perspective. When you’re limited to the input of insiders, you’ll likely to run out of innovative ideas and thinking”.
Beyond the Graphics – CrazyTown helps Clients Correct Assumptions about their Own Brands and Products
Whilst some clients may come to the agency asking for a new product design, CrazyTown looks to put themselves in the shoes of the target audience to understand what message the client really needs to communicate. “One of our clients was Ridha Alwan Coffee who wanted a new video advertisement”, says Mohammad. “We ended up releasing that ad three years later. We realised we first needed to work on the brand itself. Newbies and existing companies were imitating their logo and the brand needed to distinguish itself more distinctly to their target audience. We started working on product rebranding before moving on to the advertising aspect”.
Mohammad emphasises that his agency doesn’t work with design or product objectives, but rather looks for the client’s communication objectives to create a brief with the client’s needs and communication strategy. “A design could even be created on MS Word, but it’s not about that. It’s about how well it rings a bell for the target audience.”
“It’s about what the design communicates and how it taps the target audience’s loves, wants and habits”. A recent breast cancer awareness campaign the agency worked on hardly used any words or talking. “We created a design with Arabic “noon” letter, used for the female collective, to visually communicate how women can self-examine for potential symptoms”. It ended up being used to educate women in places not even in Iraq for breast cancer awareness.
It’s a Hype but Will it Communicate your Message? Choosing the Right Channels
Sometimes clients are obsessed with getting onto an influencer’s Instagram page. Mohammad explains that this may work for some brands, but many may fail to assess whether this would communicate the right message to the right target audience. “You may end up being one of 60 products this influencer is advertising. Ok the post got a good number of likes, but will your message be memorable?”, Mohammad asks. “Will it actually lead to purchasing or subscription decisions?”
With its focus on communication objectives and messages communicated, CrazyTown has received requests from clients with big budgets but an ambiguous communication strategy. On the other hand, Mohammad talks about how some startups have been some of their most exciting projects to work on. “We loved Nakhla’s vision and core value proposition. It’s really about what they want to communicate that excites us”.
Creatives without Borders. Your Iraqi Audience are Playing International Ads
In a culture where word of mouth is powerful and most people do not struggle with expressing their woes and worries, CrazyTown has used people’s conversations to create advertisements that address the target audience’s sentiments. Their work with The Station is an example. “You’d hear most young people talking about wanting to migrate and being fed up with living in Iraq.” The ad shows a young man trying to work on a new startup project with his family showering him with interruptions to buy bread from the corner shop. “Your place isn’t here,” says the ad. “Your place is in The Station”.
CrazyTown hasn’t struggled with getting clients. A growing awareness of the power of advertising in Iraq has meant that the agency has always had requests coming in. Why shouldn’t a company use word-of-mouth and traditional marketing channels instead of applying global or Western inspired strategies to communicate their messaging? “Your target audience are in Iraq, but they’re continuously seeing what’s happening around the world”, says Mohammad.
“With social media they’re always seeing the best and how you compare. You’re basically competing for their attention and addressing their pain points”. At the same time, Mohammad has faced more of a challenge in the supply rather than demand. The Iraqi labour market witnesses a shortage of people that have the skills and knowledge to work in the creative industry.
Navigating Uncharted Waters – Building a Company in an Undeveloped Field
What struggles did Mohammad face founding CrazyTown? “In the beginning, we had to do a lot of work that was outside our intended scope”. With the creative and advertising industry being so novel in Iraq, the agency received requests that weren’t necessarily fitting in the specialised focus of CrazyTown, but this helped bring in clients and raise awareness of the field’s potential. “It was exciting but challenging. I was introducing a new way of thinking, a new mindset and setting a new benchmark and standard for the advertising market”.
With the need for more design and brand studios in Iraq, Mohammad’s advice to aspiring and new founders is to “start right”. “Don’t just start a businesses for the sake of it. Think about each step. Build the right reputation, the right resources, the right people”. Mohammad also emphasises the importance of looking at the local needs rather than what is necessarily popular or trendy. “For instance, there is a huge need for copywriters in Iraq, it’s not just all social media”.
Mohammad says the same goes to freelancers. “Many freelancers would only focus on completing a design task without realising the potential to make it bigger than that.” He highlights the need for recognising that freelancers can also help companies with creating a communication strategy that the design task is merely a small part of. Through freelancers and creative agencies, the future of advertising in Iraq is promising. Mohammad believes that how this potential is tapped depends on business owners recognising the need for continuous communication with target audiences and supplying the market with more creatives and advertising specialists with the right skill and talent.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Tajarib, giving you a written overview of the podcast’s latest episode every week for those of you who prefer reading over listening. Tajarib is supported by iQ, Iraq’s leading fiber-optic network.