VIEW FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

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Roy Haddad is the Beirut-based CEO of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson operation in the Middle East and North Africa. His biggest clients are Unilever, Nestle, Pfizer, Saudi Telecom and Ford Motor Co. Mr. Haddad spoke with Laurel Wentz, Ad Age's international editor.

Advertising Age: How can the U.S. do a better job of communicating with the Arab market?

Mr. Haddad: Assume the U.S. is a brand and that brand has to appeal to its consumers.

It seems the U.S. interest lies elsewhere. The archenemy of Arabs, let's face it, is Israel. It seems this brand is biased toward my enemy rather than to me. The feeling is the U.S. is being very opportunistic in dealing with the Middle East. The strategic interest is protecting Israel.

What is the promise the U.S.A. brand can offer to Arabs?

Democracy is a very appealing message. The U.S. is supposed to be the ultimate expression of freedom of speech, but all of a sudden they look at ways to shut down freedom of speech [and stop people from watching pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera].

What creates skepticism about any message the U.S. is trying to create is the lack of consistency. The only consistency is in protecting Israel. That's all they see.

Compare that to France. The French always have the right attitude. The way France has communicated with Arabs was much more consistent, where they draw the line or where they can help and cannot help. That's why Arabs demand the involvement of Europeans in the peace process. They are less biased.

How is marketing a product to Arabs different?

Because of their trading tradition, Arabs are more cynical and skeptical, and there is more of a bias to be overcome. The perception is that no one will tell you [their] goods are bad. You need to address the emotion of Arabs rather than the rational part of them. Addressing the heart, you overcome the traditional skepticism inherent in the Arab mind. Arabs want empathy.

How should the U.S. get its message across? Advertise on Al Jazeera?

You need to re-establish the credentials of this brand with the consumer. The feeling is that this brand only cares about us when they need to care about us. And they're not interested in poor Arab countries without oil. The frustration runs high.

The strategy has to change. With every good campaign, you redefine the strategy, then you define the communications by that strategy.

There are stories the U.S. can tell-that they're investing so much in welfare and education, trying to upgrade the system in that region, initiatives the U.S. has taken, a Marshall Plan to rebuild Afghanistan. But they're investing $1 billion in the Arab world and $5 billion goes to Israel; that equation is there, too.

The long-standing Israel issue is the biggest hindering factor. Our No. 1 enemy in the past was the Soviets, and the No. 2 enemy was Israel. Now the Soviets are gone; Israel is the No. 1 enemy again.

There's been a lot of reaction in the U.S., feeling that Arabs were pro-bin Laden. It's not so much a pro-bin Laden as an anti-American attitude, anti-Western. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. But you hate him just as much. That's a very important nuance. No one wants to live under a Taliban-like regime, I guarantee you.

It's all a matter of repositioning the brand. Research would be very useful. Looking at [existing] research among Arab youth, there are four major groups: the very conservative, traditional Muslim fundamentalists (25%), more modernists (25%), more progressive (35%) and more individualistic, Western types (15%).

If you don't find a solution to the Palestinian problem, you're giving more fuel to the extremist group that is very anti-American. The more individual, more progressive [groups] want to see change. They don't want extremists to gain ground. They would like to see change in U.S. policy, because it helps their case.

Over the last three or four years, you find the more progressive and individualists are growing in numbers, [as are] the very conservative. The ones that are disappearing are the more modernist. People are getting more polarized, which is a problem.

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