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Opinion and Insight

Strictly No Bullshit: Inside Israel’s Advertising

Tzur Golan, Ohad Basson and Srulik Einhorn introduce us to an industry that’s frank, impulsive and creative to the core

Strictly No Bullshit: Inside Israel’s Advertising

Israel might be one of the toughest advertising environments on earth – at least if Ohad Basson’s assessment is anything to go by. Local audiences won’t stand for any nonsense and can see through any clever-clever trickery. “The ‘don't bullshit a bullshitter" approach, I think, is the best one. Israelis are highly cynical and raise their eyebrows to obvious manipulation or sales,” he says.

Ohad’s the creative director at Gefen Team Innovation Agency in Tel Aviv, and that sense of directness shines through their work – and never more so than in last year’s collaboration with Israeli fashion brand comme il faut. To challenge rape culture and victim blaming, the agency launched the ‘She was asking for it’ collection, a clothing line where all the items were named after quotes from rape and sexual assault victims.

comme il faut - 'She was asking for it' by Gefen Team


Curiously, though, while straight talking is the default mode in the country, not all clients are willing to be as direct in their communication as their target demographic might be, says Srulik Einhorn, who is the founder of Allenby Concept House. “Israelis are very straight forward and speak frankly and there's no place for finesse. Surprisingly enough, on the other hand Israeli clients are very conservative and afraid to dare. They will wait for the competitors to dare and then they will hurry up to copy.”

That conservatism is something that Tzur Golan, Chief Creative Director and Partner at M&C Saatchi Tel Aviv, has also come up against, saying that there are many big brands that are too content with solid rather than ground-breaking advertising. That said, he’s full of praise for the bold clients.

“It may be surprising but what most excites me are those marketing managers who marked innovation as a key value and you can see it in the advertising outputs their brands are sharing,” he says. “They are brave managers willing to take chances and routes no one has gone through before. I am a great believer that in order to see more innovative advertising we need to see more innovative companies.”


Global Israel Tourism Campaign - by Allenby Concept House

But if clients can be a tad on the conservative side that doesn’t mean that they’re slow. Instead, says Srulik, there doesn’t tend to be a lot of forward planning when it comes to clients – something he puts down to Israeli impulsiveness and an ‘improvising mentality’.

Outside of advertising, one area where Israel is certainly not beholden to conservative mentalities is in the tech scene – and Tel Aviv is the centre of the country’s booming start-up culture. The country spends more on research and development as a percentage of GDP than any other OECD country and the local tech sector is attracting spendy investors from the US and China.


Task Force on Human Trafficking - ‘Meet the Meat’ by M&C Saatchi

Within advertising, the tech and innovation story is a little more mixed. That’s because the business model is still largely structured around media commission – but according to Tzur things are changing.

“There is a complex situation in Israel in terms of pricing methods and compensation for advertising work. The common model is still media commission. Therefore, when the compensation is derived by the volume of media investment, the approach is more conservative,” he says. “On the other hand, more and more offices are undergoing a gradual digital evolution. For example, we opened a social media department and started managing Facebook pages and creating relevant content for them. This is a natural development that I think every advertising agency must go through, all the people are there and therefore we must be there.”

That’s an opinion shared by Srulik. “It varies – there's great innovation and tech adaptation and on the other side very traditional approaches. The business model of the big agencies is still based on media commissions, so they are pulling the market towards the old approach of a big media spend. The younger boutique agencies are struggling to invent their business model and trying to get the market to pay for creative services.”


Israeli Congress - ‘Declaration of Independence’ by Allenby Concept House. For an English language description, click here.

Meanwhile, says Ohad, there’s still no shortage of bandwagon-y buzzwords flying about. I think as a local industry it is highly traditional – on both the client side and the agencies. There's a very slow rise in the understanding of innovation or digital mediums. Even when industry leaders lecture about it, it usually adds up to a lot of buzzwords with no real connection to what millennials and relevant audiences are really like,” says Ohad, who says that the crew at Gefen are trying to approach things differently, focusing on the challenge and the creative rather than going for the old fashioned hard sell. “In terms of the Israeli industry, our agency is almost like an alien in that regard. Everybody is selling something.”

But if agencies and clients are slow to get involved on the digital front, they are fortunate to operate in the culture that is creative to the core.

“Israel is a paradise for creative people because it is part of our character,” says Tzur. “Sometimes the shortcuts, the impatience and the strong desire to succeed lead to wonderful results. The attitude here in Israel is that everything is possible. That is how our country was established, and it's also the approach in the business and social world here. Therefore, my main tip is to adopt the "everything is possible" approach that is the key to innovation and creativity.”


Vibe Israel - ‘Doggy Vacay’ by Gefen Team

Indeed, there’s no shortage of Israeli art and music to inspire the local creative, says Srulik. “Watch out for Zoya Cherkassky who has a solo exhibition at the Israel museum in Jerusalem and check out DJ Yaeli who is the queen of underground house music in Tel Aviv. You should also inquire about DJ Cock who is a genius in his own right and has been refused entry to the Metropolitan museum. A last but not least recommendation for the Mediterranean sound is the amazing musical group Quarter to Africa.”

Of course for many outsiders that creative spirit is not the first thing that springs to mind when they think about Israel. For decades, global news reports have been full of dramatic images and stories of terrorist attacks and tense political situations. But does that really reflect the day-to-day life of creatives in Israel? According to Srulik, it does mean that brands tend to avoid making any dramatic political statements. But otherwise… not really.

“An excellent question, not just in the creative aspect. There is a huge gap between real life in Israel and what is reflected in the international media,” says Tzur. “Only those who visit here understand this gap. Israel is one of the most safe and stable places in the world, and you have to see it to believe it. Israel has wonderful cultural scenes, amazing food and amazing views. Therefore, political situations have no effect over our activities. I will take this opportunity to invite anyone who hasn't already been here to visit, you won't be sorry.”

And if that sounds like an offer that’s too good to resist, Ohad has some advice for doing business in this straight-talking market.

“Be direct, stay sharp, take everything casually… and don't take any bullshit from anyone.”

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Genre: Strategy/Insight