Lebanon was expecting the best tourist season ever after 15 years of reconstruction and sacrifices. The blow to the nation's morale in the early days of the war was almost lethal. Hope and optimism vanished, and Beirut was propelled 30 years back in time to the darkest period of the civil war.
But the resilience of the Lebanese people quickly started to resurface. Only one week after the beginning of the war, Lebanon's second-biggest bank, Bank Audi, called Leo Burnett and asked us to come up with a "morale boosting" campaign.
Just two days and some bright exchanges later, a TV spot was aired in and around Beirut.
The ad: a classroom, children busy drawing their visual interpretation of "the sun". One boy isn't drawing, though. He is cutting something out of cardboard, it's a picture frame. The teacher watches him take his cardboard cutout and stick it to the window, framing the real sun. Strap-line: "It may be cloudy, but the sun will shine again on Lebanon."
The impact of the spot was amazing. People said it gave them a rush of optimism and hope. But the most amazing thing was the reaction the ad triggered in the marketplace. Every financial institution in Lebanon wanted to contribute to raising people's spirits. Other banks followed, with the resulting ads transforming the media environment into one big eulogy to resistance, national pride and reconstruction.
The viral effect has been even bigger, with a massive proliferation of blogs. Mobile phones too have taken on a central role: SMS has become an essential tool for sharing points of view, and messages of concern and encouragement. (Israel itself is utilizing SMS to warn Lebanese of incoming attacks, and as a direct propaganda device.)
In their urge to communicate, the Lebanese are now fully embracing holistic campaigns with the express aim of boosting morale. One business group recently announced that its contribution to the war effort would be to rebuild a bombed bridge - in so doing creating an innovative contact point with its customers. We are expecting many others to follow suit.
The enhanced role of the individual versus the institution - key to Thomas Friedman's notion of a "flat" world - is in Lebanon creating a brand new model for 21st- century crisis management.
In this model every citizen is playing an active and effective role. The sum of all contributors influencing the unfolding of events to such an extent that one can hardly predict what will happen next. In the 20th century, it was physical resistance that made all the difference in war, but in the early 21st century, it's words that will shape the destiny of whole nations. In Lebanon today, it's about communicate or die.
- Farid Chehab is the chief creative officer of Leo Burnett Central and Eastern Europe.