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How Dish Network’s ‘I Say Arabi’ Rap Unites Arab Parents and Their American-born Offspring

Go behind the campaign in this Q&A with Youmna El-Asmar, associate planning director for Leo Burnett Beirut.

A rap video that parodies the all-too-common conversation between immigrant parents and their first-generation children has taken the internet by storm.

Dish Network’s “I Say Arabi” campaign, created by Leo Burnett Beirut, has garnered more than 4 million views and 62,000-plus shares on Facebook as of the end of January. This spotlight on Arab Americans follows recent mainstream American TV interest in stories of new immigrants, such as “Master of None” and “Fresh off the Boat.”

Dish Network first came to Leo Burnett Beirut with a brief to help build the satellite TV provider’s Arabic brand. The objective was to rebuild affinity with its client base, increase subscription and combat the expansion of pirated Arabic content by illegal providers.

To develop the campaign, the team combined research-driven insights with the first-hand experiences, or “struggles,” of millennial colleagues who are first-generation Arab Americans, and drew inspiration from Arab-American pop culture comedians on social media such as “fouseyTUBE” and “Go Remy.”

Youmna El-Asmar, associate planning director of Leo Burnett Beirut, gives us a deeper dive into “I Say Arabi” and why it has connected so well with the Arab-American community.

How did you settle on telling the story of a generational culture divide through rap?
Beyond rap, it was language that was used mainly to bring our insight to life. In the initial desk research, we understood that our target was what the Harvard Business Review called biculturals. They are very well integrated to their host cultures, yet they still desire to maintain their identity.

One other interesting piece of information we found was that the highest search for “Arabic Classes” on Google matched almost perfectly with the states that have the biggest Arab-American communities.

Language is often the way into a culture — it helps you understand the music, interact with grandparents back home, understand the jokes and humor, take part in cultural events, etc. And that’s why Arab-American parents — our target — make such an effort to keep the Arabic language in their households, whether by forcing their children to go to Arabic classes on Saturdays or by having Arabic channels always playing in the background even when their children aren’t enjoying it or have proper understanding on why they’re being subjected to it.

From there we knew we could use language to bring to life our insight as it’s the ultimate entry point to the culture. Rap just happened to be an effective and highly entertaining way to bring to life this tension between generations; the humorous aspect of having an Arab dad sing a rap song with his son certainly helped create entertainment value for this piece of content.

I Say Arabi - BTS Photo

For our global audience who might not be familiar with Nasser “Chyno” Shorbaji, who is he and why was he the right person to compose the rap?
Chyno was a former frontman for Lebanese hip-hop band Fareeq el-Atrash who now has a successful solo career. When we looked at content consumed online by the Arab-American community, we noticed it was often amateur content created by young Arab Americans that touched on different aspects of Arab culture. When we briefed Chyno and his team, they were able to understand the style we were looking for, the emotional connection needed, and translate that into sharable content.

Is this an integrated campaign? What channels have you leveraged and why?
More than a campaign, this is the start of a new era of communication for Dish. In every piece of communication, we hope to create acts that will help solve the tension between generations. From now on, Dish Arabic has a new signature, “Keep Arabic Culture in Your Household,” a brand character that better resembles its audience and a visual universe that is closer to the world of the people we want to talk to.

What does success look like for this campaign?
We aim to help Dish Arabic become the most loved brand of the Arab-American community. This year, YouGov announced Amazon was the most loved brand in the U.S. We’re hoping that when YouGov does an Arab-American segment, Dish will be the first! The brand has a significant role in a parent’s life: Make sure their kids take a piece of their legacy with them in life. That’s big.

So how do you all pronounce falafel and shawarma in Beirut?
Depends on how hungry you are ;)