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D&AD Interview: Director Ali Ali

Ali Ali is an acclaimed advertising director from Cairo and former Executive Creative Director and Founder of Elephant Cairo. He was named by the 2015 Gunn Report as one of the top ten advertising directors in the world today. Such is his level of experience in the field of advertising crafts, Ali not only acted as a Judge on the Film Advertising Crafts Jury 2016, he also gave a talk '10 Stupid things that I learnt in advertising' at the inaugural D&AD Festival, April 2016.

His impressive awards haul includes a Yellow Pencil for Direction at the D&AD Professional Awards 2015, however, he's perhaps best known for his Panda cheese commercials. 

This interview took place in the lead up to D&AD Festival, and sees Ali talk creative style, approaching a brief and what a D&AD Pencil means to him. 

Ali Ali Film Director D&AD Interview

What are you most looking forward to about judging Film Advertising at D&AD?

Well, last year was the first time attending D&AD. I was immediately struck by the quality of the work, and the level of judging compared to all other award shows.

Lets face it, no one does advertising like the British, and theres something inherently British about D&AD.

So I think I'm looking forward to learning mostly, being inspired. Learning from the people around me in the room, learning from all the work I'll be seeing, learning from my fellow jury members, learning by just being there and keeping my eyes open. 

Your own ads all have a certain style, how do you describe it?

I get that all the time, that my ads have a certain style.

I’m not quite sure what my style is, or if I can name it. But I’m definitely more inclined to quirky dark humor. It probably goes back to something that happened in my childhood, and I also always appreciate ads that underplay it rather than overdo it. It is the subtlety in humour, and advertising in general, that I appreciate the most. 

Two for One Tickets, Yellow Pencil, Film Advertising Crafts / Direction for Film Advertising / 2015, Leo Burnett Dubai

How would you describe your approach to a brief.

I usually get a brief. Keep it in the back of my head, and then go off and do fuck all. Anything and everything but sit and think about the brief.

So when you’re off watching football having beers with friends, somehow, subconsciously your mind is still working on that brief. You’re not, but your mind is, which gives you loads of time off to do the things you really love.

Then when the deadline is about an hour away, you get to work. And all the ideas just pour out of you. This technique really does work. I’ve always studied hours before the exam, and as we all know old habits die hard. 

In addition to judging, you'll also be speaking at the D&AD Festival, can you give us a teaser of what you’ll be talking about?

Yes I will. I’m going to be talking about all the great things I picked up from my ten-years of paid labour in advertising agencies. I called it “Ten stupid things I learned in advertising.”

There are actually eleven things, but ten sounds better on the poster. 

Watch Ali Ali's hilarious 'Never Say No To Panda' ads:

What is it about London that makes it an exciting place for creatives?

London is, well, London. Not much to say there. The city needs no introduction. The best creatives in the world are here. I would love to have worked here as a creative back in the day. Possibly the one thing I regret in my short lived advertising career, is not having had a stint in the UK, teaming up with a proper British copywriter. 

What are you most looking forward to about the D&AD Festival?

The food, free drinks!

For you, what does the D&AD Pencil symbolise?

Cannes have their Lions, The Clios have their greek goddess, the NY Festivals have their brilliant towering statues, the ADC have Cubes, but when it comes to awards, the Yellow Pencil is, well, quite momentous.

There is something about that Yellow Pencil, and how it sits in your bookshelf. In my opinion, it is the most coveted of awards statues. And not just because of how well designed they are, or how scarce - last year the jury only gave out three Yellow Pencils in Film Craft - but because D&AD is the Champions League of Advertising, and that Yellow Pencil is its trophy.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Professional Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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