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Winter 2007 Vol. V, No. 2

Alumni Profile

A Brand New Approach

Emily Dorman

In the seemingly greedy, superficial, bottom-line obsessed advertising world, Miriam ‘Mira’ Kaddoura’s success may be a bit of a puzzle. She is too young, too honest, and too sensitive to be an accomplished businesswoman and shrewd advertiser. Her dossier of campaigns with the prestigious Global Ad Agency Wieden + Kennedy, however, proves otherwise. Kaddoura’s art direction for the recent “I Feel Pretty” campaign featuring tennis legend Maria Sharapova and last year’s Nike “Real Women” campaign challenge the idea that successful advertising sells shallowness. Even the behind the scenes story for these projects goes against the grain, showing that the best campaigns don’t always come from millions of dollars.

Miriam Kaddoura (BA ’00) has the graceful friendliness of someone who could feel comfortable anywhere and in any situation, and indeed it’s hard to find a situation where she hasn’t met with success. Born in Egypt, Kaddoura spent her adolescent years in Canada. Half way through middle school, she had to readjust again when her family moved to Beirut. After graduating from AUB with a degree in Graphic Design, Kaddoura took a chance, left her friends and family, and moved once again, this time to Richmond, Virginia. She completed her master’s at the Virginia Commonwealth Adcenter and has been working as an art director at Wieden + Kennedy for the last four years, a brief time to have so distinguished herself.

Throughout these many transitions, Kaddoura’s ability and passion for connecting with people has given her strength in her personal life and proves to be what makes her professional work stand out.

With a sociologist mother and a surgeon for a father, travel was bound to be part of Kaddoura’s childhood, but that did not make it easy. “When most people were fleeing from Lebanon, my family moved in the opposite direction. My father went to live in Beirut in 1987 due to the shortage of doctors there. My mom joined him with me and my brothers in December of 1989.” The move was stressful for Kaddoura, and not only because of the politics and violence. “I was a middle schooler. I had a junior prom coming, a clique of friends, a crush—I was devastated!” She confesses that she was only able to stay devastated for a matter of months after moving to Beirut. “No one was mean to me,” she explains, succinctly. “And that was rare for middle school.”

In Beirut, Kaddoura found a free and open environment for young people. “There was no cocoon. We could stay out late with our friends and our parents didn’t worry about us or give us strict curfews. That wasn’t true in Canada,” she says. This luxury of safety was based on the tightness of the Beirut community. With that security went a civic responsibility and Kaddoura had first-hand experience in that as well. During the last year of the war, she and her family would provide assistance, in the form of food, medical attention, or just company, to their neighbors, whatever their religious or ethnic description. “We just helped out when people were in trouble,” Kaddoura says. “If that’s not tolerance, I don’t know what is.” Despite her many homelands, Kaddoura says she has felt Lebanese ever since moving to Beirut.

Perhaps it is not surprising, given these beginnings, that Kaddoura’s original intent was to be a doctor like her father. “It was actually my father who convinced me not to go into medicine,” she remembers. “He brought in two female doctors to tell me how you give up so much of your life and all of your free time to this stressful profession.” Kaddoura took this warning to heart and pursued many of her other interests, graduating in with a degree in Graphic Design. Studying this field at AUB allowed Kaddoura to explore various mediums and develop her creative mind. She even revived her interest in dance for her final senior project.

While advertising and surgery may seem vastly different career paths, Kaddoura’s creative mind easily bridges the gap. “In both professions, people come to you with a problem and it’s up to you to figure out a solution. Doctors have patients, I have clients, but we both just do what we can to help. The thing I do most is come up with ideas.”

Kaddoura’s ideas are good too. They take the analogy between doctors and advertisers one step further, exemplifying how an advertisement can actually help and inspire a consumer while pleasing the client. The Real Women campaign for Nike that featured testimonials from women talking about their “imperfect” bodies truly challenged the standards of female beauty. The novelty of hearing a woman speaking with pride about her wide and muscular shoulders, her “thunder-thighs”, or her “tomboy knees” was arresting and made the Real Women campaign an award-winning and celebrated one.


The project becomes even more impressive when Kaddoura explains what went on behind the scenes. “We only had the budget for a print campaign and some web advertising. No budget for TV spots. But we had an idea for web-films and we had some video equipment and just really wanted to make them. The women in the films were just some friends from work—actual, real women. We were just going to post the films on the web. Then Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, CNN, Access Hollywood...picked them up and everyone got interested.” Thus, the ad campaign that debunked unhealthy ideals of beauty also debunks the idea that good marketing comes from multi-million dollar contracts. What counts most is what Kaddoura does so well: coming up with the ideas.

This effort to enfranchise people and make them proud of something is truly a characteristic of Kaddoura’s work. “If I can make people see something different—especially about themselves—I’m happy. I know that I’ve connected with someone.” Another well-known campaign of Kaddoura’s, entitled “I Feel Pretty,” stars the tennis legend Maria Sharapova. Kaddoura explains the project as being “about the duality of being pretty and kicking ass at your job.” Again, the message not only sells a product but sends out a positive and all too infrequently heard message to the consumer.

Kaddoura attributes much of her success and inspiration to her family’s support. “At the end of the lecture I gave at AUB last year, a student asked me how I was able to just pick up and move to Virginia and leave everyone I knew behind,” Kaddoura remembers. “The question kind of surprised me, because I never felt like I left the people who mattered. It was hard, of course, and really lonely, but I knew that my family would always support me. I think I’ve become even closer to them because of that distance. It taught us to trust each other.”

With so much success at such a young age, does Kaddoura feel that she has fallen into the trap that her father’s colleagues tried to warn her away from so many years ago? Kaddoura admits that her career eats into her free time, but she is quick to acknowledge the luck she has had and the advantages that her job affords; the opportunities for travel and the variety of projects she works on keep her stimulated. Looking into the future, Kaddoura fantasizes about having more time to work on her own art projects, especially to explore installation art, a new and exciting area for her. Given what she has done for the field of advertising, it will be exciting for the rest of us to see how she redefines other disciplines.