Haitham Al-Hajji, the mastermind behind Kuwait’s leading advertising firm, Caviar. With a brilliant portfolio of a number of the top advertisements we’ve heard/seen in the last 10 years, it comes to no surprise that in reality, Haitham is just as interesting as his ads are. He’s funny, kind, passionate, smart, creative, extremely talented, and very inspirational. His true passion and dedication to advertising is what led him to be a pioneer in this field, especially in Kuwait. I truly believe that he opened a gateway for others to follow suit. He helped make companies aware of the fact that advertising and marketing have become an important factor in the success of a company. Luckily for us, Haitham sat down with Khaleejesque for an interview that I’m sure all of you will learn from.
Tell us a little about yourself…
My name is Haitham Al-Hajji. I’m a 40-year-old Kuwaiti male, recently married for about a year and half. I’m a guy who enjoys Kuwait and the Kuwaiti culture. I love visual art, arts, music, people and communicating with them, having an idea and telling people my idea and finding the best way to communicate it. That’s the way I like it.
When did you found Caviar and what motivated you to do so?
My partner, Khaled Jaafar, and I founded caviar in 1998 upon our return from the United States. The name of the company itself CAVIAR is an acronym: Computer Aided Visualization Integration Architectural Renderings. At first we started out as a 3D animation company and then later on in 2000, we shifted focus to advertising. Zain, previously known as MTC, approached us and gave us a chance in 2000 or 2001. We did a 3D animation project for them and that was literally our breakthrough. We really enjoyed it and it got us started to do more and more ads.
Among your clients, were NBK, MTC, Mercedes… how long did it take you to land big clients like those?
It was incredibly difficult since all the big major international companies were going after them and I had just come back from the states with Khalid. To be honest it was just a lucky stroke. We did a test run for MTC and they liked our work and asked us if we could animate their characters and we just said yes sure even though we were lost. Thankfully, we worked day and night for 8 weeks and we pulled it off. I wanted to build a reputation, so the first two years of starting the company we weren’t making any money because that’s what it takes to build a demo reel. You’re building an intangible thing in the mind and after the first couple of years, once you’ve built enough demo reel, then you can go to the companies for them to see your work with hits like KAMCO’s Bo Rashed, NBK’s Yabeela, and KMEFIC’s Negushe. Once we have that established, companies start coming to you.
Was it hard for you not to make any profits at first?
There were days where I only had 100 KD at my bank account. But once you have a big hit and you walk around with people praising your work, it gets addictive. If you’re starting a company and setting out to make money, you should not enter a field that relies majorly on cash because advertising takes time for you to build goodwill, history, and enough demo reel for you to actually start making money.
What differentiates Caviar from its competitors?
First, it was the unique Kuwaiti perspective, which wasn’t present in the market back then. It was also our ability to land big enough budgets and people that trusted us enough to handle their ads. As the market caught up, we have a track record and we’re not talking about a hit or two, we’re talking about accounting for 50% to 60% of the top 10 ads in the past 10 years. In addition to that, we pour our heart and soul into our work. Lastly, what I think differentiates us is also up to the market to determine but I hope that people look at our whole body of work instead of focusing on one hit or flop.
What’s your strategy when it comes to advertising?
The problem with ideas is that they come when they want and not when you want, especially in the creative field. The truly wonderful ideas are the ones that you get when having a eureka moment. I have a procedure, first I gather a lot of information about the company like business reports, annual reports, and brochures they’ve done and I just read them all until keywords start popping up. Generally, I do the reading right before I sleep since they say there’s a twilight moment right before you doze off to sleep and that’s when your conscious mind comes up with the best ideas and you end up dreaming about them. That’s where I get most of my ideas and I just develop everything based on that.
Do you have any future projects coming up?
We have a feature film coming up. It’s going to be a coming of age film. It’s about adolescence, the last innocent days of friends, and the pursuing of an adventure that involves some mythology and Kuwaiti traditions set in the modern world. At the moment, we’re at the pre-production stage and we’ll start shooting in March. I can promise you one thing; you haven’t seen anything like this before.
What advice do you have to offer to young people aiming to start their own company?
My advice is to believe in yourself when the whole world doubts you. Always stay true and honest to yourself. Find something you’re passionate about and listen to other people’s advice but form your own opinion. If you think you can do it alone, you wont make it. I almost shut down this company 3 times 2000, 2002, and 2003 because I had nothing. Then a door opened: a lucky break here and somebody who believes in me there, so for that I’ll always be grateful. Remember; don’t try to be what you’re not.
– Hadaya Al-Othman
Images courtesy of Haitham Al-Hajji