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Advertising shouldn’t only be a means to selling more products, or simply about increasing revenue as much as possible. In fact, a brand that wants to reach a wide range of the public needs to use advertising as a way of delivering a message or tackling an issue that concerns its audience. The messages, like the reactions, can vary. Below are some of Egypt‘s most controversial ad campaigns.
In 2015, UN Women decided to start a powerful campaign in order to help eliminate domestic abuse. A billboard was put up on the 6th October Bridge (one of Cairo‘s biggest highways) with a picture of a beautiful woman whose face was full of bruises. The ad heroine asked every woman out there to speak up for her rights and to not tolerate abuse. The campaign received wide reactions and had a significant impact, as people in Egypt and the local media tend not to tackle these issues – in part due to the fact that most of the victims do not report these acts of violence, because of social pressures, a lack of awareness, or because they are related or do not wish to hurt them, among other reasons.
A few months ago, Sunny, a cooking oil brand, started a huge campaign highlighting some phrases, sayings and stereotypes that Egyptian women are used to hearing and dealing with on daily basis: ‘A woman has half a brain,’ ‘Break a girl’s rib, she’ll grow 24,’ ‘Are you a spinster?’ and many others, in the aim of reminding women that they are stronger than what these phrases suggest. The campaign also called for women to share their stories and experiences on Sunny’s Facebook page, quickly receiving a variation of comments and reactions, some positive and some accusing the campaign of being offensive and shaming towards women. That’s when the company responded, to thank those who were offended, saying that that was exactly what they had wanted out of this campaign: for people to find statements like these offensive and unacceptable, in order to create awareness.
Since 2009, a series of ad campaigns has been run by Al Ahram Beverages, a beer company, for their non-alcoholic product Birell, under the slogan ‘Man Up.’ The name of the campaign itself is sexist, as is the content of the ads, that implies that certain actions are considered ‘unmanly,’ while also perpetuating other gender stereotypes. This is not the only thing this series of ads encourages however. It also encourages sexual harassment, by asking men not to focus on a woman’s dress color, but on the woman wearing it. Another ad encouraged homophobia, by implying that manhood only lasts a set number of years. The campaign has received many angry reactions over the years and one of the company’s commercials was actually banned in 2016 for violating public morals.
Last Ramadan, Juhayna Dairy launched a series of ad campaigns, one of which received many complains. The ad featured babies having a conversation about breastfeeding, saying that drinking the company’s milk was better than breastfeeding. It challenged one baby’s ‘masculinity’ for wanting his mother’s milk, as well as labeling women’s body parts as ‘dondoo.’ After repeated complaints, the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) decided to ban the advert for having children use such sexual references in addition to giving false information about the importance of breastfeeding.
Another advert was banned by Egypt’s CPA for encouraging child abuse, after receiving many complaints sent to the Ministry of Social Solidarity. In 2016, a potato chips ad for a brand named Fox was suspended shortly after it was released, as according to the CPA it encouraged physical violence, in addition to violating children’s rights by encouraging parents to hit them.
Favorite actors dressed like fairy tale characters, cherished football players and singers performing a heartwarming song asking people to draw a heart, with the participation of one of the world’s best cardiothoracic surgeons, Sir Magdi Yacoub. The advert is dedicated to raising fund for Dr. Yacoub’s Heart Foundation in Aswan, which aims to help children with heart diseases. The ad was simple and touching – and very attentive to detail, hearts everywhere, even reflected in one of the singer’s eyes. It ad went viral on social media and started a conversation about the importance of supporting an entity like the Heart Foundation. Aside for the positive reactions, people actually started to donate and contribute to the Foundation.
Ambiguous billboards in the streets of Alexandria were put up with the questions ‘Do you want to die?’ and ‘Do you want to commit suicide?’ written on them. Quickly people started to share pictures of the ads online, wondering what they could be about, while others were surprised by the fact that someone would launch a campaign encouraging suicide. In fact, the agency that launched the campaign later announced that the campaign was indeed meant to be that shocking, but aimed to increase awareness around the severe harms of smoking.