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Deconstructing the ‘Lebanese bimbo’
Women have long been stereotyped as blank bimbos or kitchen cleaners in Lebanese advertising. Industry watchers say this is gradually changing, but few are clamoring for liberation, says Communicate magazine.
June 3, 2009 9:13 by Nathalie Bontems
Richard El Hachem, business director at Memac Ogilvy in Beirut, agrees. “Many like to say that Lebanon is a very open country,” he says. “But Lebanon is also a heterogeneous society, displaying wide cultural and social gaps among the population. A majority is still deeply rooted in the region’s culture. Many conventions and traditions prevail and most Lebanese women see themselves in the role of a housewife. If people were thinking differently, we’d have more women elected to Parliament. So ‘mass communication’ implies that we talk the language of this majority.”
Only a minority in Lebanon doesn’t believe raising a family and tending to her household is a woman’s primary role, adds El Hachem, so the cultural gap between the liberal few and the conservative masses is well expressed in advertising. Mass products such as laundry powder and milk are routinely promoted with a traditional tone, whereas fashionable items such as branded clothes or lingerie – targeting niches – theoretically allow for more liberty.
Unfortunately, even these products don’t seem to inspire much creativity and often remain focused on stereotypes. “Nowadays, in order to sell female-oriented products, women are presented as showcase dummies,” says Brenas. “They don’t wear any expression on their face, they’re not in any kind of action and they’re not even sensual or sexy. They just pose in a lifeless and dehumanized fashion and, more often than not, the product isn’t even shown; what is presented is a woman’s buttocks. It is quite surprising since in most other – more liberal – countries, lingerie is seldom advertised on four-by-three-meter posters such as the ones we see in Lebanon.”
Nor is dumbing down necessary, says Brenas. “The public can understand and appreciate subtlety,” he says. “These ads are not even inviting. How many such campaigns are launched, and how many of them are remembered?”
The few women-centric campaigns that have made a strong impression have targeted specific niches of consumers. For example, Leo Burnett’s campaign for the Crepaway diner network unabashedly invites its core target, westernized students, to “Come as you are,” by showing a young woman who has evidently just had a nose job, and another whose makeup is smeared from crying. Exotica flower shop’s “Balconies” ad, also by Burnett, displays a woman wearing a bra made of flowers, and targets high-end consumers living in and close to Beirut.