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Deconstructing the ‘Lebanese bimbo’

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

Smart talk

One such campaign was launched in December. Although changing habits and modifying behaviour can be a lengthy process, that’s what Leo Burnett Beirut’s “Khede Kasra” (Take a kasra [an Arabic accent placed below a word to address it to women]) public awareness campaign for the Hariri Foundation tries to do.

The integrated campaign consists of three television commercials, a radio spot, press ads, posters and interactive billboards. “Our brief was simple: to push for the integration and participation of women in all aspects of the Lebanese society,” says Nada Abi Saleh, deputy managing director at Leo Burnett Beirut. “It is not about aggressive feminism, but is to help Lebanese women understand what their rights are and to encourage them to take action.”

The creative twist is based on the systematic use of the masculine in Arabic grammar. Critics say this encourages gender discrimination. But the practice can be modified just by changing one of the inflection signs, the kasra. “Kasra” also means “habit” in Arabic, so the campaign not only tells readers to change the place of the kasra, but also to change their habits with this small gesture. “The idea was simple, and so was the execution,” says Abi Saleh. “And it’s addressing everybody, regardless of gender, social status or location.”

The two-year program is expected to create awareness and, hopefully, to modify the dominant mindset. Already the “Khede Kasra” integrated campaign has won big both at the MENA Cristals and the Dubai Lynx Awards, and public reaction has been encouraging. Abi Saleh is hopeful that this acceptance may prove that somewhere deep inside, Lebanese women yearn for a change. And, surprisingly, the campaign has attracted men too; Burnett says it wasn’t just women posting links on Facebook or adding kasra stickers to billboards in the streets

“When the message is genuine, all clichés crumble,” says Abi Saleh, adding that clients can be very responsive to creativity. “For the Taanayel Farms ad [that displayed an elderly Lebanese grandmother going through Canadian customs with dozens of labneh jars], for example, we haven’t been afraid of using not only a woman, but an elderly one. And she turned out to be more successful than a top model.”

There should be a middleground, somewhere between the two extremes used to present to and address women in Lebanon, though many advertisers and clients are yet to find it. To uncover it may require patience and motivation, and both qualities are in short supply after three years spent on the brink of civil war.

But for the sake of Lebanon’s advertising industry, renewed creativity may become a necessity since, as Brenas says, “at the end of the day, it’s not the image of women that’s damaged when they’re not even portrayed as human beings; it’s advertising itself that’s hurt.”

First seen in Communicate magazine.

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