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Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

With many Arabs today asserting national pride, do marketing communications need to change their tone? Tarek El Jundi reports.

May 3, 2011 3:59 by

A recent example comes from Memac Ogilvy Tunisia which, sensing a post-revolutionary anti climax – created a virtual world where consumers could imagine their ideal country.

“We needed to find a way to encourage the people to get back to work and start rebuilding the country we had all fought for,” said Nicolas Courant, creative director.

“To do so, we strongly believed that we all had to focus on what we want for Tunisia, rather than look back nor complain about the present.”

The saliency of campaigns such as this, at this particular time, is amply illustrated through the Third Annual ASDA’a Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, released last month. The attitudinal survey canvassed 2000 18 to 24 year olds in the GCC, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. It revealed the single greatest priority for youth in the Middle East is living in a democratic country.

And it can be no co-incidence that the IAA Kuwait Chapter’s Young Creative Challenger is themed ‘democracy’.

When asked about how optimistic they are domestically and financially, 66 per cent of survey respondents said their country is headed in the wrong direction.

National mood then, for the time being at least, has taken a much more serious turn, but will advertising complement that?

Egyptian ads, for example, have traditionally often relied on goofy humour – typically the angry man being the archetypal Egyptian citizen and the kid being silly, insecure and overweight, such as in the Coke Zero campaign.

Then there’s the phenomenally successful viral Panda ads; or the Melody  Hits ad depicting  Egyptians singing  western songs using anything but rhythm, followed by a caption using bad
English to amplify the humour. Funny?
Yes. But is that type of humour appropriate at this time?

Now that the mood has changed in Egypt, “the current situation requires marketers to fine-tune their marketing activities and be more tactful in their tone. Communication must be inspirational. It must instill national pride,” says Karim Khouri, MD, Impact BBDO Cairo.

(An Egyptian journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, is contributing to an investigation into the best way to launch campaigns to promote social activism, for example.)

Despite all this Leo Burnett’s Kuran does not subscribe to the theory that revolution necessitates an overthrow of the marketing status quo as well.

“I wouldn’t say marketers need to change their tone, but marketers need to engage with people as people, given any situation.”

What is beyond dispute is that Arab society is changing radically.

As Boulos points out: “Agencies never act on their own, they always act on behalf of their clients. Any communication strategy has to be specific to a brand’s needs. There is no way one can set up
a rule on how to communicate during and after revolutionary times for a brand.  The only kind of communication I can think of is more related to crisis management if a brand has been too much associated with a failed regime.”

There is, however, one area in which agencies should play a crucial role, he adds.

“They have to help countries emerging from a revolution get back on their feet.  That means reassuring foreign investors and businesses and attracting back tourism, which in many cases is a vital part of the economy.

“I truly believe that no other industry is better equipped to do that.”

First published in GMR

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