A "Seinfeld" reference. A generational dispute. An ad considered so touchy it was pulled.
Welcome to the Mad Men world of Egyptian advertising.
On the surface, it was a good year for advertisers, the first since 2011 that ad spending went back up to pre-revolutionary days, when Hosni Mubarak was in power. Amal al-Masry, the CEO of J Walter Thompson, one of the big three ad agencies in Cairo, saw a few changes in this year’s ads.
“I think there are several themes. Charity is the very obvious one,” she said. This is an ongoing theme each Ramadan, because its the Muslim world’s season of giving.
But this year in particular there was another theme, reflective of a generational divide in Egypt's society. “On the family level there’s interestingly messaging out there that starts to question the generational differences within families and I think that taps into a very interesting social dynamic,” Masry said.
In an ad for Fox Chips, a son tells his father that he can see the future when he eats the chips. The father comes out of the kitchen where he is mixing sugar into his tea, pulls his chair close to the son and asks “is that so?” Then he slaps him across the face.
“Did you see that coming?” he asks.
This ad was actually taken off air for encouraging violence against youth. In a place where we’ve seen a youth-led revolt that was also smacked down, this ostensibly funny ad is quite sad.
Satire of know-it-all authority figures came out in another ad for Crunch chocolate. A young man comes into a room and is talking to a family member, who thinks he’s eating the candy of yesteryear, called Skanshayzar. The young man corrects the ridiculous things he is saying, but the older person is clearly not listening.
The ad was a sensation. People made Facebook pages for it and started asking for it in stores.
“[For] Crunch, the engagement level on social media rewards us very much in feeling that we have connected on a very real level with our audiences,” said al-Masry, whose company made the ad.
Another ad, for a restaurant called Um Hassan, had a familiar response to a rumor that it was serving donkey meat. Its ad implied that a conspiracy by foreign restaurant chains was behind the rumor. Over ominous music, the restaurant from Seinfeld appears, then meat thermometers, then the Egyptians that would be unemployed if Um Hassan were to close.
“A lot of people won’t like that,” the ad says over delicious, and clean, food. “They’ll try to cut any Egypt hand that builds.”
Part of the counterrevolutionaries’ playbook is to blame the revolution on foreign spies and agents, and it created a widely held sentiment here. Maybe its brilliantly subversive satire, but the ad is probably just tapping into real emotions. Um Hassan didn’t respond to requests for comments.
There are more ads showing that Egypt is moving into economic recovery. Ad agencies and brands are selling optimism and hope to Egyptians that are hungry for both. But the ads show that the underlying issues of the failed revolution have not been solved.
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