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Birell ad campaign triggers debate on Egyptian blogosphere
Published in Daily News Egypt on 12 - 12 - 2008

CAIRO: An advertising campaign which encourages men to drink a non-alcoholic beer to "be a man has triggered waves within the Egyptian blogosphere.
The series of adverts created by Leo Burnett for Birell show men engaging in various types of stereotypically non-masculine behavior such as using a drinks coaster, chastising a friend for burping violently at high volume, and expressing enthusiasm about a wedding where Tamer Hosny will perform.
Each advert ends with a voiceover condemning the behavior in question and an injunction to "be a man.drink Birell.
One of the ads in particular has inspired the ire of several bloggers.
In it we see a group of men's mouths fall open when a glamorous blonde woman walks past. "Hi, Morsy she says to one of the group. Morsy then turns to his friends and announces that "she has a really great personality.
His three companions look at him in disgust before the voiceover proclaims that "the girl's personality is the last thing you comment on.
Fouad Gehad told Daily News Egypt that he found the ads "hilarious and liked the fact that "they were straight forward male ifs and buts about it.
Tongue-in-cheek the ad may be, but for some the humor is a little too close to the bone.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not that touchy about humorous sexist remarks, I can laugh at them as much as the next male chauvinist pig, Will E says on his blog "Notes from the Underground.
"The problem with the advertisement isn't only that it is extremely sexist, stupid and not even funny. The real problem is that it is too real for comfort and reflects an existing attitude. [The result is] that any hint of sarcasm or humor [is] simply unreachable.
Mai, on the "tadweena nesaaweyya blog agrees.
"It is no longer acceptable, nor logical, in the light of the efforts expended to raise consciousness of women's rights, and to correct men's vision of them and women's own vision of themselves, that the media still sends out this message of crassness and shallowness, Mai writes.
"Not only that, but the ad entrenches and deliberately perpetuates the belittling and objectification of women who are regarded as no more than bodies and pleasure objects.
Blogger Mohammad Hamama on the "A Socialist in Egypt blog picks up on the women as a commodity theme:
"In the age of capitalism and the laws of the market everything has become a commodity, and the sole standard for these things is the extent to which they secure a return.
"Women are used to create appeal which in turn increases distribution which in its turn increases profits. The human element isn't important.if they could use a tree or cats for this job they would.
The fact that Birell is a non-alcoholic beer inspires criticism from several angles.
A group on Facebook criticizing the ad campaign warns that the ad sends out a dangerous message.
"Aside from the provocative nature of the ad, and its denigration of everyone who doesn't drink Birrel as un-masculine, its most dangerous aspect is its association of a drink or product with confidence, the group says on Facebook.
"This makes young people think, 'if a malt drink gives us all this confidence then alcoholic drinks, marijuana and chemical drugs will give us even more confidence for sure'.
Other commentators however regard the use of a laddish-culture tone in advertisements for non-alcoholic beer as misguided.
Abdel-Rahman Hussein puts it bluntly: "The demographic is all wrong: the only people I know who drink [Birell] are my parents, aunts and uncles - good for the liver apparently, Hussein says.
"Non-alcoholic beer is the antithesis of 'geezer' manliness anyway. It tastes like crap and has no buzz to boot.
Mohammed Nassar, a copy writer with OgilvyOne advertising agrees.
"It's copying beer ads, which bank heavily on lad culture to capture interest. But fake beer isn't beer, and it's kind of lacking in that way, Nassar said.
"In that sense, it seems a little wimpy as a premise. 'Drink fake beer and be a man' isn't going to catch on. Plus, it's obviously copying foreign beer ads, which makes it not only fake beer, but also unoriginal.
While Leo Burnett's director declined to comment on the ad campaign and why it only targets men, Nassar suggested that, unsurprisingly, economic reasons lie behind the decision.
"The decision to target one demographic group is strictly economic, Nassar explained.
"For instance, if they're the target with the biggest spending power, it makes sense to go for them because you'll make more money that way.
"Another reason is that if they marketed Birrel for women, it might alienate men since (if the campaign is successful) Birrel would then be viewed as a woman's drink. The reverse is not true: market it for men and plenty of women won't mind that.
This Birrel ad comes on the heels of another controversial ad campaign aired earlier this year on satellite channels.
The campaign for a Viagra-like drug called Virecta showed various phallic objects (fruit, a hose) standing to attention to the tune of Abdel-Halim Hafez's 1973 patriotic song "Keep Your Weapons Ready.
The campaign garnered criticism for what was regarded as its flippant use of a song associated with an important moment in Egypt's history.
How does Nassar explain this nascent trend towards increasingly daring advertising?
"In a word: Satellite. It's raised the bar and emboldened everyone, since terrestrial TV censors can't exactly put the brakes on risqué humor when they know full well that people are seeing stuff that's just as daring on satellite.
"It's the same old story: competition forces people to push the envelope, be more original, more daring, more forthcoming and this is kind of what's happening here. So in that sense, it's a tacit acknowledgement that the modern world can't be kept out with censorship after all.
Blogger Mai has a slightly different perspective.
"Will the opening of the world of satellites become a new enemy against us rather than a tool strengthening women's rights in the Arab world?
"How long will women resist, bearing their long history of battling against poverty, ignorance, illness and backward thinking only to find before them a disastrous advertisement which once again presents the stereotypical image of the female body and throwing us back to the age of the harem.

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