A Girl’s Personality is the Last Thing You Notice…

And that, dear readers, is the slogan being used to sell a non-alcoholic beer to Egyptians in a nation-wide campaign.

Birell is produced by Al-Ahram Beverages, and is Egypt’s top-selling non-Alcoholic beer, owning 98% of the malt beverages market. The website describes it as “a sparkling malt beverage […] with a strong bitter malt taste, little foam and carbonation, [a] consistent thick body and [a] strong shiny gold color.” In short, it’s as close to beer as you can get. Its brand personality represents youth, energy, vitality, edginess and altogether “coolness.”

I’ve searched all over the net for the ad, but I can’t find it anywhere. But basically, this is how it goes:

Birell beer. Image via Al Ahram company website.

Birell beer. Image via Al Ahram company website.

Four men are sitting at what looks like a bar. Then a tanned, gorgeous woman with long blond hair and sizeable *cough* assets passes by in s-l-o-w motion, and all of the men immediately check her out. She looks at one as she passes and says hello, recognizing him. All of his friends then look at him with envy. He answers them saying “but she has a great personality!” The disgusting slogan then appears on the screen, telling him that “a girl’s personality is the last thing you [should] notice.” The man then drinks two sips of Birell, calling himself “stupid” for thinking that way and reconsiders his statement.

The narrator then tells us, in a deep, gravelly, macho-like voice: “Drink Birell and be a man.” Being a man, of course, meaning things like personality should be the the least important things to think of about a woman, if at all.

Do I start with the sexism, the stupidity, the disgusting marketing, how offensive it is, or what?!

Egyptian woman have just won a landmark victory against sexual harassment. We’ve taken a step in the right direction—a step to change the widespread belief that women are slabs of meat, and that any man is free to harass them. There’s a campaign against sexual harassment on right now with the slogan “Respect Yourself: Egypt still has real men” targeting men and telling them that harassing a woman doesn’t increase their masculinity.

And then along comes an ad like this one, watched by millions and millions, telling those same men that thinking of a woman’s personality makes them less of a man.

Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here, and I know of course that Birell’s campaign is nothing new. It’s been done over and over again and with big companies too: Marlboro and Levis are just a couple of examples. Music channels on all Arabic TV satellite channels have become no more than a bunch of gyrating women in lewd positions who not even the kindest critic would say have good voices.

But I’m more disappointed here because the ad agency who created the ad, Leo Burnett, is one agency I’ve always loved because they are so in tune with the pulse of the country they’re creating a campaign for (In Egypt, at least, who’s ever going to forget the All Engalish, all ze time Melody Tunes ads?). They’re also very, very good at what they do: selling the product. An ad like this isn’t something they created haphazardly, it’s an ad where a lot of thought and market research has gone into.

So let’s assume Leo Burnett has done its research and knows that an ad like this will appeal to a lot of men who share common demographic and psychographic traits.

(At the same time, Al-Ahram is well aware that this ad isn’t exactly great. When I called them to ask for the name of the agency because I was writing an analysis of the ad I was asked: “It’s a negative review, right?”)

The men who watch the ad and like it are the target market of the product and the campaign will associate the values those men believe personify ‘manliness’ with Birell. So they’ll buy it, which is, of course, the ultimate aim of any commercial.

But a campaign like this—aimed at such a large portion of youth—is distasteful and a setback to all the efforts taking place to change the mindset that a woman’s looks are all there is to her. In fact, it might even reinforce those beliefs.

Ink Pen writes in a blog post: (Thank you Marwa for saving me the hassle of translating!)

The super non-alcoholic drink was associated with manhood in the ad just like cigarettes were positioned in the sixties [...] Manhood as demonstrated in the last three seconds of the ad clearly shows the way the guy is transformed into a stud after drinking from the can. [...] The ad positions the Egyptian male as a creature governed by his desires and instincts and encourages him to adopt a false image of manhood regardless of the consequences. Those in the advertising business in Egypt will forget – had they not already forgotten – the true purpose of an ad by detaching themselves from promoting the benefits of the product to promoting illusions, false promises, and gender discrimination.

Well said!

Not to mention of course, that the gorgeous woman is a blonde and white, white, white. You know how many Egyptian women are natural blondes with fair, fair skin? That’s right, almost nada. So not only is the ad telling men that all there is to women are their looks, its also telling that to women. And what’s more, it’s telling those women that even if they are pretty, they’re still not pretty enough, since ultimate prettiness is the Barbie-doll look.

One step forward, two steps back.

Wonderful.

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