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.

  • http://www.mamamona.blogspot.com mamamona

    I’m so with you. I felt myself getting more and more angry reading this post. A lot of Egyptian ads get on my nerves but this just takes the cake.

  • http://AMUSLIMWIFE.BLOGSPOT.COM MJ

    How disgusting! I’ve had enough of this type of thinking. And in a supposedly Muslim country!!!! I can’t believe they’re so blatant about it as well in the ads, it’s even more henious. Grrrrr. What is wrong with people!?!? And that stupid woman for participating. I bet she calls herself a feminist too.
    CRAZY,

  • http://www.sisterpower.net Lana

    “Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill”
    Actually you are not, thank you for the insight, and i agree with every word you said.
    Ad companies are about selling and sales, they care less about anything else, and if manipulation brings the cash and increases the sales, who cares about ethics or correctness.
    what worries me is women, before we ask the world to take us seriousely, we must take ourselves seriousely, we live in a world where you have to earn and strive for freedom and equality, and change must some from within, i’d like to think that the world will one day stop and say what we are doing is wrong, but i don’t see it happenning, we must take matters into our own hands.
    I believe an ad such as this, must be objected and faught in every way possible, and one way is what you are thankfully doing, we must spread awarness and education about who we are as women and what we deserve, and what should we do to claim what is ours, if we don’t do so, we will be leaving others to speak on our behalf, which has been going on for quiet a long time.

  • http://www.marwarakha.com Marwa Rakha

    Thank you Ethar:)

  • Andrew

    Ethar, even though I am merely an international student here for a semester at the American University, I have come to recognize the sexual harassment problem in Egypt. What I find most interesting is that this issue of commercials molding gender relations is just as prevalent in the US as it is here. Both societies are plagued by ad agencies producing commercials that dictate what it means to be either male or female.

  • Nancy Elias

    Ethar, I am once again soooo grateful for u and ur articles!! I could NOT believe it when i saw that ad….I thought I must have misunderstood….how absolutely IRRESPONSIBLE and utterly sexist to create an ad like that….i just can’t believe that they would allow it to air!! I, too, loved Leo Burnett’s ads…but they have lost a lot of respect from me if they r behind this one….just shameful….I would hope this ad would create more of a fuss but from the looks of it, not likely….I will do my share and post ur article to my facebook profile :) )

  • http://www.shadjar.wordpress.com Inal

    Non Muslim socities have used all sorts of marketing techniques to sell- and like everything -you either swallow it all whole or walk away… In a Muslim society dynamics are different- in this case its Egyptians saying “you uncover we rape you; you cover we rape you just the same- you are a piece of meat…no feelings; judgement abilities and now- what the heck you don’t even have a personality!”

    Comparisons sound like apples to oranges unless you say well they are both fruit- so I guess the religion got nothing to do with anything huh!?!
    This shows the rapid decline of a nation- and since they have great exporting power of their ideas over media channels- we won’t even have to blame the “evil west”for this one- nicely homegrown that it is!!!

    Dag!!! This make my blood boil- the hypocrisy of it!!!

    I guess the “Egyptian” woman thought she was liberating herself in her choices- but what do I know I’m not Egyptian!

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Inal: where the hell did rape come from?!

    Since you plainly stated that you’re not Egyptian, it might be best to refrain from speaking for an entire country’s view of women. Egyptian or not, there’s no need for generalizations that paint Egyptian men as rapists.

  • Philip

    Perhaps someone should find the add, because to me the word should in ““a girl’s personality is the last thing you [should] notice.” “, changes the meaning totally.

  • http://www.shadjar.wordpress.com Inal

    The rape was not a literal meaning thing- its the “pillaging” of the person’s ability to be… If you cover you are “harassed” if uncover you are “harrased”- if you appear on a comercial “you are harassed and to top it you have no personality” if you don’t appear on a comercial the message gets to you the same way- you are with out a personality- I am not judging a whole country only those within that nation that do what they do and then hide behind their nation- and unfortunately like this rant has done – it has served to momentarily allowed for a bit of that syndrome that affects the ones that can defend the oppressor-

    My rant was not against Egyptians in general but against those in particular that can see a benefit in dragging women through the mud and consider them to be nothing but meat. My rant was against the women who -for whatever reasons- felt getting paid to portray what would seem as an insulting view- not much but getting paid to play a role.

    These are the generalizations we make- had it been an American, European, South Asian, Spanish woman the effect -would it have been the same or different?

    Just an angry woman wishing for once we called a spade a spade- and not apologize for doing so…is all.

    You can delete this post and the one before- it doesn’t take away the feeling.
    Thank you

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    “If you cover you are “harassed” if uncover you are “harrased”- if you appear on a comercial “you are harassed and to top it you have no personality” if you don’t appear on a comercial the message gets to you the same way- you are with out a personality-”

    You could have just said this in the first place, yeah?

  • http://www.shadjar.wordpress.com Inal

    As you can see there are no “retakes” in the commercials called life… The anger expressed in the first place was exactly how I felt- but I will be politically correct or incorrect and say- no the first was where I was in my frustration- the second was where I was having to explain my aggravation- its human nature -happens all the time…

  • http://www.thestoryofstuff.com Darcy

    Ok, so it’s great that we’re all furious about the ad, question is, what are we going to do about it? First of all, Ethar, thank you for bringing this out in the open :) Does anyone remember the Racheal Ray incident with the kufiya in the Dunkin Donuts ad? That got taken off the air…why don’t a couple people see if they can call Birell and complain…and Leo Burnett…that way you’ll make sure they won’t EVER dare to make an ad like that again…
    Just food for thought.

  • http://www.nuseiba.wordpress.com Sahar

    This is certainly not an Egyptian problem, but universal. In New Zealand, where we’re told the country is run by women (to a degree, maybe), we have the most sexist ads on TV. In particular, it’s beer ads. They’re targeting specifically a male audience, so they objectify women more than they usually would to please these men. So women are reduced to their physical appearance, or shown as stupid or interested in nothing but shopping. These gender stereotypes are brought to the fore because there is the disturbing assumption the male audience thinks of women in such a way. In fact, many men would enjoy seeing women in this way. Granted, not all. I think in the case of NZ, there is an insecurity that women are indeed running the country and men’s ego is being trampled on; so they are ‘put in their place’ so to speak via such ads. Just an interesting context to look at this from.

  • http://ojibwaymigisibineshii.blogspot.com/ Cecelia

    This is definitely a universal problem.

    I think this is ridiculous … Hungry Man foods in the US cater to working men only… be prepared for the music if you click on this link… http://www.hungry-man.com/

    I am really tired of the sexist ads in this world as I am sure many of you are also tired of them as well.

  • Hossam

    strangest thing about this ad is that its for a *non-alcoholic* beer…are they sure they got the psychographics matched up? The only dudes I know who drink Birell are either semi-conservative or elderly and worried about their kidneys; both of whom wouldn’t glorify *sizeable assets* as much as say, loyalty and piety. I guess they’re trying to inject the social appeal of regular beer into a beer that’s perceived as, well, impotent.
    (Not that that justifies the social appeal of drinking regular beer, which unfortunately for women, like Sahar above explained, has come to include (at least in the media) their reduction to sexual objects (the beer-goggles concept) as well as the endorsement of other borederline-mysoginistic behavior.)
    Word.

  • Peter

    Sahar, I agree that this is most definitely a universal problem; in the United States, ads like this that play on unequal gender relationships are so common that most don’t give them a second thought. But in Egypt, there is a huge problem with men not knowing how to behave appropriately towards women. This ad is particularly revolting in this country in that it plays on the twisted view that some men have of women, a view that leads those men to think it is acceptable to harass women. I, like Andrew above, am a student in Egypt, and in my short time here I have seen the harassment problem. This ad illustrates the problem while telling men that it is ok to have such views of women. The marketing agency clearly recognized the issue, and instead of doing something constructive (or even ignoring it and just advertising), the agency disgustingly chose to use the issue to its advantage.

    Thanks for posting this, Ethar.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Peter: “But in Egypt, there is a huge problem with men not knowing how to behave appropriately towards women. This ad is particularly revolting in this country in that it plays on the twisted view that some men have of women, a view that leads those men to think it is acceptable to harass women.”

    You acknowledge that we have disgustingly sexist ads in the U.S., too, but fail to recognize that many men in the U.S. also have “twisted views” of women as part of a larger culture of patriarchy. It’s not the same as in Egypt, I’m sure, but men harass women in every country. I take issue with the frame that it’s an “Egyptian” problem that men don’t know how to “behave appropriately towards women.”

    And, on that note, I call bullshit on that phrase, too. Men all over the world know how to behave appropriately, they just don’t if/when/because they can get away with it.

  • Sobia

    @Fatemeh:

    “Men all over the world know how to behave appropriately, they just don’t if/when/because they can get away with it.”

    EXACTLY!!! I completely agree!

  • Philip

    “Men all over the world know how to behave appropriately, they just don’t if/when/because they can get away with it.”
    I find that rather offensive, it reduces men’s moral compass to the level of a dog or cat’s.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Philip, my intention wasn’t to offend, and I apologize for lumping all men into a category less than flattering. But the truth is, many men DO know how to behave appropriately, but don’t (usually because they know that their bad behavior will not be punished).

    Take for example men who cat-call women. The overwhelming majority of them know it’s wrong, wouldn’t want anyone doing it to the women in their lives, etc. But lots of men still do it.

  • Hassan

    you took the ad out of context. someone else pointed this out (philip or peter? thanks!), the word [should] changes the meaning entirely. It isn’t an ad that says men “shouldn’t notice a women’s personality” it implies that they don’t. Which isn’t something to condone, but it is something that does in fact exist.

    Its great that people are taking a stand for things that they believe are sexist, but at the same time the main function of the ad is to sell something and not to make a political or religious statement. In your article you mention that the other ads that the company created – including the melody ads – were spot on with egyptian culture. What i get from those ads is that we’re ignorant, we can’t speak english and we slaughter foreign songs, which is yes funny, but doesn’t exactly make us look like stellar examples. The Melody ads also objectify women, look at the one where the man is cat calling and gets beat up, is that ok because he is put in a trash can at the end? Was it ok that her breasts were bobbing up and down just because she wasn’t ‘white, white, white and had blonde hair?’ Because she was the archetype of the egyptian woman that became an adequate representation of our culture? you cannot say that an ad agency has it’s pulse on the country looking at the elements you look at without looking at the campaign as a whole. If you look at the melody campaigns in their entirety, you see that they have exactly the same objectifications – if not worst ones – to the things you find so offensive in the Birrell ad. Something that you created, parenthesis do not make it an actual fact. Saying that egyptian men DO not notice is different then saying they SHOULD.

    Look at the rest of the campaign before you judge. It shows men not using coasters and putting their masculinity in question for doing so. If anything it is making light of a situation, the theme throughout the ads is one that does not glorify or objectify women, but shows men having fun. Checking women out, drinking beer and being messy are all trademarks of the men, egyptian or not.

    Just food for thought. Just because something doesn’t appeal to your sense of humour – which is how you’ve judged the other ads as far as i can see – doesn’t make it any worse or any better. Judge things for what they need to be judged on, not on your personal bias.

  • http://forsoothsayer.blogspot.com forsoothsayer

    this feels like an unduly sexual ad for egypt…i guess, like Hossam said, they were desperate to sex up what cannot but be seen a super lame beverage. i hope it won’t last all that long because clearly there’s been an outcry, and Leo Burnett are sensitive. but what difference can it make? i can’t think that the perception of women in egypt could possibly get any worse, unless we compare it to somalia or something.

  • Ethar

    Thank you all for the great comments!

    First, let’s get something clear here: I know the ad doesn’t say a girl’s personality is the last thing you should notice, which is why I put the word in brackets.

    However, I put in [should] because according to the context of the ad, that is the message that was getting across (and this isn’t just me, it’s what almost everyone I talked to said). When the man’s friends were disgusted by his commenting on the girl’s personality, they were—essentially—telling him that looks were the most important thing, and that personality wasn’t something he should mention. So not only is the ad saying this is what men do (which is the message that we get when we see ads of men checking women out/ women dressed in a certain way), the ad goes a step further in condemning those who do the opposite. To make a long story short: condemning the man for thinking of personality condones those men who think of looks.

    Another thing to clarify: Of course I understand that this is nothing new, and that it happens in countries all over the world. I also understand that harassment is not unique in Egypt’s case although how widespread it is may be. But in Egypt’s case, at this stage of its development, this ad just makes it harder for women (and men) fighting for change.

  • Ethar

    @ Andrew: I agree with your point about commercials molding gender relations. And it’s not only commercials, of course, it’s movies, books, songs etc

    @ Inal & Fatemeh: Sorry I wasn’t here for that thread but I’m glad that worked out. I get why Inal wrote that (potentially) incendiary statement about rape (we all get worked up!) but I understand where you’re coming from. Fatemeh: Thanks for replying!

    One thing Inal (and also MJ): when you talk about the woman (in the ad) believing she was a feminist in participating in this, remember that in many societies many women believe that the “exploitation of their flesh” (regardless of what that really means) is actually liberating them. To each his own.

    @ Darcy: Sorry to sound pessimistic here, but fat chance of us actually managing to get it off the air.

    @ Sahar: Interesting. Kind of like: I demonstrate my insecurity by making you feel inferior.

    @ Hossam: LMHJ (Laughing my Hijab Off—Term Courtesy of comedian Dean Obeidallah).

    You cracked me up. And there is some element of truth in what you say—if the brand character was not selling, then they had to create one that will.

    @ Peter: I agree. Perhaps you generalized a bit, because certainly the “Egyptian mentality” of some men in the way they look at women isn’t unique, but on the whole, you’re correct. And that’s my main argument with this ad. Again, it’s nothing new. But at this period of time, an ad like this does a lot more harm than it would at any other time.

    @ Fatemeh/ Sobia/ Philip: Without going into details, suffice to say the reasons for harassment are multifaceted. I’ve actually interviewed a man who, in all seriousness and conviction, told me that he harassed women because it gives them a “confidence boost.”

  • Ethar

    @ Hassan: Thank you for your great comment, for real.

    First of all, like I said above, I acknowledge that the ad doesn’t say should. But it implies it, very strongly, in the distasteful expressions the man’s friends give him when he doesn’t notice looks first. I put the word should because I was considering the context of the ad.

    Just because the point of an ad is to sell something doesn’t mean the ad producers should ignore the impact and influence they have. Heck, if you get right down to it, the aim of any newspaper is to make money. But does that mean the writers should only write what will sell?

    As for Leo Burnett: If you notice, I was referring to the Melody Tunes ads, which only make fun of the way Egyptians pronounce English words. And yes, I found those funny because it was Egyptians making fun of Egyptians, laughing with each other and not at each other. They aren’t insulting because it’s the truth, regardless of how “steller” that truth is.

    With regards to the other Melody Ads (for those who don’t know, Melody is an Arabic music video channel), at least the ad you were talking about (here), the man does get beaten up for harassing. Which, in some small way, sends a message that harassing is wrong.

    As for the other Melody Ads (in particular, Melody tatahada almalal or “Melody Challenges Boredom”) I, of course, hate them (even though they did make me laugh the first time I saw them) because you’re right, they COMPLETELY objectify women.

    The woman with the extremely sizeable and exposed assets that features in most of the ads, Boobie (and yes, that is her name in the ad!) personifies everything I dislike about the way women (in general) are portrayed in the media (she actually warrants a post all on her own. Check out this horrendous one in particular). But I wasn’t talking about the fact that women are objectified in the media: I was saying that the Birell ad took it a step further in saying not only that men LOOK at women but that they SHOULD be looking at women first. Let’s agree to disagree here.

    And I’m sorry, but I disagree with the idea of showing men having fun at the expense of further perpetuating the common mentality when it comes to women. We want to dig ourselves out of this hole, not deeper into it.

  • Hassan

    anything that creates some kind of discourse is great. first of all let me say that in no way, shape or form am i condoning sexual harassment or the objectification of women. I do think it is one of the worst things that goes on in this country and i find it sickening that regardless of what you look like – again regardless of how you’re dressed, from head to toe niqab or a backless gucci dress – there is a risk; of discomfort, an unkind word or anything far worse. I find it disgraceful and sickening and something our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, even a prostitute on the street shouldn’t have to deal with.

    Having said that i don’t think that it is the responsibility of an advertising agency to condone something or have a bias towards it. Their main function is to sell. Their main function is to appeal to the masses, and most of the times that means appealing to primal instincts. In this case that means women. It doesn’t make it wrong and it doesn’t make it right. That is my point. There is no one to put the blame on in this case.

    I still hold to the fact that men – and most women – will look. People will look at you at the end of the day, again regardless of what they’re wearing. Men DO look at women, they will judge them on their looks, in the same way that women will look at men. It is not Birell’s place (or primary motive) to tell you what is right and what is wrong. They aren’t selling you the beer. They aren’t worried about offending women because they are selling to men, who, unfortunately will always look at women. What you get from the ad is your personal judgment. Putting something in brackets does not allow you to show the context, it’s twisting words. Allowing people to formulate their own opinions [should] be your primary motive. Which i know you wouldn’t have done if the ad was available for people to see and judge for themselves.

    Showing a common mentality, might not be perpetuating it. All i’m saying is that advertising, unlike any other form of media, is made with a very defined goal; to sell. It is different from films, books, music and even journalism in the fact that it needs to stand out, needs to drill the product home and make it memorable. It is also important to point out that controversy isn’t a bad thing, this discourse took place, didn’t it? Which is always a step in the right direction.

  • Peter

    @Fatemeh

    I did generalize a bit there, didn’t I? I do recognize that in the States, some men have “twisted views” of women, and it is a problem. But harassment in the States, as you mentioned, is not nearly so much a problem as it is in Egypt. That’s all I meant by referring to it as an Egyptian problem; the twisted view that some men have of women is, as you implied, a universal problem. I hope that clears that up a bit.

    As to my statement that some men don’t know how to “behave appropriately towards women,” I did not mean that this is just an Egyptian problem, either. But you are right to “call bullshit” on the phrase. I was thinking more along the lines of sons seeing the behaviour of their fathers or elder brothers and assuming it is socially acceptable, at least in the beginning, but I could be wrong there.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Peter: Thanks for your comment. I agree that the role model issue is a big one: “do as we say, not as we do” doesn’t ever work. :)

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  • Ethar

    The Birell ad is finally online!

    Watch it at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcpo8YsAeno