‘Sexist’ ad sparks controversy in Lebanon elections

May 11, 2009

With less than a month to go until Lebanon’s elections on June 7, the political campaigning has intensified with some parties’ advertising causing controversy across the nation’s blogosphere.

fpm-sois-belle-et-voteAs reported in the latest issue of Campaign, a poster by the Free Patriotic Movement, also known as Tayyar, has inflamed feminist groups and spawned a host of satirical spoofs.

The ad, supposedly aimed at encouraging Lebanon’s young women to participate in the electoral process, depicts an attractive female model next to the headline ‘sois belle et vote’ (be beautiful and vote). Tayyar have used a play on a well know sexist phrase ‘sois belle et tais-tois’ (shut up and look pretty) to get their message across.

But some, including the nation’s women’s rights campaigners the Feminist Collective, view the outdoor ad as exploitative and directly offensive to women, accusing it of the sexism it attempts to lampoon. “Isn’t your ad really saying: ‘hey, men! Look at us! We have hot women! Vote for us!” suggests a posting on the group’s blog.

The group launched their own version of the ad lambasting the male dominated list of political candidates. The doctored spoof shows the model with a black eye and encourages women to protest by not voting: ‘sois intelligente et vote blanc’ (be smart and vote blank).

With voting affiliations split across the nation’s various religious communities, it appears the election will result in a closely contested battle for seats. As a result, digital campaigning has come to the fore, with the nation’s bloggers and designers attempting to influence potential voters via social media and updates direct to the electorates’ inboxes.

Are creative departments still ruled by Mad Men?

April 13, 2009

jennie-morris-creative-directorCampaign’s latest edition draws attention to an anomaly in today’s advertising industry: the lack of women in senior creative positions. Is the discrepancy due to creative departments still being viewed as male strongholds, like in the award-winning US series Mad Men set in 1960s’ adland? If not, what is standing in the way of creative women progressing?

“It’s a fact there are fewer women in this industry, and that number decreases as you climb higher up the ladder,” said Sabina Mustafa, creative group head at Brandcom Dubai. “Part of it could be, is if there are two creative directors, one a man and one a woman, I think a lot of time agencies would rather have the man in the front as the face of it. I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t faced that kind of discrimination.”

Chermine Assadian, a male creative director in Leo Burnett Beirut’s female-heavy department, felt some agencies responded to client expectations. “I can say that I’ve met many female senior creatives. But the problem is a bit more complicated when this person has to meet clients. Then the agency has to fit to the local culture. In our office, out of 4 creative directors, 3 are women. But then again, this is Lebanon not Saudi.”

Senior female creatives’ lack of visibility isn’t just a regional problem, though. For Jennie Morris, Impact BBDO Dubai’s creative director, it’s due to women having to make tough choices. “The senior creative positions are incredibly demanding and take some time to get there. You say ‘well look, I’m in my 30s and I can go for this or I can have a family’. It’s not impossible to do both but it’s really hard,” says Morris who manages both professional and parental obligations. “It’s that age-old thing, in as much as we want to be superwomen, it’s not always possible and it’s not always the right choice.”

Preethi Mariappan, founder of professional forum, Adwomen Middle East and creative director at Ogilvy One Dubai, felt other more exciting environments were superseding the ad industry’s pull. “There’s just a lot more other exciting options that you have now, so many other communication-based careers you can pursue, that maybe advertising hasn’t made that effort to be attractive to women, or in general.”

So why do you think women continue to be under-represented in senior creative positions? And, as suggested, can the industry really afford to remain so unappealing to them?

Looking beyond the Stepford Wife

April 5, 2009

tanya-dernaika3The portrayal of Arabic women in advertising was recently called into question by Tanya Dernaika, strategic planning director, Memac Ogilvy Dubai.

In a piece written for Campaign, Dernaika took issue with the unrealistic and unchallenging depictions of Arabic women by the region’s industry, comparing their current representation as similar to that of a ‘Stepford Wife’. As Dernaika explained: “The name derives from 1972 novel, later adapted into films, revolving around the fictional story of a town where independent, vivacious, accomplished women are replaced by impossibly beautiful, submissive, and silent robots.

“Sound familiar? Not in real life perhaps. One would be hard pressed to find such a woman in every day life. She is nothing like any friend, co-worker, sister, cousin or mother anyone’s ever known. That’s because she simply doesn’t exist. She is however, very much part of our life and our environment, as viewers and readers of advertising.”

For Dernaika, advertisers’ stereotypical portrayals fail to give the region’s women their due in terms of strength of character or intelligence. “Arab ad woman is incredibly comforting, because she doesn’t provoke or challenge the viewer, or stir absolutely any feeling in them whatsoever, except pleasure in the form of eye candy, and re-assurance in a mental simplicity, devoid of any realistic foundation.”

A thorough reappraisal of the portrayal of Arabic women is needed, says Dernaika, if brands and marketers are to reach the young, educated females they hope to connect with.

“In order to persuade, advertising must hit a nerve and resonate by representing a reality that is aspirational in some way. So where is the inspiring employer, teacher or co-worker? Where is the imaginative, creative mother? What about the entertaining, mischievous friend, the good citizen, the human being? The first step to improving the one dimensional portrayal of Arab woman in advertising is to take proactive steps and make changes in our own approach. It is our collective duty as marketers, planners, creatives and researchers, to replace the ‘Stepford wife’ with a human being.”

A new age for the region’s media?

March 25, 2009

The region’s first grass-roots professional community will hold its inaugural get together this evening. Adwomen Middle East’s first gathering will be held at Dubai art gallery The Jam Jar from 8pm and promises to be an informal affair “with beanbags and pizza,” said its founder Preethi Mariappan of Dubai’s Ogilvy One. The group will hear two seminars from speakers within the industry as well as seeing showreels of fellow members’ work.

The group’s successful incarnation provides a positive note in a period when, more often than not, inter-agency dealings seem to be defined by ill will. That more than 70 female professionals have signed-up, with the only inducements being to share knowledge and meet their peers, bodes well for the industry’s future.

So are these the early days of a new age for the region’s media – one where openness and collaboration moves everyone forward – or does it represent a false dawn where others are unable or unwilling to follow suit?