TABOO OR NOT TABOO?
That is the question.
If you can’t beat‘em, join‘em.
What’s more cliché in Jeddah than seeing images and pictures of women in print ads, magazines, album sleeves and newspapers with the requisite shades of black, blue and red markers on their bodies? How many times have you wondered about the person whose job it is to hunt down these female forms and shade the impropriety out of them?
It has long been considered a non-spoken regulation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that any type of unseemliness be erased, especially within the media industry. In this case, your regular Maxilo marker can do the trick.
What happens when advertisers use this regulation to their advantage? Is it now a case of Socratic irony? Or is it simply what happens when residents begin to respect the delicate ecology of their culture’s restrictions? If the latter persists, then it must be some sort of revolution.
Yasser Alireza, Senior Art Director at Memac Ogilvy, Jeddah, talks to us about his latest contribution to the fast-paced and wildly controversial advertising industry.
“I remember looking at an album sleeve of Mariah Carey that I bought from Jeddah years ago. I was fascinated at how parts of her body were marked out. What was even more interesting were the meagre attempts to make it artsy, adding little polka dots over the edited area so that it looked it was part of her outfit.”
From this trivial memory, Alireza was inspired to come up with “Edit Everything But The Lingerie”. It is a momentous transition in ads; yet, dangerously borders parody. On the one hand, the series of ads project respect for Saudi Arabia’s social limits, whilst embracing its habits to work for the consumer. On the other hand, it teeters between mockery and sarcasm, potentially raising questions about a different kind of rebellion from new generations of local advertisers.
Alireza disagrees with point of satire. “Sure,” he says, ”Some people could and will still write it off as offensive, but that is just the nature of our society – being resistant to change and all new things are deemed controversial.”
Although ads gain more success for their advertisers by sparking up a healthy debate, leading to more popularity for the campaign, “gimmicks and insights” are not brought in to create fancy works of art alone,” he adds. “They are also brought in as a relevant tool to showcase the brand or product. In this case, the marker tool was central to showcasing the lingerie and putting less emphasis on the woman. The ad industry always tries to create a balance between creating exhilarating art that conforms to business objectives.”
So, what are the simple unwritten Dos and Don’ts of ads?
1. Do your homework
Research. Find out what you can about your target audience. The market in Jeddah is different from the one in Riyadh, for example. The market you live in also has different social categories that are, essentially, separate markets. What is acceptable and what isn’t highly depends on how these market segments think.
2. Meet the target
It is never about the art alone, or what the creator thinks alone. Advertisers must make sure that whatever they do or create artistically meets the client’s communication objectives for the brand and/or business.
Aretha Franklin was on to something. Respect the culture, religion and the market. Don’t be bold if you don’t understand the lines you can cross. Don’t make a statement without knowing its impact on the society you are communicating to.
4. In case of emergency, DON’T GO WEST
Fight the urge to turn to “westernize” advertising. This is your chance to be original. Use materials and concepts that cater to you and your market. Try not to “borrow” too much from other cultures. Insight, as I always say, is every advertiser’s remedy to mundane ideas.
5. Hit points
There are four key points that carryout strong creative direction: Insight, Innovation, Brand objectives and brand knowledge. If any of these key points are missed, then the ad becomes questionable.
It might be more than a little contradictory to say “Respect your culture” and “Don’t be predictable” in the same breath, but it can be done. This is our version of pushing the envelope.
The environment and lifestyle we are surrounded with can set a new stone on a mountain top, adding an extra rock for a higher peak, making us climb just a little higher each time. It sets the bar for a certain standard.
This isn’t about being controversial for controversy’s sake. It is about being relevant and effective, about maintaining the balance between controversy, shock or surprise, and actually selling the product.
So what is this new ad campaign’s relationship to the Thin Red Line? I would say it has safely grazed it.