Al-Ahram Weekly On-line   Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
2 - 8 November 2000
Issue No. 506
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

And the winner is...

By Tarek Atia

It's a sign of the almost sinister pervasiveness of advertising -- how deviously influential it is in our lives -- that even a mediocre ad can hatch itself into an entire family's subconscious. To cut to the chase, a few days ago my wife and I were trying to decide what we should do to celebrate our son's second birthday. Among the suggestions was that I dress up as a clown and entertain the children. "And then the Tang would run out and I'd go to the store in the clown outfit to get some more, right?" We both said it at practically the same time. Why? Because the whole scenario was lifted straight from a TV ad for Tang -- and not a very good one at that.

The ads that won accolades at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Ad Awards Sunday night are supposed to be the "best of the best." They're the golden nuggets of persuasion, the prime cuts from every medium where ads are found: print, radio, TV, outdoor, multi-media and more. But in talking about ads, especially those of the TV variety, it's important to note just how differently Egyptians view them. When it comes to ads, the Egyptian psychoanalytical detail-obsessed observer mode is in overdrive. In fact, a lot of people honestly prefer ads to actual TV programmes.

Although this may be for a variety of factors (the prevalence of skimpily-clad dancing girls and the poor quality of much of state-run television fare are certainly foremost amongst them), there's no denying that when the ads come on, a lot of people are glued to the screen. For many, it's a window into the world of the other. For the poor, it's a fantasy world of the beautiful, wealthy and idle, driving their BMWs past golf courses and amusement parks. For the rich, it's a stylised village moulid, a sanitised glimpse of an equally contrived world where women in black wraps discuss the virtue of Persil's power pearls.

And for the ad industry, it's big money. The audience of prime-time television viewers tuned in to channels 1 and 2 is estimated to be between 30 and 48 million. Even the lower figure is stupendous, indicating the extensive reach of the TV ad. According to Hussein Amin, chairman of the AUC Ad Award Judging Committee, advertising is a means to an end. With the money made off of advertising, television and Internet sites can be brought to the masses for free. Amin noted that advertising has other virtues as well, citing such grand notions as increasing the standard of living and preserving democracy. That advertising is the bread and butter of entertainment, is certainly true. The rest of Amin's poetic waxing we'll leave as fodder for the academics to chew on. In any case, advertising is firmly rooted in modern-day culture -- so it might as well be easy on the eyes.

You have to hand it to the AUC for always knowing how to get on the good side of the business world. Other Egyptian universities could take a cue from the institution's formula of who to honour -- and how to do it with considerable polish. Outside of the competition, Arab Ad magazine, a glossy industry monthly, got a special award for spreading the word about advertising in the Middle East across the region and worldwide. The late Abdullah Abdel-Bari of Al-Ahram, considered by many to be the father of the modern Egyptian advertising industry, was also honoured, accompanied by a flashy multimedia presentation replete with a triumphant rendition of Carmina Burana.

Hatem Hashad
of Advision

Nabil Fahmy
of Pyramids Advertising Agency

Hazem Dera
of Look

Mohamed Fahmy
of Checkmate

Mohamed El-Sawi
of Alamiya

The competition itself involved 298 entries from 43 production houses and agencies competing in 13 categories -- itself an indication of how diverse the industry has become. The winners of the top awards made clear how certain agencies are starting to specialise in one genre or another. It's no longer a question of how big an agency is; it's more about how good it is at what it does. This was clear in the best brochures and print ads, which have come a long way from the dull plain text approach of the past, and now occasionally feature exciting graphics and storylines, as well as clean, striking design.

In the Outdoor category, the series of BMW ads that cleverly use the foundation pillars beneath the 15 May bridge took the gold. Equity's controversial Americana canned fuul ads took the Integrated Marketing Campaign gold for best ads in all mediums. The ads had caught quite a bit of slack in the papers for dubbing over the dialogue of famous old Arabic movies, as if the characters were talking about Americana fuul. The AUC award, if anything, seemed to say, "This is a legitimate practice."

The highly-anticipated TV ad awards -- saved till the end of the evening like the Best Picture Oscar that this award ceremony was so unabashedly imitating -- revealed just how slick things have become, especially in the case of high-budget productions. The bronze went to Production House International for their Lux spot. The ad is 60 seconds of pure titillation, featuring the sexy Lebanese pop group The 4 Cats gyrating in a garden, being doused by sprinklers and having fun with all the bubbles from the soap being promoted. The silver medal winner, Equity's ad for Safwa oil, was a study in desire of a different sort: sultry music guiding us through a close-up tour of Technicolor-fresh vegetables being doused by clean, pure cooking oil.

But it was the high-budget TV ad that took home the gold that captures the rich, high-quality standard that so many production houses are now aspiring to. Everybody remembers the Click pure-brand ad that ran endlessly for a few weeks, back at the turn of the millennium. You remember: the one with all the children singing a choir-like ode to the year 2000 against a backdrop of some of Cairo's most glorious historical monuments?

I know, I know. You're probably humming it now as we speak.

AUC's Ibrahim Hegazy and the multi-media display honouring Al-Ahram's Abdullah Abdel-Bari

AUC President John Gerhart and the students who were honoured for the ad campaign they came up with

The winners by category

(Agency and client)

Advision for Unionaire air conditioners

Print ads, magazines
Advision for Magrabi opticians

Print ads, newspapers:
Look for Arkadia mall

Sales promotions
Strategies for Energizer batteries

Outdoor advertisements
El-Alamia for BMW automobiles

Radio, sponsored programmes
Strategies for Chevrolet automobiles

Radio, regular commercials
Promo 7 for a public service ad

Multimedia CDs
Advanced Group for Daewoo automobiles

Multimedia Web sites
Look for

Integrated marketing campaign
Gold: Equity for Americana fuul
Silver: Pyramids Advertising Agency for Milkyland
Bronze: Marcom for C-class Mercedes automobiles

TV ads, public service
Promo 7 for family planning

TV ads, low-budget
Gold: Animation for Jeep automobiles
Silver: Look for Goldi fridge
Bronze: Aspect for Nissan automobiles

TV ads, high-budget
Gold: Sherif Sabry for Click-GSM mobile network
Silver: Equity for Safwa oil
Bronze: Production House International for Lux soap

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