October 5, 2012 4:11 pm

Western retailers’ ads fail to impress

The Middle East has seen its fair share of contentious advertising campaigns – although the publicity has not always turned out badly for retailers.

A Coca-Cola advertisement riled the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia in 2002 because of its focus on a young man and woman flirting over a Coke bottle. The same year, Coke released another ad where a young man writes his number in the condensation of the bottle and passes it to the woman. The company has faced such complications in the Middle East due to a decades-long political boycott that is has a dedicated part of its website to tackle Middle East rumours.

● In 2006 Wonderbra launched an ad playing on a concept of censorship in the Middle East where a model in her underwear had black marker pen scrawled across her chest. The campaign ruffled feathers in the United Arab Emirates but received wide attention that may have provided a boost for the brand.

Burger King promotional videos were posted online in 2010 playing on stereotypes of two American women and two young Gulf men. “Y’all must be loaded,” one girl says. One of the men replies in broken English: “We have oil wells in our back yard OK and once a week businessmen come to us and we pump the oil by hand.” A prominent Saudi blogger wrote at the time: “Although the commercial is not offending – not to me, anyway – I don’t think Saudis should be thrilled about it. The TV ad simply reinforces some of the most negative stereotypes about us.”

One executive told of a bizarre instance in Saudi Arabia, in which billboards of La Vache qui Rit soft cheese were torn down after people took offence to the cow’s earrings, which were made of the triangular cheese.

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