June 17th, 2011
Revolution Sells in Egypt
The Wall Street Journal
In the weeks since Egypt’s uprising, the television airwaves and Cairo’s streets have been filled with revolutionary slogans.
“Build your country!” shout billboards hovering over this city’s dense thoroughfares. “Develop your country!” urges another over smaller text demanding that Egyptians “Don’t stop!”
An Egyptian billboard for Coca-Cola depicts young people peeling back a surface to reveal a bright Cairo, with the words, ‘Make tomorrow better.’
But the signs aren’t the work of revolutionaries. They are advertisements for Snicker’s, the candy brand owned by Mars Inc., the U.S.-based confectioner.
Since thousands of protesters ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in a nearly three-week revolt, the enthusiasm for revolution has been redirected and repackaged for television ads, billboards and jingles selling products including hair gel, soft drinks and candy.
A television spot for Coca-Cola Co.’s Coke, which apes a similar Latin American commercial called “Sky,” shows hundreds of kids dressed in trendy clothes climbing to the tops of buildings in downtown Cairo. There, they lasso the sun, pull it out from behind menacing storm clouds and bask in the radiant glory that is the new Egypt. “Make tomorrow better!” the slogan implores.
PepsiCo Inc.’s flagship Pepsi brand has launched a similar ad in which a cool kid dressed in funky clothes emails a playful image of a vibrantly colored and reimagined Cairo. As the image circulates to friends around town—an echo of the calls to protest that first circulated via social-networking sites, the colors sweep across the city’s gray skyline like a coloring book from a child’s imagination.
A Pepsi ad exhorts: ‘Think, Participate, Dream, Express who you are.’
A song in the background tells audiences to “express who you are” and “speak from your heart,” because “tomorrow is waiting for you.”
Local brands have followed a similar tack. A restaurateur renamed his cafe “January 25 Cafe,” after the starting date of the uprising. In the middle-class Cairo suburb of Agouza, a billboard for Mink brand hair gel shows a young man with a spiky hairdo. The background of the billboard is an Egyptian flag next to slogan that reads “I am Egyptian.”
This “politics lite” approach to advertising has helped to lift ad spending in Egypt for some consumer products. Ad spending in Egypt actually increased to about $329 million in May from $310 million in February, according to data from Ipsos, a global advertising and marketing research firm.
The revolution was hard on high-end products and large investments. Expenditures on household appliances and real estate between February and May of this year were down 46% and 44%, respectively, from a year earlier.
But in the category of “fast-moving consumer goods,” Egyptian advertising has increased in 2011, despite the country’s deepening economic troubles. Advertising of soft drinks and snacks and appetizers surged 30% over the same period, according to Ipsos.
“We were obviously quite concerned with the possible implications on our field, given that when times are tough, marketing and advertising, generally speaking, is the first thing to kind of go,” said Karim Khouri, the managing director of Impact/BBDO, a global advertising firm.
Mr. Khouri has a print of the Snicker’s billboard hanging in his office. The campaign is a “perfect fit,” he said, for Snicker’s current world-wide promotional slogan: “Don’t stop!”
“We’ve seen case study after case study that shows that when times are tough or in recessionary periods, the best strategy is actually to invest more in communication and marketing activity,” he said.