Ramadan ads 2016: classist, sexist, and racist

4 min read

Make the maximum profit in Ramadan! Ramadan is the highly congested season for advertisements in Egypt since it is the month when specially produced TV series are being broadcasted. Neither families, nor individuals miss the chance to watch at least one or two series. For these reasons, it is the perfect time, not only for promotion, but also for charity donations and voluntary civil services. In order for a product to go viral during the hot season it is important to follow the social marketing trend, a recent trend that uses social values to relate a product to its target audiences, such as power of unity, nostalgia for family gatherings, and happiness. Most of the international and national companies use this strategy to advertise their products and maximize their revenues, whereas others use social misconceptions for the same purpose.

 In this article, I analyze some of Ramadan’s promotional campaigns that seem to be problematic and controversial on Egyptian social media platforms.


While social marketing links the product with the audience through social values, Etisalat Misr, a phone call agency, has violated this rule by classism. The company failed to integrate different categories of the Egyptian society, drawing a self-image far from the actual consumers’ reality. For instance, its advertisement shows various social groups having fun together, relating this joy with services provided by the company. However, almost all the groups appeared on screen belong to higher social classes. Specifically, they use smartphones, primarily iPhone, and professional cameras, they enjoy private beaches and villas with swimming pools, they go on safaris, and ride airships. All of these activities seem normal simply for higher ranked social classes, but unattainable for others. While many Egyptians in rural and civil-built areas use the ‘Toktok’ as a means of transportation due to unpaved roads, people in the advertisement use it for entertainment. Whereas they can afford vacations in expensive resorts provided on private beaches, many Egyptians use public beaches which do not even have rescue teams. As the bride celebrates her wedding on a rooftop of a well-known hotel with the Nile in the background, others celebrate it on the rooftop of their own home to save money. Moreover, although women in the advertisement fearlessly wear short dresses, more than 70% of women in Egypt cannot because of sexual harassment. Ironically, these high classes often consider Etisalat Misr as a “local” cell phone company and use other services that offer international advantages such as Vodafone Egypt. As a result, Etisalat Misr’s commercial creates a wide gap between many people’s reality and the ones that appear on TV, which prevents them from relating to the service advertised. This advertisement has failed to draw a real image for the audience who represents the majority of the company’s consumers, instead, it draws an image of the so-called ‘crème of society’, or the elitist way of life.


 This year, Cottonil, an underwear brand, has chosen to declare its sexist advertisement approach once more. For the purpose of entertainment, the company started its clip by referring to buttocks and hips as the “sitting,” including two female children who were referred to as having “small sittings.” This carries a sexually implicit message that has been confirmed by the continuity of the promotion. After few seconds of the beginning, a group of girls squatting have been pointed out as the “Ooh setting,” which also has an underlying sexual meaning that may be considered as verbal sexual harassment.

 These sexual messages mimicked in Juhayna’s advertisement, a food and beverage corporation. In the commercial, a male child complains of his inability to forget his mother’s breast milk, referred to in the advertisement as “El-Dondou”, while his peer assures him that even if he drinks the milk advertised he will never forget “El- Dondou.” This audiovisual content sexually objectifies women’s bodies as tools for sexual arousal since it uses the term “El-Dondou” as an appropriate alternative for the word “titties” which has a sexual implication.
 It is considered offensive for sexually referring to women’s breasts as sex objects, including activities such as breastfeeding. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that since this content has been broadcasted, “El-Dondou” has officially become a word used in verbal sexual harassment of girls and women in the streets. However, the word itself does not have a sexual meaning, the sarcastic tone of whoever says it adds a sort of social acceptance to sexual harassment. One girl describes how she was publicly harassed by the same term as a sign of having a sexy breast, though other pedestrians laugh!

Whereas these sexual messages disappear from Labanita’s advertisement, it remains sexist. In its video, Labanita, which is also a food company, shows two female cows as owners of a corrupted company being complained about by a male consumer. This is regarded sexist because of the message delivered at the end of the clip: “People! They are merely cows; they don’t have experience other than making yogurt.” This message appears not to be offensive, yet it really carries a sexist meaning; the two cows were females, and they are considered productive only by producing milk, in other words by being mothers. Back to reality, many Egyptian women have suffered from discrimination based on their gender in workplaces, and stereotyped as being less proficient than their male coworkers. In “Marx Today,” Hartmann (2010) argues that sexual division of labor, similar to that utilized by Labanita, restricts women’s labor opportunities solely to jobs related to their gender roles (p.219). Therefore, the advertisement is not women-friendly for embedding a gender roles’ stereotype: Women are inefficient in jobs other than motherhood.


Ahmed Ezz, an actor who Cairo court ruled as father of actress Ziena’s twin boys after a year of denial, reappeared on TV this Ramadan in an advertisement for a real estate enterprise, Mountain View. Ezz represents a guy whose friend is trying to entertain him by reserving a vacation in a coasty resort. By the beginning, Ezz seems to be interested, but later he was disgusted when a black fat woman smiled to him. This advertisement exemplifies how black women are discriminated at in Egypt, especially if not thin, as not being beautiful
Moreover, not only does it negatively affect black women's representation on TV, and limits their roles to sarcastic ones, but also their real life as women of color who experience inter-sectional discrimination. 
The stereotype of women beauty standards introduced in this ad effortlessly suits a man with disgrace.

In brief, advertisements and the social world are intertwined. Each one borrows from the other in order to produce itself; thus, media contents may have the same social norms from which we suffer on a daily basis. Yet, promotions do not have the ethical justification of being sexist or discriminatory. In contrast to reality that may be automatically reproduced using existent sexist social values. It is highly recommended to raise awareness among media production companies that they can play a socially influential role by, at least, avoiding normalization of such misconceptions.

Ghadeer Ahmed


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