An Egyptian family gathers to eat at the table and lays a plate for a family member no longer among them. The caption reads: We never forget anyone.
A teenage boy snubs a text message from his friends to spend time with his family at home. The caption reads: Let’s complete our gathering.
A bearded man sits with a youth group, in what appears to be a protest, as they sing along together. The caption reads: We listen to one another.
This year, scenes from popular Egyptian ad campaigns during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have provided the viewing public with more than just catchy jingles.
Their messages carry a motif.
Against a backdrop of political instability, deadly violence and rival factions explicitly voicing their differences, Egypt’s top TV Ramadan advertisers are attempting to encourage social integration in the country.
And while the official viewing figures of Ramadan ads are yet to be released, a quick YouTube search of the phrase “Egypt Ramadan 2013 advert” will provide you with the most viral adverts to grace the television screens of the Egyptian public.
And they’re the advertisers with most spending power.
This year’s ad campaign from Vodafone encourages Egyptians to “share,” but it’s not just about sending over minutes and texts to your mates, or drowning users in Ramadan offers.
“They took real situations, real people with real sentiments and actions that you see Egyptians practicing every day,” says Ahmed Emad, Egyptian advertising professional and blogger.
“A group of people pushing a broken-down car down the road, hanging on to a bus to get one's bicycle going or just splitting a loaf of bread with a fellow co-worker or friend.
“The essence of the ad is quite noble actually, reiterating that Egyptians have always had sharing in their DNA way before social networks and mobile phones made it even easier.”
And to add to the nostalgic Ramadan feel, that the country’s advertisers attempt to capture every year, iconic Egyptian pop star Mohammad Mounir sings the ad’s theme tune – adding a familiar voice to the campaign.
“The general trend in advertising is to take one to a world away from reality, a magical land of fantasy. That would probably make you look up to the ad and aspire to what this brand will make you achieve.”
“This year, Vodafone took this rulebook and flushed it down the toilet, an extremely down to earth advert, as in literally down to earth. They took a step back away from all the imaginary ads and gave us the essence of what being a true Egyptian is about, helping out in time of need and simply sharing,” he added.
But clinging onto magical lands, rival soda giant Pepsi has taken the plunge into also spreading the message of social integration – on a family level.
Bringing together Egypt’s most famous “Ramadan celebrities,” Pepsi teamed up with potato chip giant Chipsy to produce an ad with a message to the Egyptian viewing public – that Ramadan brings families together.
A teenage boy is seen getting a text message from his friends, but after going out and inadvertently entering a fantasy world, he meets a few celebrities who convince him to go back home and spend time with his family and “complete the gathering.”
Egyptian actress Nelly, an Egyptian all-singing all-dancing talent, features in the Pepsi-Chipsy ad, along with puppet characters Boogie & Tamtam and other long-standing Ramadan stars.
In the 1970s and 80s, Nelly starred in a seasonal series’ of Ramadan quiz shows, popularly known as “Fawazeer Ramadan,” often featuring star actors and actresses in performances appealing to children and adults alike.
But what’s fuelling ads during Ramadan? Any Egyptian will tell you it’s the special Ramadan programming. It’s the “mosalsalat.”
Along with the “Fawazeer,” the month’s jam-packed TV schedules commonly includes a mix of 30-day long soap operas (mosalsalat) with either a comedic, social, religious, political or patriotic twist.
"Advertising fuelled the competition between the drama series, as the most successful series attract the best and most expensive advertisements, and therefore many advertising agencies sought to advertise the series as well as products in order to maintain hold of their share and position in the advertising market," Maher added.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Egypt’s offering this Ramadan promoted a highly-politicized tag line: “Let’s unite again. Why not?”
The ad shows scenes of a priest and a sheikh greeting each other, young children helping each other, families never forgetting their deceased members, rival protesters sitting together in a calm debate and graffiti saying rival football teams are “one hand.”
This phrase has been frequently perpetuated by the media and protesters in recent months, and since the 2011 revolution, to promote “one hand” unity between security forces and the people.
“After the revolution, the Egyptian consumer has become more mature and the normal showcasing of products and simple jingles does not have the same effect on him/ her anymore,” said Ahmed Fayez, the Business Unit head at FP7 Cairo, the advertisers behind Coca-Cola’s Ramadan 2013 campaign.
“Coca-Cola’s strategy since the revolution has been to inspire culture leadership. We usually analyze the political and economic scene and try to send a message to inspire people in a forward direction.
“Currently the tensions in Egypt revolve about our differences. The division among Egyptians is getting bigger every day; so it was time to remind them of the great spirit of unity that exists within them and that has weaved the fabric of Egyptian society for thousands of years.”
He added that the $400,000 “Why Not?” campaign “came from the fact that there are so many more reasons to come together, than to not.”
According to trendigdig.com, a site tracking digital trends in Egypt, Coca-Cola’s TV commercial gained + 860K views on YouTube in the first week of Ramadan and succeeded to make the Arabic hashtag “why_not?” viral on Facebook.
'Like the Super Bowl'
But despite the societal and national unity initiatives, advertising giants predominantly aim to capitalize on Egypt’s booming population and media profusion.
After suffering heavy losses during the country’s post-revolution recession, Egypt’s ad industry has this year shown signs of recovery, analysts say.
"The overabundance of satellite channels is a double-edged sword," Mohsen Maher, marketing director at the El-Giza Advertising Agency told Egypt-based al-Shorfa earlier this month.
"Competition has become fiercer and the price variances and speculative [ad purchases] have gotten brutal."
"That said, the competition has engendered a recovery for the advertising market," he said, adding the price for one minute of advertising this year rose 25% from 2011.
Last Ramadan, Egyptian channels had more than 50 soap operas on offer and their combined production cost was estimated at a record 1.18 billion Egyptian pounds ($196 million), according to a BBC report.
While the number of Ramadan 2013 soap operas appears to be less, mainly down to country’s wave of instability in the past year, the advertising market still triumphs.
As a measure of the phenomenon’s popularity even after the revolution erupted, the first two weeks of Ramadan 2011 saw TV figures rise dramatically across the Middle East by 30 percent, according to Paris-based market researchers IPSOS.
Maher puts the size of the advertising market in Egypt at around 2 billion pounds ($330 million), adding that the month of Ramadan alone accounts for two-thirds of its size.
“Ramadan ad recallability lasts till the next Ramadan, so there is a lot of pressure on scoring with the consumer on that month,” says Fayez.
Meanwhile, Egypt leads the Arab region with more than 37 percent of Egyptians watching 3-5 hours of TV and 15 percent hooked to their entertainment for 5-7 hours each day, according to a survey this week on Ramadan TV viewing habits conducted by pay-TV network OSN.
“Ramadan represents the highest TV viewership season of the year, it’s like the Super Bowl but instead of lasting for a few hours it lasts for a whole month. In Egyptian culture, TV ads have become a source of entertainment,” Fayez added.