Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Saudi Arabia, camels, and... The Whopper!

Despite selling real bad food, I didn't know Burger King can be consciously selling a real bad image of the US, too. An NPR program today directed me to the following BK ads, meant to be run in the Gulf region. They depict two young Arab (most probably, Saudi) men having Whoppers with two, totally clueless American young women. These are just 30 seconds long, and believe me, they are worth seeing.

Here, the unsuspecting American finds out that her companions live out in the desert, in "double-story tents".

Here, both American women listen intently to the young Arabs telling about the oil wells in their backyards, and how they receive groups of businessmen (and bags of cash) every week, to drill with their hands.

And this one was my favorite.

If you didn't know, the Saudis take daily camel rides to work, and the richer they are, the more humps their camels have (hmm... limos?!?). Notice the third guy in the back, with a Kalashnikov in his hand?

I should say, these are hilarious. At the same time, they are very sad, since they push every conceivable notion of cultural sensitivity to the limit. And yet, despite being over-exaggerated, I have, personally, come across people who were asked whether they are from "Arabia", or whether they know a terrorist (whatever that might mean), just because they are, or look like they are, from the Middle East.

Can't help but think back to a very interesting movie about stereotypes on Arabs, as perpetuated by the beloved Hollywood.

According to an article on the Global Post, the ads were developed by the Dubai-based Tonic Communications, specifically for the BK's Gulf Region franchise.* Given that BK is a business looking to maximize profits, it would also be safe to assume that the advertising agency has done its marketing research and is attempting - at the very least - to strike a cord with its target audience.

If this is indeed the case, then, there comes the inevitable question: is this the image that Arabs (especially the young population - the one BK would be trying to reach, and the one the US considers SO important) have of the Americans?

So much for public diplomacy.

* I would really recommend taking a look at the piece. Especially toward the end, the author has some priceless "mini-stories" about typical American misperceptions about "Arabia."


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