Saturday, 11 March 2017 23:38

Female images in modern Egyptian advertising: a religious perspective Featured

Written by Mona Khalil
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Modern Egyptian society can have various definitions: traditional, collective, developing, industrial and many more. But above all it is religious. Having played fundamental role in country’s formation throughout several thousands of years religion is still playing significant role penetrating almost every sphere of life including politics, economy and culture. Described by the famous ancient Greek historian Herodotus in the V century BC as “the most god-fearing people in the world” Egyptians till today seem to bear this very characteristics. Throughout the history Egyptians had always been profoundly religious developing remarkable religious consciousness, which would be appropriate to call theocentric as long as the idea of God is central in their world perception.

Undoubtedly a key-role in value formation of Egyptian society belongs to the religious factor. The data of value surveys for Egypt conducted by the World Value Survey in 2011 perfectly illustrates this point: when asked about the importance of religion as much as 94.1% respondents said it was very important. The question about religion as an important child quality made 83.4% of Egyptians say they thought of it (for more details see “World Values Survey. WV6 Results – Egypt 2012”). Risking to fall into precarious generalization it is still possible to assume that religiosity is predominantly detected in the lower and middle strata of the country’s society.

Another paradigm that is often reasonably perceived as confronting religiosity in Egypt is secularism. Being associated with such form of globalization as westernization, the secular tendency is merely associated with the upper strata of Egyptian society. These two concepts – religiousness and secularity – inevitably tend to periodically clash arousing public unrest. Moreover, in the past few decades it is religiosity/secularism dichotomy that defines the tension fluctuations of the Egyptian public discourse. Enough to mention the two famous Egyptian-born formulas: “Islam is the Solution” used by the notorious radical Islamist organization “Moslem Brotherhood” and “Secularism is the Solution” used by the local liberals.

As mentioned above religion is inseparable from all spheres of life in the land of pyramids and marketing strategies are no exception: they are naturally worked out with serious consideration of the religious factor.

Consequently these two tendencies – religious and secular – are shaping modern female images used in Egyptian marketing presenting them in two various ways: either as a “Good Housewife” or as a “Liberal Beauty” (or sometimes “Femme Fatale”). (Photo Religious 1 / “Religious image ad pasta” & “Secular ad Eva cosmetics”)

The first case deals with the image of a carrying mother, who in most cases would be middle-aged, veiled, corpulent and representing a moral ideal of Egyptian woman. This type is targeting the audience of Egyptian housewives, predominantly conservative or religious as long as it portrays a real woman, with whom a potential consumer is capable to associate herself. This image is mostly used to market household products (laundry washing powder, dish washing liquid, laundry conditioner, soap, etc.) or food products (oil, ghee, pasta, sauces, etc.)
(Persil commercial

The second case portrays a secular young lady intentionally challenging traditional and conservative social norms. (The secular case would also include inviting local female stars and foreigner ladies to be the images of advertising campaigns). This image is targeting two categories – secularly oriented females and men. On the one hand, this beautiful woman becomes a dream model for young girls and ladies, who wish to acquire the same striking attractiveness (of course on condition they buy the advertised product). In this case the image is used to market either beautifying products (shampoos, body creams, etc.) or any other products associated rather with pleasure then with necessity. (Photo “Secular ad chocolate”) On the other hand, female sexual appeal is being actively used to target male audience. Such approach is applied to market goods that are traditionally purchased by men (be it real estate, ceramics, water heaters, etc.). (Photo “Secular ad of ceramics”)

Needless to say that these two images are precisely reflecting the two female stereotypes existing in contemporary Egyptian society. These main types of female images are perceived as exemplary.

Among the main Egyptian values shaped by Islam is family: religious tradition implies that family is the most important thing in human life. Thus, Egyptian women are expected to become one of these two – either ideal wife and mother happy with her family life or independent beauty-heartbreaker, who is attracting men and, thus, acquiring a high possibility to grasp a husband. So it’s all about getting married in the end – the necessary step in Egyptian successful life plan.

Interesting that there is a strict differentiation in the usage of female and male images in advertising as if these two worlds hardly intersect. For instance, banking and industrial spheres are believed to solely belong to men and consequently their advertising is aimed at purely male audience.

Saibank  commercial:

Misr Bank:


Since several decades now mass communication (and advertising being part of it) has become one of the most influential factors forming human concepts, ideas and worldviews. Consequently, marketing should bear social responsibility along with promoting successful sales. And this point is unfortunately not there yet – Egyptian advertising campaigns of today tremendously lack images of women aiming to achieve in life something more than just a happy marriage. It needs to promote images of successful and passionate female scientists, artists, writers, journalists or businesswomen, who freely pursue their high goals, be it impressive personal career or involvement in social matters.  






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