To Restore Civic Pride, Try Some Joy, Inner Peace and Deodorant

Musings on the International Advertising Association Conference

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Two years ago, when the International Advertising Association held its conference in Dubai, the head of the local Chamber of Commerce (who is also a media mogul) lectured delegates on how the West was stereotyping Arabs. After Sept. 11, he said, the West depicted the Arab world as an "untrustworthy society." Because of 18 hijackers, Westerners "pointed their fingers at 300 million Arabs."

The Western media have created an image of an Arab as "womanizing, greedy, corrupt, lazy, illiterate, rich, anti-Semitic and male chauvinist," he told the IAA.

Now, two years later, a student team from the American University in Dubai has won the IAA ad competition with a campaign based on the premise that Arabs have experienced "post-9/11 cultural disruption."

The Los Maestros student team won with advertising for Axe deodorant that is aimed at boosting the confidence of young Arab males by helping them overcome the stereotype that all young Arabs are terrorists.

In one TV spot, a young Arab is worried about getting his U.S. visa application rejected (a feeling probably shared by many of the IAA delegates, who also had a hard time in that department). When the young man uses Axe to apply for his visa: "Axecess granted."

The Dubai team said people from the United Arab Emirates "have begun to feel less important in their own country" and have experienced "post-9/11 cultural disruption in the form of false images that young Middle Eastern men have been associated with."

Here's the Axe brand promise, according to the students: "To the culturally sensitive, yet cosmopolitan 18- to 24-year-old ambitious Emirati/Arab male, Axe, through its resonating and compelling myths, is the only culturally branded male deodorant that enhances his confidence and desirability to the opposite sex by addressing his insecurities and desires that have resulted from economic, social and cultural contradictions."

Two years ago, I railed against the Dubai Chamber of Commerce speaker's statements. He is angry that the West views Arabs in a stereotypical way, I said, but he does the same thing to us, lumping the U.S. and Europe into one monolithic voice that disapproves of every Arab action.

But on second thought, maybe there's a marketing opportunity here. The winning student presentation described Axe as a cultural brand designed to rid Arabs of their collective inferiority complex.

We Americans are beginning to share the feeling. As industry after industry falters, we are coming to realize that we aren't so invulnerable as we once thought. Maybe we need products to convince us that our society and country can regain past glories that make us feel better about ourselves as a nation.

The man in Dubai took strong issue with the way the West demands that the Arab world "replicate Western ways."

Well, it's clear to me that Western ways aren't what they used to be, so we might be very receptive to products that recall those "thrilling days of yesteryear," as the "Lone Ranger" announcer used to say, when Americans were king of the hill.

IAA attendees also got a lesson -- a charming one at that -- on why Indians are such a cohesive society. "India is the most polycultural society in the world. It is a dramatic example of being heterogeneous, yet bound together," said R. Gopalakrishnan, executive director of Tata Sons. "Multiple identities are literally dissolved like sugar in water."

He explained that the Indian tradition "has never connected happiness with luck or fate. It argues that the aim of life is to have happiness and peace, that instead of searching for happiness outside of oneself, one should look for infinite joy and peace within."

Alas, Axe, to both Arabs and the West, can get you only partway there.
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