Ramadan TV’s stand-out ads: Hospital ad causes complex controversy
Hesham Gamal in Ersam Alb

A coming together of A-listers, a noble cause and a social media spat has generated this year’s hottest Ramadan TV advertisement, for the Magdi Yacoub Hospital, a state-of-the-art medical center in Aswan that specializes in treating complicated heart conditions in children.

Charity ads and donation campaigns tend — perhaps especially since the launch of Cairo’s 57357 Cancer Hospital for children in 1998 — to be dark and depressing. Despite Ramadan being a high season for such campaigns, viewers would avoid watching and consequently sympathizing. Ersam Alb (Draw a Heart) seems to be an innovative exception.

It is jolly and fairytale-like, with impressive décor and glamorous costumes. The plot is simple: 80-year-old surgeon Yacoub walks into a theater with a young girl and other kids to watch a performance by a group of celebrities.

Singer Mohamed Hamaky Hamaky sings on a Broadway-like stage surrounded by golden dancers, leading to actress, producer and TV host Esaad Younis as fairy queen on a carriage, followed by actor-singer Donia Samir Ghanem as flower princess on a swing of flowers, and actor Nelly Karim, known for her Ramadan TV tragedies, as a butterfly. Boyband members chime in from what looks like Santa’s factory, and finally a chorus of soccer players — Emad Meteeb, Hossam Ghaly and Mohamed Ramadan — sing in front of a big red curtain.

The brain behind the extravaganza — director, co-producer, composer and star — is 24-year-old Hisham Gamal. He is owner of Roznama Records, Donia Samir Ghanem’s manager, producer of this Ramadan’s much-loved sitcom Nelly Wa Sherihan and last Ramadan’s Lahfa (starring Ghanem), and member of Boyband, which is exactly what its name suggests.

Social media legions quickly launched an attack on the team behind the ad, accusing them of copying BBC Music’s promotional star-studded, fairy-tale themed remake if the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows from 2014. People suggested that Gamal stole the video’s idea, theme and decor.

On top of this, Gamal, who appears in the ad along with his two bandmates in a fairy factory of toys, has been the focus of a critical campaign. He’s been described as weird-looking and amateurish, his voice and long hair have been criticized, and some people have written that he looks “soft” and “girly.”

Gamal’s defenders have emphasized the ad’s popularity, pointing to his achievements (and the fact that he studied business in Spain), adding that it’s not cool to make fun of a man for his appearance.

But detractors responded by reposting Boyband’s 2014 song Zaman al-Regoula (The Time of Men), in which they disparage “soft kids who wear skinny red jeans” and lament their lack of manliness. Released just after several men were arrested for appearing in a video of what appeared to be a same-sex marriage ceremony, it was decried at the time as dangerously homophobic. “You look left or right / Soft guys, you see soft guys everywhere,” Boyband sing in the clip. “Beware because they’ll make you soft / Go away, you’re confusing me.”

From a stylist’s point of view, the ad’s costume designer Marwa Abdel Samie tells Mada Masr that if it had been up to her she would have suggested putting Gamal hair’s up in the ad. “YouTube is Boyband’s producer and they mandate and decide the look of the band’s members, including Gamal,” she says.

Abdel Samie explains that BBC Music’s remake of God Only Knows was indeed the main reference Gamal showed to the team as inspiration and that the fairytale theme was his idea. “I created other looks for more celebrities who quit,” she says, explaining that all the stars volunteered. “The ‘go-ahead’ phase was a week and we took five extra days for execution,” adds Abdel Samie — an exceptionally short time for production and implementation.

The use of celebrities in advertising isn’t new to the small screen; an early example was a Ceramica al-Jawhara ad, made in the late 1990s, starring actors Omar Sharif and Youssra. Similar attempts followed and each Ramadan advertising companies compete to produce the most successful ads and hire the biggest celebrities. Eftah Albak is a joint production between Animation:Advertising and Roznama Records.

Amany Ali Shawky 

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