Ramadan’s stand-out ads: Time to tone down the chauvinism, Birell
Courtesy: YouTube

If someone nicks their finger with a knife in the kitchen or farts in the elevator, you’re supposed to take it like a man. Or at least that’s what a non-alcoholic beer manufacturer is instructing men to do.

Birell’s somewhat tired series of advertisements released this Ramadan bring back its notoriously chauvinistic tagline, “Man up,” only this year adding a new dash of homophobia.

The non-alcoholic beer, made by Al-Ahram Beverages, is celebrating 30 years in the market by lamenting men who still engage in behavior it deems “non-masculine.”

One commercial shows a man running to catch an elevator in which another man has farted. It chastises him for being repulsed by the smell. “Thirty years of Birell,” an exaggeratedly macho voice yells, “and there are still people like him.”

Other ads in the campaign, devised by King Tut’s Playground (KTP), give further examples of those who need to “man up,” such as the guy who uses chap stick, the guy checking himself out in a mirror at the gym and the guy taking a selfie.

The malt beverage has banked on the same tagline since 2008, when American giant Leo Burnett came up with its first “Man up” campaign (“A girl’s personality is the last thing you should notice … be a man and drink Birell”). Straight away commentators pointed out its backward misogyny, but to no avail. For eight years, Birell has continued to employ chauvinistic and sexist approaches to selling its product.

In 2009, they added another tagline to the Birell campaign that perhaps explains why they’re going for the macho angle with the fake beer; “Birell, a taste that only a man can endure,” the 2009 campaign said.

“Macho-fying a product is a trend that passed quite some time ago,” says a copywriter at an ad company who prefers to remain anonymous. “It’s funny that Birell didn’t get the memo.”

The copywriter wonders under what misguided advice Birell continues to listen to when releasing such misogynistic ads, which he believes put consumers off trying the product or supporting it.

Last year, the company released an online poster criticized for encouraging sexual harassment. It showed a man looking at the picture of a black and blue dress that had been widely circulated on social media, under the line: “Forget about the color of the dress, the important thing is who’s wearing it.”

Perhaps taking in some of the criticism, this year Birell also tried to incorporate a “chivalry” concept into their ads. Among those who need to “man up,” the ads say, is the guy who didn’t give up his seat for a pregnant woman, the guy who lets his wife carry all the shopping bags and the peeping tom who uses binoculars to snoop into other people’ homes.

But this was drowned out by a homophobic theme that was also infused into this year’s ads.

One of the ads that was controversially banned by the Consumer Protection Agency at the beginning of Ramadan was a Birell commercial showing one man taking a sly glance at another man at the urinal, with the same tagline: “30 years of Birell and there are still guys like him.” Another ad — not banned — shows two guys walking hand in hand on the street, when they are startled by the macho voiceover.

“Because our society lends itself to being macho and sexist, the Birell line never really caused enough outrage,” the copywriter says. “But this year it went too far. There’s a chance some of the market likes the thinking behind Birell, but that would only be the male part of the market. So right there you just cut your customer marketing by 50 percent. Now of the men, how many are offended by this ad? You just lost them too.”

KTP are behind the Juhayna ad series that is also creating controversy this Ramadan. The ads feature talking babies, with one particular commercial referring to breastfeeding as “dondoo.” The Consumer Protection Agency banned it for including sexual innuendo.


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