Monday, May 20, 2013

Saudi Arabia’s Brave Advertisement

It is not often that an advertisement from a Middle Eastern country creates a media buzz. But a daring advertisement in the local media changed that.

A full-page newspaper ad showed a burqa-clad woman with a clearly visible black eye. At the bottom of the ad was a slogan in Arabic that reads in English: "Some things can't be covered", followed by a list of phone numbers for local domestic abuse shelters. Needless to say, newspaper readers were shocked by this powerful image.

The print ad was the brainchild of Scott Abbott, the creative director of the Riyadh-based ad agency Memac Ogilvy (part of the famous Ogilvy & Mather ad agency). He wanted to spark a national social discussion about spousal abuse.

The advertisement is endorsed by the King Khalid Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on social issues. The Foundation’s director, HRH A.R. Al Faisal, doesn't think that the advertisement was that controversial.

Protecting women from spousal abuse is a major issue across countries, cultures, and social classes. It is also a subject that society is often hesitant to deal with in such an open way.

According to Ms. Al Faisal, things are changing in Saudi Arabia, with a notable rise in women’s shelters. Furthermore, the King Khalid Foundation has prepared a bill that outlaws domestic violence. If convicted, an abuser will face jail time, fines and loss of custody. A similar bill outlawing child abuse has already passed.

The ad also created buzz outside Saudi Arabia. The ad was discussed by marketing and PR professionals in Europe and the US for its PR effect while the design was lauded by graphic designers.

The “less is more” approach worked beautifully here. It will be interesting to know what the social impact in Saudi Arabia was – and if it contributed in changing society’s take on domestic violence.

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