There’s a controversy about an Israeli ad that takes the mickey out of oil-rich Arab sheikhs to sell a fuel-efficient Nissan. In the world of humorless Arabs with lots of money and witty Israelis with little consumer clout, the Arabs win. Ultimately, the joke is on the Arabs. Enjoy.
Here’s the ad.
Here’s the controversy:
Car ad drives Saudis to distraction
Some are outraged after Israeli ad portrays Arabs as greedy, aggressive, foul-mouthed
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From Monday’s Globe and Mail
August 11, 2008 at 4:33 AM EDT
JERUSALEM — Israelis are used to being the butt of jokes that focus on stereotypes: Israeli women of Polish descent are said to be cold in bed; Israeli men of Moroccan descent might be asked where they keep their knives; Israelis of Persian background are characterized as stingy.
While Israelis might be used to such stereotyping, Saudi Arabians are not. So when an Israeli television ad campaign showed an Arab man, dressed in robes typical of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, violently attacking and vehemently cursing a Nissan car for being fuel-efficient, some Saudis called for a boycott of Nissan.
Guy Dayan, an Israeli ad man, said Israeli advertising companies often resort to stereotypes to get consumers’ attention.
“The goal is to make as much buzz as possible,” said Mr. Dayan, manager and co-writer of Mizbala, Israel’s leading creative advertising Web blog. “Here in Israel [ad campaigns] enjoy more sting.”
One person who was stung by the Nissan ad was Hannah Suwaid, an Arab member of Israel’s Knesset. “[The commercial] portrays the Arab as a person who is short-tempered, aggressive, and foul-mouthed,” he said, adding that he resented the portrayal of Arabs as greedy people more interested in their own wealth than in fuel conservation.
Note the collective mind-set and the demopathic appeal to liberal values. For an Israeli Arab to feel targeted when an oil-rich sheikh from the Gulf is portrayed is a little like an American objecting to an upper-class Englishman portrayed as stiff and formal. And to object to a depiction of these kind of wealthy Arabs as “more interested in their own wealth than in fuel conservation” has to be a joke… no? Not.
In late July, he wrote the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the President of Nissan in Japan calling for the commercial to be withdrawn. The Israel Broadcasting Authority did not heed his call. Nissan International, however, did.
Ten days after Mr. Suwaid sent his letter and four days after the Saudi-owned MBC pan-Arab satellite channel led the evening news with a story about the ad, Nissan International contacted Nissan Israel.
“We got a request from Nissan International to remove the ad and not to use it again,” said Daniella Raybenbach, spokesperson for Nissan Israel.
That comes as no surprise. In the MBC coverage, a Saudi representative told the channel that the Persian Gulf Arabs might boycott Nissan and he demanded a company apology. Several Saudi and Arab websites and newspapers called on Arab and Muslim car dealers to boycott Nissan for insulting Arabs. Some Arabs wrote on websites that they would sell their Nissan cars in protest. Others wrote that it was funny, but not coming from Israel.
Ah, a glimmer of humor.
Saudi Arabia is the largest market for cars in the Arab world. Japanese cars represent some two-thirds of the new car sales in Saudi Arabia, and Nissan is the second most popular brand. In 2007, Nissan Middle East sold 184,000 Nissan cars, while in 2006, Israel sold only 2,653.
Personally, I think the ad would be wildly successful in the USA, Australia, and many other Western countries, and that would total very many more that 184,000 cars. Check out, for example, the following short made by National Banana that’s making the rounds of the internet:
Jewish Israelis couldn’t understand why Arabs were irked by the Nissan ad. “Maybe they don’t have a sense of humour,” said Guy Mantsoor, 29, a Tel-Aviv bartender.
Or maybe they only have a sense of humor when others are the butt of the joke.
“[The Arabs] took it personally – it’s not personal,” said Shay Goren, deputy CEO of McCann-Erickson Israel, one of the country’s top advertising agencies. “[The Gulf Arabs] are just a symbol for rich people. I think it’s a great ad. Our role is to do our job in the best way possible. We don’t need to take into account the feelings of the Arabs.”
Ms. Raybenbach said the commercial created by Inbar-Merhav-Shaked Advertising agency had ended as scheduled at the beginning of last week. Nevertheless, she quickly explained that Nissan Israel had no negative intentions.
“We are sorry that there are people who did not understand the advertisement, and we hope that now, after the subject was clarified, that they understand that it was all done with humour and without any intention to hurt anyone.”
Not everyone in the Israeli ad world would agree. Mr. Dayan acknowledged that he doesn’t like the Israeli approach. “I don’t think cheap provocation should be used to create the buzz,” he said.
Prissy comment. On whose behalf is he getting his nose brown? And it’s not cheap provocation. It’s well deserved.