Pepsi and Coke still not cool

February 6, 2008 § 1 Comment

Haifa Wehbe and her wonk eye for Pepsi…

Nancy Ajram for Coke.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat has an interesting article on the “Cola Wars” in the Middle East.

As seen from the images above, both companies have used popular Arab pop stars in their advertising campaigns — Haifa Wehbe for Pepsi and Nancy Ajram for Coke. Pepsi has even gone so far as to produce a film, called “Bahr al-Najoom” or “Sea of Stars” in which a youth wants to invigorate his small town — he does so with the help of a group of Arab pop stars…and Pepsi. The film cost $5 million and is coming out in May.

Pepsi and Coke are not shy to admit that they are blatantly targeting Arab youth. Coca-Cola’s director of marketing in the Middle East, Ahmad Rad said, “The nice thing about this region is its youth — and we’re here to comply with the demands of the youth.” The article makes the observation that the Middle East is a great market for beverage companies because they are able to target the large volume of Muslim youth who don’t drink alcohol (or can’t because of the law).

Still, the author notes that many Arab youth see Pepsi and Coke as symbols of American economic and cultural hegemony. Regional companies like “Zam Zam” based out of Iran and “Mecca Cola” of Dubai do not represent any kind of threat to international (or just American) companies. Coke entered the Middle Eastern market in 1990 — for a long time (and still today) many groups boycotted Coke for its Israeli connections, but Coke reports $70 million in sales annually from the region, though Pepsi still dominates the Arab market.

A television director for MBC in Dubai said that since pop stars have wide audiences in the Middle East, it is not strange that companies would use stars with sex appeal (jazibiyya jinsiyya) in order to get at the youth. The companies have also focused their marketing campaigns around popular sports (ie soccer), but Coke and Pepsi have now started to sponsor community efforts. For example, Coke oversaw a cedar tree planting campaign in Lebanon while Pepsi sponsored an educational program in Egypt.


On a different note, here’s a link to some of Abd al-Halim al-Hafez’s music. (Click on the grey headphones.) He was not the shill of an American beverage company and his voice does not sound like a 13-year-old girl’s.


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