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.


But what about the children?

January 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that braided hair (al-mashaat) is becoming a popular trend among Saudi men, women, and even children. The article claims that braids are the oldest hairstyle in the world. A hairstylist is quoted as saying it’s a unique form of expression and that women are able to keep their hair in braids for periods of up to three months. It’s also a way to prevent hair loss. (I’ve personally heard otherwise.)

God Willing, Britney will find Islam

January 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Image of Adnan and Britney from

The types of Western celebrity gossip that get filtered through the Arabic media is pretty odd.

Al-Arabiya reported on the possibility of Britney Spears’ conversion to Islam in order to marry her paparazzi boyfriend Adnan Ghalib. He wears rosary beads around his neck which leads me to believe that he’s not Muslim, but maybe he does it for irony. Still, if Britney Spears converted to Islam, that would be amazing.

There were so many reader comments on this story on the al-Arabiya site that my computer froze. They range from:

“He’s not Muslim you idiot!! He’s wearing a cross!!”

“God Willing, Britney will find Islam”

“A thousand congratulations to Britney and Adnan!!!!!!”

Also, there seems to be disagreement over his nationality (he’s from Afghanistan). One commenter said Adnan is Yemeni and that he should take Britney with him to Yemen so she can chew qat. Another said Adnan is Iraqi and hopes that he can convince Britney to convert to Islam just like many Iraqis have converted American soldiers. Ok.

Syrian papers tend to avoid nip-slips and publish articles on more “respectable” Western celebrities, like Jodie Foster and Oprah.

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