Generic advertising in the Arab world- An Analysis


Advertising has become an important topic to study due to the large amounts of advertisements one is exposed to on an everyday basis. However, advertisements are selling more than just a product; they are also selling latent goals, values, and ideals. This paper will explore three different advertisements in Arab magazines to look for different forms of stereotyping, such as that of gender, class, or minorities, as well as discovering the underlying messages and values that the advertisements are also trying to sell. It will also attempt to look at the cultural relevance of the ads.First advertisement:

 Burberry (2011, November 9). [Advertisement for Beauty make-up line. Laha Magazine (581).”]


Second Advertisement:

William Grant & Sons Ltd (2011, November). [Advertisement for Glenfiddich single malt scotch whisky. Time Out Beirut (37).”]


Third Advertisement:

Hard Rock International Inc. (2011, November). See The Show [Advertisement for Hard Rock Café . Time Out Beirut (37).”]


Advertising and Latent Stereotypes.

Advertising has become one of the dominant aspects of our visual landscape. Whether they are displayed on billboards cluttering the Lebanese highways and streets, on television, or in magazines, ads have become a nuisance to many. It is the sheer amount of advertisements one is bombarded with on a daily basis that makes this an important topic to study, as well as the underlying messages or symbolism that might exist in ads. It is also important to look at stereotypes being represented because most ads are generalizing by using some form of stereotype when attempting to sell products to a target market. In this paper, I will be analyzing three advertisements selected from Arab magazines and looking for the hidden messages that could reveal dominant stereotypes in the advertising industry, as well as examining the cultural relevance of these ads.

The first ad selected was from a Laha, an Arab women’s magazine. The ad is for a line of Burberry makeup, with the phrase “Beauty’ written under the brand name (Burberry). The association in this ad is pretty easy to make. The three young, thin, white female models are representing the ad industry’s standard for beauty. The fact that all three models are white is significant, because “white women are still used as the standard icon of beauty and femininity” (Grant. & Millard, 2006, 661). This image is not meant to inform, as the makeup is displayed in lesser prominence to the picture of the three models. All three women are posed and dressed similarly; this is perhaps used in order to generate an image of three young and beautiful friends or companions. It is a theme often repeated in movies and TV shows, where a popular girl will be flanked by her friends (or posse). The original television series of Charlie’s Angels, for example, has the three beautiful, young. white women playing the part of crime-fighting heroines, but they are not individuals; they act under the command of Charlie, their authoritative boss who never shows his face. Unlike Charlie’s Angels, the three models in this advertisements do not represent heroines, they only serve to represent the stereotype of ‘beauty’ advanced by the entertainment and advertising industries; “A beautiful heroine is a contradiction in terms, since heroism is about individuality, interesting and ever changing, while ‘beauty’ is generic, boring, and inert” (Wolf, 1992, 59). None of the models are moving or doing anything, they are standing side by side simply posing, almost like mannequins. They are each made to seem slightly distinct from the others in their different haircuts. However, they are still similar in the sense that their raincoats, and their eye and skin color. All three models are also pouting their lips, but the expressions on their faces seem to represent different aspects of the current stereotype of females.

The model on the left is looking at the viewer with an almost disdainful look on her face, which seems to represent the judgment of women of one another. It certainly reminds me of the popular girl in school who would always look at other girls condescendingly and judgingly. Wolf describes how women tend to compete with or dismiss one another based on their ‘looks’;

“The look with which strange women sometimes appraise one another says it all: A quick up-and-down; curt and way, it takes in the picture but leaves out the person; the shoes the muscle tone, the makeup, are noted accurately, but the eyes glance off one another” (Wolf, 1992, 75).

The beauty ideal shown by the entertainment and advertising industries have indeed made “women learn to compare themselves to other women and to compete with them for male attention” (Media Awareness Network Network). The model in the middle seems to represent the ideal of beauty, with her cheekbones accentuated with makeup, a thin nose, red pouting lips, and her blonde hair framing her face. She is the one standing out the most out of the three, due to her positioning in the middle, as well as her blonde hair and light-colored raincoat; the other models seem almost like her shadows from both sides, with slightly darker raincoats and hair. She is accentuated with the white as a pure beauty. However, the expression on her face is almost blank and doll-like; she almost seems to represent the stereotype of the dull, senseless beauty.

The model on the right is partly out of the frame, and seems to have a dull look on her face, with a short boyish hair cut. Also, she seems to be the more protective one of the model in the middle, as she is leaning her head on hers and her body is also turned to face her rather than the camera; the upper body of the blonde model is also turned towards the short haired model on the left. Perhaps because of the short hair and her more protective stance towards the model in the middle, this model can also seem to give in to a stereotype of a “hot” lesbian (that is, male-dominated popular culture often suggests that lesbianism or bi-sexuality is attractive and desirable in a woman, but it is not acceptable nor attractive in a man). With the models on the left and middle, their long hair is tucked into their raincoats where there is an opening. This could serve two functions, first, to accentuate the models faces rather than their bodies as it is an ad for makeup, and second, to leave something to the imagination; because one cannot see what is under the raincoats, it opens the possibility for fantasy.

Although this advertisement was displayed in an Arab magazine, it does not carry much cultural relevance in the sense that the models do not look like Arabs. The standards for beauty that are set by the Burberry ad do not carry much cultural relevance in the sense that the models do not look like Arabs. However, these ads for international brands are often portraying impossible standards of beauty to non-white women in order to make them feel that the product being sold could help them reach Western beauty standards. Indeed, through making women feel insecure about their physical appearance “by presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits” (Media Awareness Network).

The second advertisement to be analyzed is from Time Out Beirut. It is a full page spread advertisement for Glenfiddich whisky. The typical target audience for a whisky company is typically middle- and upper class males. The ad portrays two men standing on a cliff overlooking a huge mountain range and a big cloudy sky. On the side is a huge bottle of Glenfiddich whisky towering over the two men and the mountains, and reaching into the sky, taking up about one-third of the space on that page, perhaps trying to stress the importance of the whisky in helping achieve future goals and adventures. The first page of the spread says “One day you will” in big letters over the dark, intimidating mountains (William Grant & Sons Ltd.). This is inferring that the product is for the adventurous man who wants to achieve many things throughout his life and career. One of the men are in fact pointing to the rough, dark mountain peaks (under the “One day you will” text), as if saying that there is where they want to go next; as in pushing themselves to a new level. This idea of pushing boundaries and the limits is also evident on the bottom of the page with the logo of the company and the slogan “The spirit of a pioneer”. It points to the stereotype that men are explorers and adventurers by nature (perhaps even in opposition to women who are not included in the ad). It also connects this trait of adventure to the whisky.

Men are also often portrayed as competitive individuals, who strain to overachieve or win against other men. These stereotypes of how the ideal man should be are shaped by the entertainment and advertising industries, as “the media does inform and reinforce prevalent ideas about men and masculinity” (Media Awareness Network).The ad is showing a terrain that the stereotype strong, rugged, adventurous man could accomplish climbing. The mountain range is a “wild” setting, encouraging men to get in touch with their wild side. Even the bottle is labeled as produced in “The Valley of the Deep”, also a seemingly wild, mysterious, and rugged place. However, I have so far left one thing out, and that is the fact that the advertisements is for whisky, or an alcoholic beverage. This ad is making an unrealistic or idealistic proclamation of their whisky, that is, that it helps men achieve throughout their lifetime and explore their limits. The un-idealistic view of alcohol on the other hand might be alcoholism, hangovers, liver problems, and aggression (“one day you will”: explore or become an alcoholic?). The use of the words “one day” and the future tense of “you will” seem to imply that the product can accompany you while you strive to achieve your goals from an early age throughout your lifetime. The two men also are turned away from the camera, in contrast to the Burberry ad where the female models were looking straight into the camera. Here, the men are taking a more active role, they do not seem to be posing for a camera, but they are busy and have better things to do such as exploring further territories. They are strong individuals, not docile and submissive.

This ad is culturally relevant in relation to the stereotypes used of Arab masculinity; even in Arab produced advertisements, “men are usually portrayed as virile, muscular and powerful” (Media Awareness Network). However, it is not culturally relevant in the sense that it is an alcohol commercial. However, Time Out magazine seems to cater to a target audience of young adults who drink alcohol and who are interested in Lebanese nightlife, bars, and events. It is also perhaps not culturally relevant in the sense that although the stereotype of the traditional man in Arab culture would be that of the strong head of a family or household, these men seem to be more individualistic, leaving their duties and responsibilities behind in favor of adventure.

The third advertisement was also chosen from Time Out magazine Beirut. This is an ad for Hard Rock Café franchise in Beirut, although the ad itself was not produced or photographed in the Middle East but in the U.S. The slogan for the ad is “See the show” (Hard Rock International), insinuating that Hard Rock Café is that place where the action is happening, and also the fact that there is live music. Perhaps one could go further by saying that Hard Rock International is trying to distance itself from the image of pop and rock music memorabilia (more like a museum), and to reframe itself as a place where the show is actually happening (with live music and entertainment), giving the chain a more active feel. The ad shows a series of photographs taken in a Hard Rock Café. The middle picture is of a plate of burger and fries. This is perhaps trying to reinforce its image as a classic, simple, American restaurant. In this picture only the plate is in focus, and there is a blurred employee in the background. This could perhaps show that the staff is only in the background of the experience. The action of Hard Rock Café lies in the enjoyment of the customers, that is, the real experience is that of the customers laughing, eating, drinking, or watching a live show. Perhaps it could symbolize that the staff are submissive and only there to serve the customer.

The issue of submission arises again when one notices that the only other picture of a staff member is that of a cook in the kitchen. The cook is represented as a young black male, and the media “has repeatedly represented them [black people] in service occupations… and as always belonging to the lowest occupational category” (Grant & Millard, 2006, 661). This stereotype is evident in the picture, and it is not purely by accident that the cook is portrayed as a young black male, while all the customers are white. This can be related to one of Goffmans characteristics of stereotyping, the “ritualization of subordination, in which a person is shown in a submission position relative to others or the viewer” (Grant & Millard, 2006, 660). Black people in advertising are often characterized in a submissive role, and here the black male is given a submissive position in the kitchen of Hard Rock Café. This creates a hierarchy between the customers paying for a good experience, who are dominant, and the staff working for both the customers and the company, who are submissive.

The pictures of the different customers seem to point out different opportunities for enjoyment at Hard Rock Café. A picture on top is set at a live music show, where the most prominent figure is a young white male looking to the side, as if he has caught the eye of someone across the room. This is meant to invoke some mystery or romance to the place, as if one has chances to meet persons of the opposite sex there. This picture has the Hard Rock logo in the background, to keep the brand name visible. Another picture on the right is of a young white woman, who is laughing in a natural way. It is perhaps meant to illustrate the average young person enjoying themselves. She is also wearing a Hard Rock logo on her hat, perhaps to remind people that the company sells merchandise as well. The third picture of a customer is under that of the black cook, where she is eating and laughing almost extravagantly. Her face is looking upwards, perhaps towards the endless enjoyment of the experience, and in the opposite direction of the black cook; while he in contrast is looking down at the frying pan (another example of dominance and submission). In this picture of the woman laughing, there are also three different cups of alcohol drinks in front of her on the table. Another picture is devoted exclusively to the draft beer cup that is overflowing. This shows the abundance of alcohol at the place, and is perhaps trying to remind people that it is not only a restaurant, but also a bar where a lively nightlife exists. This ties in to the slogan of the ad “See the show” (Hard Rock International).

This whole ad seems to be stressing on the Hard Rock Café brand, by the recurring logos in all but one of the photos. It also seems to be trying to rebrand Hard Rock Café as a place for entertainment and fun, as well as for alcohol and food. However, in this ad the idea of alcohol is different than that of the whisky ad, which was portraying men reaching their goals and having adventures with the whisky. This ad, in contrast, shows alcohol as more of a party drink, where people will just get tipsy, laugh, and have a good time for the night. When it comes to cultural relevance, this ad is also featured in Time Out Beirut, and is targeting a young, Westernized, audience in Lebanon (or tourists). However, this ad is not relevant to the culture in the sense that it was produced in the U.S and features Westerners, not Arabs. Also, it is not relevant to the traditional culture because of the focus on nightlife, entertainment, and alcohol. This ad is definitely not trying to portray Hard Rock Café as a family restaurant; it is aiming at gaining a reputation as a bar where young people will party at night.


Advertisements exist essentially to sell a product to consumers, and to make the product and the brand look desirable. For this reason, it is important to read between the lines and look deeper into the image in ads to discover the underlying stereotypes, messages, values, and ideals that are being displayed or sold along with the product. Looking at only three ads for this paper, I was able to discover different dominant stereotypes of women, men, and minorities. The ads looked at were also attempting to sell to different ideals, such as the the ideal of beauty and youth for women and of masculinity and adventurousness for men. Also, advertisements are often distributed universally, and they are not made relevant to the cultural context at hand. Although this could possibly make the ads less appealing, it is also allowing for Arab audiences internalize the stereotypes and ideals of the West, leading to feelings of insecurity or inadequacy in the viewer.


Burberry (2011, November 9). [Advertisement for Beauty make-up line]. Laha Magazine (581).

Grant, P. & Millard, J. (2006). The stereotypes of black and white women in fashion magazine photographs: The pose of the model and the impression she creates. Sex Roles, 54, 659-673.

Hard Rock International Inc. (2011, November). See The Show [Advertisement for Hard Rock Café]. Time Out Beirut (37).

Media Awareness Network (n.d.). Beauty and body image in the media. Retrieved from

Media Awareness Network. (n.d.). Masculinity and advertising. Retrieved from

Media Awareness Network. (n.d.). Media portrayal of men and masculinity. Retrieved from

William Grant & Sons Ltd (2011, November). [Advertisement for Glenfiddich single malt scotch whisky]. Time Out Beirut (37).

Wolf, N. (1992). The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women. Harper Perennial.


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