Egyptians sceptical about government advertising campaigns

Many government advertising campaigns reflect only its point of view and fail to consider that the target audience has other, more sophisticated, ways of looking at things.
Monday 16/12/2019
A motorist drives past a government billboard in Cairo that reads in Arabic: "We sure can ... boost our exports and increase our resources. Oh, Egypt, With bold reforms, we shorten the road." (AP)
Not convincing. A motorist drives past a government billboard in Cairo that reads in Arabic: "We sure can ... boost our exports and increase our resources. Oh, Egypt, With bold reforms, we shorten the road." (AP)

CAIRO - Many Egyptians expressed scepticism at media campaigns they say reflect the views of the government and ignores issues important to the country.

A lack of credibility led the government to turn to advertising to promote its objectives, acting like a commercial institution promoting its products.

The Egyptian government began vast advertising campaigns for its policies and projects but the ads have drawn mixed results. Some attracted public attention and a significant response, especially those devoted to public health, free HIV testing and drug awareness.

Campaigns in other sectors, including fighting corruption, promoting educational reforms and justifying hikes in fuel prices, were met with apathy and ridicule. It was clear the motive for the campaigns was to mobilise and guide public opinion. They were of the type usually referred to as “service ads,” often associated with public awareness-raising objectives.

The Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum recently started a campaign motivated by the increase in fuel prices that was part of the government economic reform programme. An intensive ad campaign appeared on satellite television channels, radio and government and private newspapers under the slogan “Social Justice in Egypt 2019,” highlighting the elimination of subsidies and redirecting them to the poor.

Although the campaign was meant to help citizens understand reasons for the price hikes, citizens criticised the government. Critics said it should have introduced the expected increases before the hikes were announced July 5, rather than provoking an outcry with unconvincing justification campaigns.

Advertising experts say the repeated ads highlighted signs of social divisiveness by hinting that those who own one or two vehicles are receiving the most subsidies, while those who do not own personal means of transportation do not benefit. The content of public service advertising needs careful review and correction, they said.

Omar Tawfiq, a government employee, said the ads received negative reactions because they underestimate citizens' intelligence and may be spurring popular anger. Tawfiq said an important segment of the public has lost confidence in government messages.

The public is much less influenced by traditional means of advertising now because many have access to new technology and no longer only get information from television and newspapers, experts said. They are quite aware of views that contradict those promoted by official bodies.

The messages can become confused when advertising turns into direct political propaganda.

The public's aversion to the intrusive style of some campaigns, combined with society’s rejection of some ideas promoted by the ads and the poor image people have of governmental “service ads” could end up affecting the Egyptian advertising market, which is losing ground to billboards and social media.

Some note the government has been forced on more than one occasion to stop a campaign for fear of negative reactions. The government pulled awareness-raising campaigns directed to families in Upper Egypt to urge them to try family planning. The campaign was broadly rejected. After complaints reached parliament, the government stopped the campaigns.

Safwat al-Alam, a professor of advertising at Cairo University, said many government advertising campaigns reflect only its point of view and fail to consider that the target audience has other, more sophisticated, ways of looking at things.

For example, a government advertising campaign about the discovery of gas and oil reserves did not reflect that the discoveries were not reflected in fuel prices. It is not surprising, therefore, that the messages promoted by the ads did not convince the intended target audience.

Alam said official communication campaigns were not achieving their goals because they failed to consider the reality in the field and citizens’ basic needs. Even schedules of the ads on satellite television channels and newspapers are ill-timed.

The showing of an ad promoting austerity, for example, may be immediately followed by an ad urging people to purchase housing units costing millions of pounds. Conflicting messages further limit the credibility of the government's advertising campaigns, which already struggle with public scepticism.