Aug 17, 2011

Cottonil: The Underwear Controversy


Ramadan is here and already half way through. While some Egyptians think of it as a month of religious observance, family gatherings or festive meals; Ramadan can also be seen as the month of televised invasion!

Each year, all TV channels race to catch TV viewers’ attention with loads of TV series, comedy and talk shows. But in between all those shows, the thing that viewers see the most, and recently discuss the most are the ads in between.



TV ads have got people talking, facebooking and tweeting enjoying them, making fun of them or severely ridiculing them. The advertisement that caused most controversy was definitely Cottonil ad for promoting male underwear and boxers, a first of a kind in Egypt! The humorous ad begins by saying that boxers are like you friends; some make you comfortable, some are too sticky and other make you look better! The rather “sexual” innuendos plus the specter of young men in sagging jeans apparently provoked some conservative nerves.    

I think the discussion about this ad is particularly interesting. It has provoked some discussion about media, youth, fashion, and even homosexuality!

Some people saw the advertisement as a sign of media irresponsibility saying that the ad is inappropriate and rude especially in Ramadan and that it offends families watching TV together. Part of this argument is about appropriate dress; i.e. what is considered decent clothes and what’s not! In a country where religious conservatism is on the rise, talking about freedom of dress won’t get you very far!  A lot of people are concerned about what “message” their children would get from seeing young people with low hanging jeans!

The other part of this argument is about the fact that people are seeing Egyptian boxers ads for the first time in their lives. Something about the fact that it’s an ad about underwear seem to irrationally provoke many people. The humorous innuendos did not sit well with a certain mindset that is uncomfortable with the human body and especially because underwear are somehow linked to… genital organs!! Despite the criticism, the ad has a lot of positive reactions and a lot of people found it funny and praised its boldness and creative idea. The reactions reminded me of a quote I heard in a play I saw in Rawabet a while ago. "Why are we all shy of talking about underwear although we're all wearing it?!" 

The arguments propagated by the critics can be contested.  Don't young people already know about the trend of wearing sagging pants? Don't we see that in regular life every day? Why should we pretend that it doesn't exist; or should we always act as ostriches do? Why would we want to limit the freedom of choosing what people wear? If women can have the right to show their cleavage and legs, why can’t men show their underwear?! Most importantly, why do we feel an urge to control what people wear?

Interestingly though, some of the young people reacted to the ad saying it's "a gay ad"! I wonder why such comment was made. Is it because it's an advertisement for male underwear? Or is it because it portrays male friendship and intimacy? Does seeing males touching each other amount to being gay?

Although a lot of people in Egypt tend to think that homosexuality is a foreign concept, I think that this homophobia is the foreign concept. After all we have a culture that didn't see a threat or problems in male friendly intimacy and until now we can see men kissing on the cheeks, hugging or even sometimes holding hands, something that doesn't really happen in most of the "Western countries"! Our perception of masculinity is confusing to me. What kind of man do we accept and what other kind we call sissy? What are the criteria!

In the end, I believe that media is more of a reflection of society’s attitudes and beliefs. Analyzing what we see on TV and how we react to it is an interesting and worthy process. After all, resolving issues begins with a quiet and open debate. 

40 comments:

  1. This is EXCELLENT. I see this commercial every evening with my parents at either side of me & it didn't strike me as different/inappropriate at all. (Actually for a while, I didnt get it lol) This blog got me thinking, though. I didnt realize that this sort of think would be provokative. Very interesting piece, indeed.

    I love that you dont overlook anything-very honest.

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  2. Great article, thank you for taking the time to write it, couldn't have said it better myself.

    The man behind the ad

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  3. The music in the ad is Yann Tiersen's song in "Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" soundtrack, I'm french and it's very fun to hear this song in an egyptian underwear ad !!!

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  4. Posters like http://is.gd/86EvP4 are part of Armani's underwear ads in Europe. I wonder what Egyptians would say to those...

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  5. Wonderfully written, so I think certain points weren't really such a wide concern as much as that last scene with the three guys was :D My biggest problem is the fact that they used the music by Yann Tiersen for this :s

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  6. u just mentioned me in twitter with the link of the post, i'm Lebanese & because i saw Egyptians channels most of the time i see the ad and its make me angry :P maybe i'm crazy but is so moustafez w sa2il w 2arafouna fi :P !! thx for the mention :D

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  7. There's a difference between wearing underwear, and discussing underwear. There are a lot of subjects (or objects) in life that should stay discrete or hidden. Maybe I would talk about underwears with a close friend, but, I wouldn't like seeing a tv ad talking about it. And in our Egyptian culture, discrete women tend to dry off the house laundry in certain order if they are using the hanging ropes, and usually underwears are hanged first rope inwards, and big stuff like chemises, curtains or sheets are on the last rope, so now after years and years of keeping underwears out of public site, hiding between the sheets and curtains, we're seeing it on TV? No thanks, I'd rather be called old-fashioned.

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  8. Dear Omar, I agree with you from a certain perspective regarding used underwear as in some cultures used clothes are considered almost sacred, like in some well respected cultures you cannot put on someones hat as they consider that you would steel his thoughts, but regarding unused clothes (even underwear) it's a totally different case, as now a days you see them hanging in shops' windows even in the most conservative neighborhoods (and they choose the sexiest ones to hang by the way), so discussing underwear in tv commercials should be treated as any other product, and the way they discussed it in this particular ad from my point of view was creatively very discreet, they tackled the subject from a very creative point of view.

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  9. Great writing skills, a very informative one.

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  10. Well written from an unbiased perspective, I personally hated the ad and not because of any of the above concerns, I totally get the fact that a lot of research was made before it was shot, key messages were obviously drawn out of focus groups and brainstorming sessions, all this is fine, I also had absolutely no problems with an ad about underwear.
    My problem is with the ad creative, it sucked, messy execution of the story line, also the parade of the low hanging pants gang wasn't offensive in itself, my problem was the unnatural moves of laughing and bending at the same time which was obviously for no reason but to show off the boxers brand.
    Again, my problem wasn't with the underpants being shown off or advertised for, my problem was because it was known to be a controversial ad absolutely not enough effort was exerted in neither the creative part nor the execution.
    The only good thing around it is your article, again, good job

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  11. How often have I heard by French compatriots that Egyptian were gays because they were walking holding hands :).
    The arrival of boxers in Egypt is truly a great revolution !!!

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  12. it seems, you can't have gay liberation and men being allowed to be friendly with each other. Crap:( sad. Maia

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