International mobile phone giant Vodafone forgot a cardinal rule of media relations: Never mix your advertising up with Middle Eastern politics. A new commercial created by JWT strongly implies that Vodafone, one of the largest mobile providers in Egypt, was responsible for the Egyptian Revolution. The only problem? Vodafone actually sent subscribers pro-Mubarak SMS text messages during the Takhrir Square demonstrations. The full extent with which Vodafone collaborated with the Egyptian government's effort to block Internet and mobile phone access is still not known. However, it is known that the Egyptian government hijacked Vodafone's network during demonstrations.
The advertisement, an extended three-minute piece allegedly designed for internal agency use, riffs off a Q1 2011 Egyptian promotional campaign called “Our Power” to imply Vodafone inspired the Egyptian people to take “power,” as it is. An Arabic-language voiceover tells of scenes of struggle throughout the country for several minutes, slides are shown speaking to the success of the advertising campaign, inspiring words are spoken about the fortitude of ordinary people, and the clip ends with the words “We didn't send people to the streets, we didn't start the revolution. We only reminded Egyptians how powerful they are.”
Despite the allegation that the clip was designed for internal use, it was uploaded to YouTube by an account associated with JWT Middle East and North Africa.
After being discovered by YouTube viewers, the video began to be mocked by Egyptians; the clip was quickly taken offline at Vodafone's request. However, copies have begun to pop up across the Internet. Egyptians became livid at the implication that Vodafone reminded Egyptians of “how powerful they are.”
Reaction from Egyptian bloggers and Twitter users has been swift and brutal. Over the weekend, #ihatevodafoneegypt became a trending topic among Egyptian Twitter users. The video was even criticized by Google executive-turned-revolutionary Wael Ghonim, who was featured in it.
Vodafone Egypt offered a tepid official statement:
Hatem Dowidar, CEO of Vodafone Egypt, confirmed that the company does not have any connection to this video and had no prior knowledge of its production or posting on the Internet. He added that Vodafone Egypt is part of a global Company that has strict policies refraining associating the Brand name with any political or religious affairs of any country in which it operates.
This hasn't been the first time a multinational corporation was humiliated as a result of their advertising campaigns getting involved with Middle Eastern politics—intentionally or unintentionally. Subaru was burned several months ago by a fake Hebrew-language ad boasting of their cars' prowess in running over Palestinian children and a trans-region Burger King campaign in 2010 caused the fast food giant a headache after accusations of insensitivity to Saudi Arabians and Americans surfaced.
[Top Image: Flickr user Emiemihuimei]