Don Draper from TV’s Mad Men memorably said in one episode that “advertising is based on one thing – happiness”.
That show was set in the 1960s, and while we still see many depictions of happiness in Arab advertising, some question if the concept remains as useful as in the past.
Ramzi Raad is not one of them. The group chairman of the TBWARAAD advertising agency, which is headquartered in Dubai, says he wished happiness was, in fact, used more in the wider Middle East.
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“It’s not overexposed. We need it,” he says. “There is scope for the concept of happiness to be manifested in Arab advertising much more. Particularly with our current situation – with sadness, misery, people running away from their countries.”
There is a long history of Arab advertising using happiness to sell. Mr Raad points to the humour and dancing common in Egyptian adverts of the 1970s and 1980s.
More recent examples include his company’s 2013 campaign for the Nissan Tiida, which had the tagline “All the great moments in life – that’s Tiida”.
Uses of happiness in UAE advertising vary widely.
An email blast sent out this month on behalf of Al Futtaim Motors, for example, merely consisted of a giant red smiley face, with the words “A brand new Toyota for only AED 42,900… HAPPY DAYS”.
Coca-Cola made some waves this year when it dropped its global “Open Happiness” tagline. A company executive, Rodolfo Echeverria, said at the time that the happiness concept had been overused – citing widespread use of songs such as Pharrell Williams’ Happy.
But that is no reason to ditch the concept altogether, especially in the UAE, says Remie Abdo Nehme, senior strategic planner at TBWARaad.
“The question shouldn’t be ‘should we be done with happiness?’, but ‘how can we use this universal and eternal concept in a disruptive way that makes a difference?’”
Mohamed Hammad, founder of Benchmark Middle East – an advertising agency specialising in the healthcare industry, points out that much of today’s advertising spending goes towards making people feel happy about doing unhealthy things.
“They feel good when they are smoking shisha, and smoking cigarettes. But at the same time, nobody is pointing out the consequences,” he says, urging a greater investment in health education and awareness to truly build a happier society.
But do we really know what happiness is?
Iain Akerman, contributing editor at Campaign Middle East magazine, which covers the industry, says it is very hard to define – meaning that happiness is “largely intangible” as a marketing tool.
“What is happiness? How do you know when you’re happy? Do smiley people in advertising epitomise happiness? How can a brand even own the concept of happiness?,” he asked.