Intergenerational dialogue has always been a favorite advertising theme for Ramadan TV during prime time. Regardless of commercial intent, it’s interesting why this trope comes up so often when people are most focused — and most vulnerable — on promoting products on TV. Three commercials featuring major stars are examples.
In Ramadan in Our Generation – which advertises an outsourcing business that has been around since the 1960s – representatives of Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Gen Z (1996-2010) discuss Ramadan as they knew it. First, 1990s pop stars Hisham Abbas (b. 1963), Hamid Al-Shaeri (1961) and Simon (1966), in their typical style, sing wistfully the music and TV hits of their time, and how much quieter and simpler life was. They conclude that “the sweetness of Ramadan in our generation had no limits”. They are followed by actress Laila Zaher (b. 2003) and rapper Abu Al-Anwar (2000) who, using a mahraganat-style song, explain: “We spend the day sharing memes and to play games. Ramadan sweets are always new and innovative. Our Ramadan is completely different. Finally, film stars Ahmed Al-Sakka (born in 1973) and Hend Sabry (1979) intervene by asking: “But what about us? What happened to our generation? They are the missing link, they say, having witnessed and been able to enjoy both the 1990s and the 2010s, but they too are becoming nostalgic for the sweetness of their own Ramadan. The ad ends with what sounds like a reconciliation with everyone lining up to sing the chorus, “The sweetness of Ramadan in our generation had no bounds.” What’s interesting is that the ad implicitly and perhaps unwittingly pokes fun at the fact that each generation is so proud of themselves, despises others, because it shows that deep down they are versions of the same phenomenon. Perhaps the point being made is that although they are so different from each other, all three generations can benefit from the product equally, but the suggestion is made that cross-generational understanding is impossible.
Starring movie stars Yasmine Abdel-Aziz and Karim Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, an ad for a telecommunications company features a series of hilarious sketches highlighting the differences between generations: landline versus mobile, television versus streaming, football against PlayStation and traditional Ramadan sweets against mergers and innovations that have spread in recent years. Once again, there is a conflict that is glossed over rather than resolved, with no interaction between the generations. At the end, everyone comes together to declare, “Ramadan is the same no matter what time it is because it always delights us in the same way.”
The bank ad Let’s Understand Each Other, on the other hand, opens with a father-son debate about music, each failing to appreciate the tastes of the other. How do you understand what they say, each asks the other. As they bicker, two of Arab pop music’s biggest cross-generational megastars, Mohamed Mounir “The King” and Cheb Khaled begin performing together. Mounir and Khaled both sang incomprehensible lyrics, at least sometimes, the former using the Nubian language and the latter the Oran dialect of Algerian Arabic associated with raï music, but they achieved wider and more lasting success than many of their contemporaries, for the song they play now explains, “We once were, we always will be. We discover what is right and change. We have lived our lives in a hundred ways. Every old person was young once. We all take the same path. Here comes a hundred new opportunities,” the tagline being, “To understand each other, we need 100 opportunities instead of one…” As they sing, they appear with the young man trying everything he does: “Renew, accept…”
At the same time, two of music’s youngest stars, pop singer Amir Eid and rapper Marwan Moussa, switch roles with the father as they perform the same song: “I know I look incomprehensible from afar. But come closer and you will find my thoughts among the stars… From a distance, you may not see that I am exactly like you. In this advertisement, the idea of interaction and empathy is put forward, the different generations exchanging roles. Yet here too the assumption is that belonging to one generation irretrievably sets you apart from all other generations, which seems to run counter to acceptance, respect and diversity. But at least the hope of a rapprochement through common ground is there.
*A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.