Saudi Arabia: Promotional Billboards Sill
Censored Due to Cultural Sensitivities
 
By Nahid Andijani
04/07/2006
 
saudi ad Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Most advertising billboards that feature people's faces in Saudi Arabia are blotted out or the eyes are deleted, through the process of pixelization. Advertising agencies in the Kingdom are subject to customs that require them to ban showing a full picture of an individual. In an earlier interview with Asharq Al Awsat, an employee in the sector said, "No one knows who is responsible" for this, adding that the current situation is "a sort of understanding/agreement between advertising agencies, based on previous experiences that stipulated that no picture of a woman should feature in a street advert without her face or her eyes being blotted out."
 

Given the creativity involved in advertising, an agreement has been reached to satisfy those demanding the distortion of female faces and those worried about deforming advertising boards. The latest innovation in this regard has seen characters in the ads wearing black sunglasses. Qussoura Al Khatib, director of Full Stop advertising agency in Jeddah said, "This is the best way. As it is known, it is forbidden to show the entire face. Some people consider this haram."

He believes that blotting out the picture is wrong artistically adding, "Totally blotting out the picture or the face or deleting the eyes kills the beauty of the advertising panel. This is why we asked, in our campaign for the Supreme Commission for Tourism, the actor Youssef Al Jarah to wear large black sunglasses to hide some of his facial features."

"This idea is not new. Three years ago, it was implemented and no one commented on it or had written about it." He indicated that the advertisement agency cares about taste, art and creativity and uses the camera as an instrument to capture photographs and not for any ulterior motives as some people might think.

Hassan Al Fadl, head of Focus advertising agency agrees that the use of sunglasses is an adequate tool to fulfill current needs. He was also unaware of who had stipulated that pictures in advertisement billboards should be concealed. "Our mission [in advertising agencies] is not to look for the reasons or decisions behind the ban but to perform our work and successfully create a marketing plan."

For his part, Badr al Rabia who also works in the sector believes the use of sunglasses is a more suitable solution than the blotting of photographs because it does not spoil the consumers' view. "In many instances, deleting the eyes or the blotting that occurs in advertisement billboards damages creativity."

However, if all advertising billboards feature sunglasses, does this mean that the advert will begin to serve two functions, whereby it markets the original product and the sunglasses?

Qussoura Al Khatib replies laughing, "Every producer has his own ways in creating an advert. In cases where the sunglasses are being promoted, they will be the main feature. The camera will focus on them and the text will refer to the brand, of course." In addition, if sunglasses are used as subterfuge to prevent the advert from being further blotted out, no brand is visible.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ali Al Shibl, who teaches Islamic studies at the Imam Mohammed Bin Saud University in Riyadh, indicated that Shariaa stipulates that pictures of individuals should be blotted out. "Removing the face on these billboards can take place either by blotting it out, or obscuring it, or deleting it so only the body remains. This is the correct way. Using sunglasses is not enough. Blotting out the face means removing the cause of life."

It appears as if the use of sunglasses as a practical solution is not restricted to advertisements. It has also solved a long-standing problem journalists and photographers used to suffer from. At first, almost no woman would agree to be photographed. Nowadays, however, women are more accepting on the condition they wear sunglasses to cover their facial features.

 
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