Friday, 28 October 2011


“Bringing Islam to the masses” is the goal of the new TV campaign from MyPeace, the organization that recently gave us the “Jesus: a prophet of Islam” poster. Clearly deciding they’d generated enough controversy for one year, MyPeace have now taken a softer approach; slo-mo visuals, mood music and a warm Aussie voice inviting us to “explore the real values of Islam.”

“Saving one life is as if you have saved all of humanity” we learn, as a bronzed Aussie lifeguard rescues a boy from the surf. You can’t quibble with that, particularly if you're a parent.

From an advertising point of view, the approach is similar to the current “Jesus-All About Life” campaign, also featuring visuals of sunburnt Aussies; along with a crème brulee, a dead pet goldfish, and questions about the meaning of life. Jesus himself even gets a chocolate-bar style logo.

Both ads - Muslim and Christian - offer a panacea to the “crisis of the soul” that supposedly afflicts modern Australia. Who could disagree with an ad that asks you to look after your parents in old age, reminding you that they looked after you as a child? Or who could not be moved by sentiments such as “How come the more you have, the more you want?” or the facebook-ish conundrum that ”we’ve got more friends, but less friendship"?

The role of advertising is to convert consumers to a brand’s point of view by finding its most salient aspect, linking it to a compelling insight, and allowing the brand to put its best foot forward. Both ads do just that. Were I currently in the market for a religious organization to join, I’d be saying “sign me up for either one of those, thanks. They sound great. In fact, I think I’ll take them both.” After all, you can’t have too much of a good thing. With all ads, however, it’s worth reading the fine print first. Just in case.

The Jesus ad is sponsored by a whole host of Christian organizations, so if I sign up I'll have to make the sort of mind-numbing decisions normally required for choosing a broadband plan. Should I go Baptist or United? Join the Salvos or Hillsong? Too hard - I give up.
The MyPeace campaign for Islam is much simpler, giving me chapter and verse of the Qu’ran to help me make up my mind. It invites me to look more closely at the Qu’ran, so I do. It only takes a few seconds online to check the veracity of the advert's claims. Yep. Chapter 5 verse 32 points out the benefit of saving every single life, although oddly it refers to saving the Children of Israel rather than the Nippers of Bondi. But the point is the same. Intrigued, I read on.

And that is, of course, the problem with selective quoting. Readers should judge for themselves the appeal of the Koranic verses either side of the one quoted, but as an ad man I would struggle to make either 5:31 or 5:33 as convincing a “sell” as the lifesaver scenario. One has to admire the chutzpah (if that’s the right word) of choosing as your major sales pitch a quote adjacent to one advocating “that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off.” Still, the Bible has more than its fair share of blood and gore. Selective quoting (and interpretation) is something all religions and advertisers are guilty of, so it would be wrong to single out this ad exclusively.

However, reading the rest of the passage felt a bit like a chocaholic being sold an amazing new flavour of Magnum ice-cream, eagerly biting into it, and discovering it's anchovy.

Will the ad “bring Islam to the masses”? No, but it will make many non-Muslims re-consider their attitudes towards the religion. Will it attract converts? Undoubtedly. Was it worth doing? Definitely. Taken at face value, it is a positive expression of worthy sentiments espoused by Muslims. Full credit to MyPeace and its founder Diaa Mohamed, who clearly recognizes the need for Islam to be seen putting its best foot forward and engaging in mainstream public debate about how its values are relevant to contemporary society. “We hope this campaign provides Australians with fact and insight around Islam,” Mohamad maintains. No problems there. Some consumers, however, may find themselves unconvinced when it comes to reading the fine print.

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