Emirati and Arabic television networks have something very special to sell this month - the annual Ramadan Arabic sitcoms and other family programmes in what is a peak viewing time. The shows bring in millions of dirhams in advertising revenue. But I believe that money is being wasted as many of the campaigns seem to lack the information to encourage viewers to buy their products. I was heading towards Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall last week to catch up with a friend, and I could not help but notice the faces of familiar television stars glued onto the lamp posts lining the path I took. I cannot say that they did not grab my attention - they were in my face peeking from both sides of the street lamps. But I had no idea if these stars were hosting a programme, starring in a sitcom, or simply promoting the television network.
I met my friend and walked towards the restaurant we had picked for our lunch date and there they were again - the lamp -post stars. However, this time they appeared in the form of life-size, cut-out billboards scattered around each floor of the mall and in front of many of the escalators. At some point during my time at the mall, these cut-out billboards freaked me out. I thought they were real people, looking down at me from the second floor. Small children, meanwhile, were having fun poking at the figures and trying to knock them over. But I still did not know in which show these actors starred, and what was the airing time. I headed towards the figure of a famous Emirati star, searched left and right for some information, perhaps a leaflet about the show to feed my curiosity. But there was nothing.
For someone who grew up watching Arabic sitcoms, I knew the billboards were advertising a Ramadan show, given the time of the year, and the familiar faces of Arabic stars. My friend, another Emirati, also had no idea what those billboards were advertising. She guessed they were either part of Abu Dhabi's summer festival programme, or a teaser advertisement for a telecommunications company that was trying to, as she stated, "rip her off". And still we do not know if she was right or wrong. Maybe the networks' plan from the beginning was to tease people enough to log onto their websites and BAM TV Productions bombarded their screens with advertisement banners that will hopefully sell consumers something as they make their way to the show-timings webpage. But my friend and I barely had time to make it to our lunch date, let alone to log on to television network websites to search for Ramadan show information. However, given that the networks obviously paid stacks of money to have these figures placed in prime locations around the shopping mall, they could have at least provided some information for those who do not have time searching for it. They may have generated a large audience to tune into their shows - or they may not have.
Days later, haunted by those faces every time I stepped out of my house, I was still curious but thought that the networks were smart enough to hire people that would make sure all the information was provided for their target audience before the holy month got under way. As I was grabbing a newspaper on the first day of Ramadan, a small booklet fell on my lap, and there they were again, the familiar lamp-post faces promoting Ramadan shows.
I was certain that by now, with the Holy Month now under way, they would have stated the show time, and the teasing period, if that is what it was, would be over. I flicked through the pages and quickly glanced through synopses of each show, but again no timings were shown, and there they had me. I gave up and was not going to bother any more. If they were not going to publish the timing of when the shows were on, why should I bother to watch? I put away that booklet, and went on with my work. Some would argue that if I really wanted to watch these shows, I could have turned to the television show timings' page of the newspaper. That is not the point. The advertisements lacked information. They had a few seconds to impress me - and they failed to grab my attention. Instead they annoyed me.
This is not the first time I have been teased - and then irked - by the lack of information in advertisements. I cannot recall the number of times I have been made irritable by 30 or so words printed onto lamp-post advertisements that line Abu Dhabi's main roads. How do they expect us to drive at a certain speed, keep an eye on the road, and read the text on the advertisement at the same time? Or what about those who display the same uninformative advertising message through radio, television, newspapers, magazines and YouTube?
Stating the wrong message, or teasing the audience instead of informing them, are two things that bother me the most when it comes to advertisements in the UAE, because I know that so much better results can be achieved with what money has been lavished on creating them.
* Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, is a fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. She was recently named an Arab Woman of the Year