RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — “Have it your way!”
The long-time Burger King slogan usually refers to pickles, onions and cheese.
But a new series of hilarious ads for the hamburger chain created for Middle East consumers puts a whole new spin on the well-worn phrase. And in the process, the commercials make some interesting social commentary.
The three spots — which are airing on YouTube to test public response before going to satellite television — feature two young Arab men having a Burger King meal with two young American women they just met.
The women are clearly clueless.
“Middle East? Isn’t that the capital of Arabia, or somewhere?” one asks.
“Do you guys, like, drive camels to work in the morning?”
“You must be loaded!”
Instead of being insulted, the men play along as they demolish their whoppers.
One says he lives in a “double-story tent.” The other relates how he has “oil wells in the backyard and once a week a group of businessmen comes to us and we pump the oil by hand.”
One of the wide-eyed women starts imagining these scenes. In her mind’s eye, for example, she sees her dinner partners in traditional robes standing by a hand-pump and being given a paper bag from a tall man in a cowboy hat.
“Here’s your cash and your whopper,” he says in an exaggerated American accent.
The woman’s fantasies all end with “Have it your way!” and Burger King’s logo flashing on the screen.
The ads were developed by Dubai-based Tonic Communications for the Gulf region’s Burger King franchise-holder, Riyadh-based Olayan Group, a Saudi-owned international conglomerate.
Olayan officials did not respond to an email and phone messages seeking comment, and a Tonic official said he was not given permission by his client to speak with a reporter.
But it is clear that the ads are targeting the Gulf region’s savvy and travel-loving young adult population. Of the 70,000 Saudis studying abroad on government scholarships, about 24,000 of them are in the United States.
The ads exploit — and laugh at — the ignorance of many Americans about the Middle East, and about Saudi Arabia in particular.
For the record, it is true that this oil-rich kingdom has plenty of camels — but not in cities, where people commute by car. There are no oil wells — hand-pumped or otherwise — in backyards. And tents are mostly for recreational use.
Maybe the king’s desert tent — a sumptuous affair where he recently received U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — has two stories, but others do not.
As for fabulous riches, those are mostly limited to an elite. Many Saudis get by on moderate to low incomes, and the number who live under the poverty line has been variously estimated at somewhere between 1.5 to 3 million. Only around 30 percent of Saudi families own their own home.
Ignorance, however, goes both ways. Arabs sometimes have exaggerated visions of America as the land of opportunity, where money comes easily, and jobs are always fulfilling.
And given the image of American society presented in silly sitcoms and sexually suggestive dramas like "Desperate Housewives" and "Sex in the City" — which are top fare on Arab satellite stations — it is hardly surprising that many Arabs have a warped notion of American females as women who neglect their families and hop into bed with any man at any moment.
In a darker vein, some Islamist political groups and clerics deliberately depict the United States in monochrome terms as a drug and sex-crazed nation in order to validate their contention that the West is the source of all evil.
The 30-second Burger King ads, of course, have no such agenda. They are just poking fun, and perhaps showing that a good laugh can go a long way towards mutual understanding.
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