Mohab Shouman: The Labanita Man
As soon as we saw the hilarious Labanita advert on the first day of Ramadan, we wanted to know more about Sawsan and Soad's sudden death. We sit down with Labanita's marketing manager Mohab Shouman to find out more...
If you haven’t seen Labanita’s new Ramadan advertising campaign, let us tell you something – you’re missing out on one of the most suprising yet most successful series of commercials Egypt has seen in a while. The hilarious trio of ads (only two have been released so far) have seen the milk brand return to our screens with a bang after a six year silence, leaving eager consumers missing the company’s mascots – two cheeky cartoon cows by the names of Sawsan and Soad – that returned this Ramadan only to be killed off for their bad behavior. We talk to Mohab Shouman, the marketing manager that spearheaded the bold campaign, to find out the inspiration and impetus behind it all.
An MIU graduate, Mohab Shouman has been in the marketing industry for some time now, having gotten his first job at an advertising agency before heading to Phillip Morris (which, like Labanita, is a Mansour Group-owned company in Egypt), where he stayed for seven years, only executing ‘below the line’ campaigns, due to international laws limiting advertising and marketing for tobacco products, before moving to a whole new sector of the mother company – Mansour Group Trading. In other words, Shouman moved from the sexy world of cigarettes to the far less glamorous side that handles Sunshine Tuna, Hayat Mineral Water and, of course, Labanita Milk. “It was a shock, of course. Especially since I had learned so much at Phillip Morris, but I decided to make the move so I could use more of the things I had learned at university and never had the chance to with tobacco,” says Shouman, of hiscareer switch. “It was another world. A whole other world. I spent the first three months at Mansour Group Trading locked in my office, refreshing my memory on all the ‘above the line’ techniques I hadn’t been using.”
So Shouman took a well-known brand, in all its kitsch glory, and was tasked with the mission of revitalising it for an ever-growing marketing. Surely, anyone in his position would have looked to the brand’s mascots – the hilarious, bubbly cows that represent typical Egyptian women, with all their sass, attitude and vivaciousness – as the sellable saviours? “When we launched Labanita 10 years ago, we had the two characters, Sawsan and Soad. And people loved them. However, after a while it turned into a gimmick. It became boring, you know?” says Shouman, who adds that the brand was losing shares, close to being delisted. With six different products under the Labanita umbrella (including cheese and yoghurt), the marketing team took it upon themselves to reposition the milk – the biggest seller – in a market that’s becoming increasingly saturated. “We decided we need to make Labanita a mature brand, and focus less on the gimmick and more on the health and nutrition aspect. So we decided to remove the cows from the bottle,” he says. Whether we like it or not, it was all for a good reason and, just the same way that Sawsan and Soad came into our lives with a bang, they’re leaving with an equal, if not louder fanfare.
“We could have gone the same way most brands that change their identity go – ‘Labanita’s new look!’ and all of that, but that’s boring and people would have wondered where Sawsan and Soad went,” explains Shouman. “So it was a challenge to figure out a way to change our style in a way that would engage the consumer.” Luckily, Shouman and his team met the challenge with a creative genius – to kill off their heroes with hilarity and social awareness messages to boot. “We knew we had to remove the cows, and we thought about what’s going on in the country right now as inspiration. There’s been a lot negative behaviours that have come to light over the last couple of years – like violence, sexual harassment and aggression – and we wanted to put shed some awareness on this without it being like a lecture,” Shouman says.
And so the adverts were born, produced by King Tut Advertising Agency, and beamed into the homes of millions. The first copy shows Sawsan and Soad throwing garbage out of their window, only to be met by the disgust of a passerby who is then attacked by the cows who pelt him with Molotov cocktails. The second sees the naughty cows sexually harassing males on the street, complete with psssts and purrs. Shouman lets us know that the third edition is set to tackle aggression, but won’t give away any more details. The side-splitting series of ads all end with the same message “kefaya ba2ar ba2a” or “enough with the cows” – a cow being an insult in the Egyptian lexicon. The shock factor, mixed with the humour, was a hit. “A couple of days ago, I overheard someone in a supermarket saying to his friend ‘watch out you don’t end up like Sawsan and Soad,’ referring to the end of the adverts where we blow up the old bottle and have a cow splat on the screen and it made me ecstatic,” says Shouman with a beaming smile. “Though some people are really sad that Sawsan and Soad are gone! I’d like to apologise to those people, but if we’re successful in delivering a social awareness campaign through the end of the cows, then we don’t mind the loss.”
The feedback, of course, has been great though there has been an unexpected conspiracy come out of it. If you check out the comments on the YouTube videos or see what people are writing when they’re sharing the link with their social networks, you’ll see that the light, entertaining, memorable social commentary has, like many things in Egypt, has taken a political twist. “Of course, this was something we never expected. We made the adverts about three months ago, and it has nothing to do with the political situation but we have seen people relating us getting rid of Sawsan and Soad with the ouster of Morsi’s government,” says Shouman. “I suspect it’s normal for viewers to relate what they see on TV with what’s going around them.”
Shouman tells us that there will soon be campaigns to put other Labanita products in the spotlight. “We’re working hard to establish each product for its target audience. For example, the yoghurt, in which children are the main decision makers in purchasing. There’ll be plenty of surprises,” he says.So with that cleared up, there’s only one question left: who would win in a fight between Sawsan and Soad and La vache qui rit? “I think La vache qui rit would die laughing,” assures Shouman.