LONDON: A Saudia advertisement promoting its in-flight entertainment system, Beyond, has spurred angry reactions on Twitter, with several Saudi users finding it offensive.
The now-deleted video ad, part of a social media campaign launched by the Kingdom’s flag carrier, features Senegalese-Italian TikTok influencer Khabane “Khaby” Lame, who shows a Saudi passenger how to perform the simple function of ordering food through the touch screen in front of him.
The ad did not resonate well with Twitter users, prompting Saudia to replace it with one showing a seemingly East Asian passenger being startled by the flight attendant as he tries to doze off. Khaby helps the man by activating the “Do not disturb” function from Beyond.
— السعودية | SAUDIA (@Saudi_Airlines) July 12, 2023
Riyadh-based journalist Samar Al-Mogren was among those who took to Twitter to voice their frustration. He wrote: “Saudia was wrong to depict a Saudi national as ‘inept’ and the foreigner ‘adept!’ Are we ever going to recover from this unrealistic poor self-image?”
— # سمر_المقرن (@s_almogren) July 13, 2023
Twitter user Rakan was also surprised to see the national carrier portray a foreigner teaching a Saudi how to use tech on a Saudia flight, adding that the roles should have been reversed.
جايب اجنبي يعلم السعودي التقنية
في #الخطوط_السعودية !!
والمفروض الادوار تكون بالعكس
— Rakan (@7ramat) July 13, 2023
Anwar Al-Mulhim chimed in with: “What is the point of this fallen ad?”
— أنور الملحم | Bu Nawaf (@econmulhim) July 13, 2023
Jerusalem-based digital marketing consultant Ahmad Barakat wrote: “Imagine a company parting with a large sum of money to create an ad only to remove it after a short while! This was the case with Saudia when it shared a video ad showing Khaby teaching a Saudi man about a new feature on the airplane.”
تخيّل أن تقوم شركة بإعلان بمبالغ طائلة مع أحد أقوى المؤثرين في العالم وتضطر لحذفه بعد زمن قليل!
هذا بالضبط ما حدث مع #الخطوط_السعودية عند إطلاق فيديو يظهر "خابي" مع شخص سعودي ويقوم بإعلامه عن خاصية جديدة في الطائرة .. pic.twitter.com/scNOQTv47Y
— Ahmad Barakat (@ahmadbarakat28) July 13, 2023
But Saudi communications academic Tarek Al-Ahmari had a different take on the ad. While he agreed it was wrong to portray a Saudi as technologically illiterate, he argued that “comedy is among the most sensitive types of media content, especially when employed by government agencies or the private sector because it is very close to satire and recipients may interpret it in various, unpredictable ways.”
He also highlighted that if employed properly, the use of Saudi traditional dress was a good idea, and the music complemented the travel-related content.
Al-Ahmari said that if the roles of Khaby and the Saudi passenger had been reversed, the ad would have been successful.
1- المحتويات الكوميدية هي واحدة من أشد أنواع المحتويات حساسية إعلامياً خصوصاً عندما تتبناها الجهات الحكومية أو القطاع الخاص، لأنها قريبة جداً من مناطق التهكم والتفسيرات… pic.twitter.com/XshxxR6767
— طارق الأحمري (@ttalahmari) July 12, 2023
Khaby is among the most popular content creators on the Chinese-owned video platform TikTok. He has a follower base of over 159.5 million, and in 2022, Forbes listed him as a Top Creator, saying he was the most-followed TikToker in the world.