Ad-Hoc Arabism: Advertising, Culture, and Technology in Saudi Arabia. By Roni Zirinski. (New York: Peter Lang, 2005. Pp. xiv + 176, introduction, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index, illustrations.)
Ad-Hoc Arabism holds as its central premise that advertising is able to convince consumers to buy products by "identify[ing] the reader's desires, hopes, tastes, and yearnings" and then convincing the readers that a product will fulfill them (9). Therefore, a close analysis of advertisements can reveal the culturally specific yearnings of consumers. Drawing on ads in the weekly family magazine Sayiddati, Roni Zirinski sets out to do this for contemporary Saudi Arabia. He argues that the primary framework for Saudi Arabian advertisements is "Arabism in the essential sense of the word" (3). Although Saudi culture contains conflicting ideologies, such as Saudism, Wahhabism, and Westernism, Arabism works as a larger reference to bind them into a fantasy that will resonate with all consumers.
The main body of the book is divided into six chapters, which provide an in-depth examination of the visual and linguistic techniques advertisers utilize to market often non-Saudi products to Saudi consumers. Zirinski categorizes the chapters by product: automobiles; food ads; cosmetics and personal care products; electronics, leisure, and recreation; and pens, writing and grammar. Within these chapters, he uses specific ads to demonstrate how the advertisements appeal to, and reinforce the Saudi conception of self. Zirinski shows how non-Arabic brand names are transformed so that they will sound prettier on the Arab tongue, shifting vowel sounds and often condensing two word names into one word. As further evidence of this process, in his chapter on food he shows how Kelloggs uses advertisements to redefine its products from being considered to be a breakfast food into being seen as fit for a pre-dawn meal during Ramadan.
Foremost among the book's strengths is Zirinski's demonstration of how Western products become Saudi ones. He provides an interesting, well-defended interpretation of advertising as essentially a conservative force. For him, the global economy is not one in which the West uses goods to impose its values upon helpless non-Western societies. Instead, advertising reflects and draws upon culture to make consumers think of global products as local ones. Another strength is his ability to explain complex theories clearly enough so that readers from...