The answer to this question is a resounding NO!
Basically, advertising is still a numbers game. Media are selected by Telmar, or by Nielsen algorithms. Impact is measured by Gross Rating Points (GRPs), and creative focus is (still) on influencing the buying behaviour of the white elite.
This is despite the evidence that to in order to win sales, advertising has to build relationships across all racial and cultural groups.
There have been a few changes over the years, but they were more of a cosmetic nature than real progress in communication effectiveness.
Back in the 1950s, this country was still part of the British Empire. The local advertising industry concerned itself with replicating creative designed in London. As far clients were concerned, there was no black market.
When it came to choice of media, publications were selected on the size of their circulation.
Franklin Research produced the first readership survey. The sample was whites only, and confined to urban areas. The difference between that period, and today, is that only print was measured, and readership was calculated differently.
Respondents had to provide proof of readership by producing a copy of the publication, or quote an article they had read. Responses were then presented as a demographic picture i.e. age, sex income, reading frequency etc.
There were a limited number of black print titles. There was one Zulu language newspaper, Ilanga; and, one Xhosa, Imvo Zabantsundu. Then there was one English language title, The World. Editors were the famous Aggrey Klaaste, and Percy Qoboza. The first black national magazine was Drum, launched by Jim Bailey.
These were basically ignored as media options.
During that period, I had many arguments with clients about the value of the black consumer. Their response was simply: “They don’t buy our product.” I even provided proof that they were wrong. They ignored the advice.Creative guides then were based the demographic profile of the target group.
Now, in 2010, the media behaviour of all races are measured. Consumer usage of print, for example, is based on the recognition of mastheads, with no physical proof of involvement needed. Usage is measured on trust and a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ response. The theory is that people are honest when probed.
The demographic table that reflected consumer behaviour has been replaced with a Living Standards Measure (LSM) based on facilities such as running water, toilets, household goods and the total wealth of all the inhabitants in the household.
But I believe lifestyle profiles should be based wealth, social position, education, history etc. LSM descriptors are far too broad, and basically a shot in the dark. The family in a household can consist of 10 people, and a mix of genders, and ages, with five earning an income.
But brand relationships are with individuals, not groups.
The modern form of target marketing is to use a combination of demographic, and psychological profiling. Media research has also moved on. Once the target market has been properly profiled, their lifestyle behaviour is monitored in detail, including their interaction with media products. But this is rarely practiced in South Africa.
From this data, the creative brief emerges. It contains a greater depth of information regarding consumer behaviour. Creatives have more to go on when designing the creative theme, and there is also less need to draw on their own experience and intuition.
So, in reality, it’s still a numbers game.
A word about awards
In 1950, there were no awards. The first was launched in the 1960s by a Mr Goldman, a retired adman who launched the New York Advertising Festival. I had a long chat with him during one of his visits to SA. When a dollar was worth a dollar, he was cleaning up with an income of $7 million a year.
Other awards followed, such as the Clios, and The One, all in New York. The D&AD Awards was born in London. The Cannes Awards were bankrupt and revived by a Frenchman, an ex P&G marketing man who persuaded the Mayor of Cannes, an ex adman, to build Palais de Festival, and then London Advertising Awards came along. South Africa joined the pack with the Loeries.
Awards have got out of hand. In 2011 the Cannes Advertising Awards will reward every facet of advertising, right down to the kitchen sink.
The full impact of this medium on advertising practice has not yet been fully felt. Like an amoeba, it is reinventing itself daily with new applications and uses, and in the process, changing the rules of communication. Whether it will eventually take its place in the communication chain, and work harmoniously with traditional media, only time will tell.
There is not doubt that the Internet is on its way to becoming the most ubiquitous communication medium in the world. Its value lies in the way facilitates one-to-one communication, and from this, the valuable word-of-mouth recommendation.
South African is still way behind on this issue
The need to change
The American model still heavily influences the South African interpretation of communication strategy. Despite hard evidence to the contrary, the industry still uses the one-size-fits all approach when communicating brand values to consumers. There times when it can be done, but then the creative idea must view life through a broader perspective.
Business needs customers in volume. To keep customers on board advertising must build relationships. You can only do this when the creative idea transcends cultural barriers. Very few ad campaigns produced in this country have the creative power of the Nike campaigns, for example. The creative idea backing the brand is the major reason why it is today the world’s largest selling sports shoe.
Advertising this powerful will only come from a clear brief. A clear brief requires in-depth understanding of human behaviour. And that requires intelligence, talent and diligence.
A word about Time
Too much of good thing eventually creates a negative. There is increasing evidence abroad that new electronic gadgetry is speeding up the dissemination, flow and volume of information to such an extent that this is creating information fatigue.
Increasingly, people a feel they are in a trap, a prison from which they cannot escape. To be in the know all the time is turning people into knowledge junkies, absorbing lots of useless information.
As a consequence, all this interfacing with technology is shortening their day. The hours flow by, and they have run out of time. They feel they no longer have the time for enjoyment.
This hypertension lifestyle is going to have a huge effect on how brand values are communicated in future.