The release last week of some very depressing ABC figures showing most newspapers and magazines going anorexically pear-shaped made me wonder whether all the criticism aimed at publishers was actually helping.
Whether newspapers and magazines were just doggedly sticking to an out-dated content paradigm in the vain hope that something would change and that things would get back to the way the were in the old days.
And at the same time, whether beleaguered advertising agencies were just sitting around in pools of competitive blood and gore, wishing that the old 16.5% system would come back and that all their clients would want to do nothing more than flight epic two minute TV commercials, preferably filmed in warm exotic places.
I thought I could possibly help by doing something motivational instead of critical.
So, there I was, sitting on my deck overlooking False Bay and the magnificent Hottentots Holland Mountains bathed in warm autumn sunlight, having breakfast and wondering how I could get the entire media and advertising industry to cheer up.
Would a walk down memory lane do the trick? I don’t know, quite frankly, because in a lot of ways the good old days were not what they were cracked up to be. Anyway, as I looked down at my plate of porridge I starting thinking about the bizarre old days of advertising in South Africa when media buyers in ad agencies had to learn to grovel, whimper, beg and plead for the privilege of placing their clients’ advertising in newspapers, magazines and on radio.
I smiled, shook my head at the sheer stupidity of those times and noticed that somehow my porridge had taken on the shape of Australia.
I ate Melbourne.
Now I am talking about the 1960s and ‘70s, before television and when there were only a handful of radio stations, all owned by SABC except for LM Radio, which was technically broadcasting from Mozambique, as it was spelt in those days, but which was actually very much a South African station that eventually became Radio 702. Anyone who is over 65 will remember LM Radio was obliged to broadcast its station identity in Portuguese every hour on the hour with the result that every teenager in South Africa was able to speak one perfect line of Portuguese.
Phonetically it went something like this: “Arcie Portugowl mozambikie, fala se radioclub lourenzies markies tresen tiende onderkultes de medish….”
I had to smile at my pathetic attempt at writing phonetic Portuguese and noticed that I had eaten a trench in my porridge map of Australia all the way from Melbourne to Ayers Rock. I changed tack and ate Perth.
In those days, newspapers didn’t have advertising reps. They had troglodytes who took orders for ads. You never actually met them because lived lived deep down in the bowels of the Argus and Early Morning Group’s offices and when you phoned them to place an order you would have to verbally grovel very often. Sometimes six times in a sentence of only seven words.
Anyway, if they were in good moods you would be given space on the date you wanted it but never really in the section you preferred. Unless you paid a 25% loading of course. Then you had to make out a lot of paperwork and send it along with a papier-mâché copy of the ad. You also had to have proved that you had enough money to pay for it.
Back then, getting an ad in a newspaper was like applying for a Schengen visa today.
But, I must say, at a higher level, newspapers actually gave the impression that they did recognise advertising agency personnel and even their media directors as members of the human race. Vaguely.
The SABC did no such thing.
Advertising agencies were on the same level as primordial slime. And that was only if the people at the SABC liked you. Advertisers were not really tolerated by the SABC.
I would think that in those days the SABC was responsible for a lot of English speaking advertising people learning Afrikaans, starting with how to say “aseseblief tog ou maaat” very creatively because no ads were accepted on SABC unless they were in both English and Afrikaans.
In those days, agencies didn’t bother with media
schedules for radio because SABC did not recognise media schedules. You were actually lucky to get the radio station you wanted and you took your chances on whether your ad would be flighted at prime time or at a time when the only person listening to the radio would be the studio duty controller.
I looked up at the Hottentots Holland again, smiled at those impossible days, thanked heaven that I had survived and took another mouthful of my porridge, of which only Tasmania remained.
I had a client who manufactured a wonderful paraffin stove called the ‘Ebros’, a direct competitor to the well known Primus brand. We wanted to flight a radio campaign on Radio Zulu and had to send an English copy of the script to the SABC because the rules were that only the SABC could translate radio ads into whatever vernacular language was required.
In their wisdom, the translators at the SABC used what was the generic Zulu word for paraffin stove in our ad.
So, literally translated our ad read: “If you want a really good primus stove get an Eros primus stove…”
The Primus brand manager let out an explosive epithet at the SABC who told him to get knotted because the official Zulu word for paraffin stove was ‘primus’.
It broke every rule in what was to become the ASA’s code of practice and was a direct contravention of the country’s copyright law. The SABC didn’t give a stuff.
Neither did I. I still don’t. So, I ate Hobart.
Feeling any better?
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
Image: Wikimedia Commons