Ask a random bunch of South Africans about ads and they’ll tell you they hate the things. Which is extremely confusing because if you want to liven up a dinnertime conversation, just start talking about the latest TV commercial.
South Africa generates more mass media space on the subject of advertising than any other nation on earth. We also occasionally win more international awards relative to the size of the industry and marketplace, than any other place on the face of the globe.
And it is probably the only country in the world where in 1998, a weekly TV documentary programme that was actually nothing more than a wall-to-wall mosaic of great advertising, drew more viewers than a national news broadcast and a scantily clad Pamela Anderson on competing channels. Which proves to me that South Africans prefer watching advertising to looking at big tits and politicians.
While advertising is nothing more than a business science, creating it is an art form and it is here that local talent has always excelled.
I have to say though, that these days there seem to be more lawyers involved in advertising than creative people. Or rather, the influence of lawyers takes precedence over the input from creative people.
Even the Advertising Standards Authority is packed with lawyers and it seems to me that their priority is making money. Their heavy-handed approach, quite frankly, makes the average agency live in fear of doing anything even remotely courageous. I miss those really great ads of days gone by.
Such as using a little white mouse to demonstrate the addition of power steering to a BMW 318 model car. It was a brilliant idea that was put into production in spite of the fact that virtually no money was available to buy TV airtime to actually run the ad.
It was an enormous gamble, going to all the expense, time and trouble of training a little mouse to hop from the dashboard of the Beemer on to the steering wheel, running back and forth as though it was playing on a treadmill and then finally to stand up on its hind legs to take a bow to the applause of an unseen audience.
Interestingly there was only enough budget for it to be flighted commercially half a dozen times but that brief exposure created so much interest that TV magazine programmes started featuring the story behind the ad and within three or four months it had been shown no less than 106 times completely free of charge.
Nowadays, thanks to government bent on creating a nanny state and the ASA’s small-minded attitudes, South Africans are becoming less and less tolerant. There is no cheaper way for the average South African consumer to give vent to his or her intolerance than by complaining to the ASA.
Anyway, another problem we have in advertising is the assumption that race is important or even a factor. A great South African ad produced a social lesson, many years ago, that strangely enough most marketers in this country have chosen to ignore.
It was produced for Cardies and featured an elderly white Afrikaans lothario in the Karoo pitching up on his bicycle at the home of his heart’s desire and trying desperately to woo her with everything from pumpkins to pigs left on her doorstep. All of which she rejected with disdain.
Finally, he left a greetings card and that did the trick. She swooned and joined him on his bike to ride away into the sunset.
Interestingly enough, although the commercial was first flighted when South Africa was still an apartheid state, it remains to this day one of the most liked commercials by the broad cross section of South Africans regardless of colour or race.
It proved beyond any doubt that South Africans in the various market segments did not react as well to ads featuring the same colour or race as the viewer but rather to typically South African situations. Which means that we prefer ads to big tits, politicians AND contrived racial integration.
This and other ads have shown that great advertising is colourless, genderless and ageless. And largely titless.
Much of South Africa’s great advertising has been created not only to appeal directly to relevant target markets but also to get as much peripheral value as possible. To get people talking about them across dinner tables and at the office water cooler.
One of these was a spectacular commercial, also based on a true story, of a Mercedes Benz owner who went over the edge of Chapman’s Peak Drive on the Cape Peninsula and survived the 80 metre plunge in which the car was completely wrecked.
It was a brilliant ad that was given further impetus by a rather cheeky response from BMW showing virtually the same scenario but this time with the BMW “beating the bends” and not crashing over the cliff.
But, I really miss the golden days of Nando’s ads. Like the old blind lady being led by her guide dog and ending up walking slap bang into a lamp post as the dog got a whiff of Nando’s chickens and lost concentration.
The ad was banned but interestingly enough another Nando’s ad that pushed its luck managed to get away with it then but never, ever would these days.
It featured an elderly couple seated at a Nando’s restaurant with their new neighbours, a young gay couple.
Trying to make conversation, the elderly gent innocently says, “My children tell me you’re a tail-gunner – I was a military man myself….”