Real appeal for real people is how Kia’s Sportage rolls…but who let Sanral’s strange Valentine’s Day road map out in public?

Advertising has sometimes been described as the art of enticing people into buying things they don’t need and they can’t afford. In the car business, especially, it is often dreams which are being sold…sadly, those sort of dreams which can get people into big financial trouble eventually.

So, many car brands sell their products with an aspirational spin: Imagine yourself in this gorgeous drop top sports car, cruising the French Riviera…or you could buy its 1.2 hatchback cousin and look just as sexy in the Joburg CBD. Yes, well…a lot of buyers do fall for that guff and get a car which is either hugely expensive or hugely impractical – or both.

I’d love to drive a Ferrari. I’d love to be able to say I dated Jennifer Aniston. But, in the end I’ve done better: my Subarus will go places a Ferrari won’t and I guarantee you that my wife is a way better cook than Jennifer Aniston.

Real life, in other words, is a lot different from the French Riviera.

So I always like it when a brand makes an ad which resonates with ordinary people – and by ordinary people I mean South Africans, not some clean airbrushed, smooth Mid-Atlantic creatures…

And I really like the latest ads for Kia’s Sportage SUV, because they are set smack bang in the middle of Middle Class, Middle-of-the-Road South Africa (where most of you reading this reside).

There are two different executions, featuring Family Tshabalala and Family Harrison. They both are plagued by the usual troubles of suburban life and a drive beside the Mediterranean is as far from their minds as a trip to the moon.

For the Tshabalalas, it is the chaos of a normal school morning with long-suffering Mom trying to hold everything together, as daughter, son and hubby inhabit their own little worlds. The taste of reality is sharp: the girl, on her phone, mutters to her mother “You can’t not care. It’s your job!” Now what parent hasn’t heard that from cheeky offspring?

The Sportage, with its features, solves some of the problems, neatly, including keyless entry (because Dad always forgets where he’s put his keys) and a convenient cordless charging point (because Dad always mislays his phone charger…)

The Harrisons’ house is another aspect of urban chaos as they pile into the Sportage to go to a fancy dress party, Dad dressed as a pirate and Mom as a fried egg. The clever husband, never missing an opportunity to be clever at the expense of the woman he married (and, gents, why do we never learn the lessons of this silly behaviour?) makes the comment that the round, yolk-like bump on her tummy “looks real…”

She glares at him: “Maybe it is…”

It takes a while to sink in (he is a man after all) and he mutters “What do you mean?” as they pull out of the driveway while a text box remarks that the Sportage offers “Extra space”.

Both ads are clever, and funny and resonate with the target audience – families – because they are so spot on. This is a car you could see yourself and your family in, for a host of reasons.

And the bow on the show is a call-to-action offer: From R4 999 a month.

Great ads and great marketing. So a well-deserved Orchid for Kia.




I’m no great fan of the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) – but I do appreciate they have a challenging job to do keeping this country moving. Things have also got a lot better since the Ducker-and-Diver-in-Chief, Nazir Alli, left the CEO position.

However, I still shake my head at Sanral’s marketing, the latest example of which was their strange attempt to take advantage of Valentine’s Day and promote the idea of “Love” and “Roads” as being compatible.

Fair enough, as a concept. But, what on earth were they trying to say with their Twitter illustration?


It featured a road map of South Africa, festooned with little hearts…because we so love our roads.

So why was the entire length of the N2 highway – from Cape Town to Ermelo in Mpumalanga – done in red while all the other highways were done in blue (which is the colour normally associated with national roads)?

There was nothing in the graphic which gave a clue.

Was it a warning (avoid this road because we haven’t put enough tolls on it yet)? Was it a new highway into the heart of Zuma-stan, a secessionist state started by you-know-who? Was it meant to represent red ink, as in the money Sanral loses (via e-tolls)?

I cannot believe this was actually allowed out in public.

If you’re an organisation which is built on accuracy (as the civil engineering sector should be) then you should not deal in ambiguity or, in this case, downright silliness.

To do so will always get you a fat, smelly, (Red) Onion.


Back to the Future, with science. But, Vodacom needs to get back to the basics of customer service…

I remember looking, in some amazement, at the results pinned on the school notice board: I had got a distinction for Physical Science. Next to the board was our lugubrious, pipe-smoking, Mr Bean-like Science teacher, “Rab” Wright.

“Please tell me, Seery, that you do not want to carry on with Physics or Chemistry?”

The answer was easy: no. I much preferred English and History to the hard subjects of maths and science.

“Rab” sighed with relief and walked away, glad that one of the clowns from the back row would not be in his class the next year.

But I’ve always quite liked science, even if I didn’t pursue it like my schoolmate Martin, who now works for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. (He almost didn’t make it after I left a “gas chamber” slightly open and chlorine gas came pouring out…but that’s another story.) I’ve never disparaged nerds and I recognise the importance of science and maths to the future of any country…oh, and I married a maths teacher.

So, it was interesting to see again the TV ad done for the “Mzansi for Science”, a government project to encourage youngsters to see the beauty and potential in science.

It came out a while ago, but was flighting again last week. This was, of course, coincidentally when US President Donald Trump was congratulating Pretoria-born Elon Musk for the launch of his latest rocket and proclaiming the event a triumph for American science…only to have Twitter explode with reminders that Musk actually comes from a “shithole country…”

In the ad, we see real scientists, talking about their work . It’s inspirational and made more so by the fact that these are real South Africans doing world class work.

Take note, Mr Trump…

So an Orchid for Mzansi for Science. Let’s hope you inspire many young minds.


A second Orchid this week goes to a brilliant marketing campaign being done for cell networks MTN and Cell C.

And that award goes to Vodacom, whose current customer service is worth half a dozen expensive MTN and Cell C ads in terms of attracting customers to those brands.

This time, Vodacom’s abuse of the cheapest form of marketing – customer service – is not related to its dodgy data usage recording systems, which, funnily enough, always seem to benefit the network and not the customer.

This time, it’s the high-handed away the company has unilaterally decided to communicate with customers.

I used to get my bills by post. It worked right from about 1997, when I became their customer. Then, about a year ago, they decided to do away with post. Possibly they mumbled some excuse about saving the planet through using less paper (which excuse, by the way, is absolute rubbish…but that’s a rave for another day).

I duly gave them my email address and the bills came electronically.. . for a while. Then they stopped arriving.

Then my credit expired and the debit order system didn’t work. Rather than update the card (the fewer people who have my details, the better, I think), I began paying after a receiving regular SMS reminders.

This month, Vodacom decided to – without notifying anyone, apparently – that an SMS message will no longer be sent. Now it will be a “voice note”.

Given that this sort of intrusive marketing on cellphones is becoming more prevalent – when you answer a call from a normal number and start getting played a pre-recorded message, and feel scammed – I answered the first call and terminated it immediately I heard some tinny music.

Every time I saw that number again – and Vodacom must have tried more than a dozen times after the first call – I didn’t answer.

Then I got caught out and listened past the music to find a message that I needed to pay my account.

When I queried the method with the Vodacom call centre (after hanging on for at least five minutes), I was told that the decision had been made to use voice notes in future. I was also told there was no record of my having given them my email address (tech innovation, anyone?)

What really interests me is why the company would do away with an effective and simple system of SMSes in favour of a voice-note, which is demonstrably less effective in getting through to a client but can actively damage your brand because it is annoying and unsolicited.

Maybe someone in Vodacom has a cousin who has a production company who has a voice artists and some musicians in need of employment?

Whatever the reason, I am seriously looking at MTN and Cell C…and that’s quite a statement given that it is a serious business to end a relationship going back 20 years.

So, Vodacom, for doing MTN’s and Cell C’s marketing so well, you get an Orchid from me…

Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday still holds true. And…more PR gibberish

It’s an old-ish cliche (because it comes from as recently at the 1950s), but nevertheless still holds true in the ultra-competitive and tough auto industry.

“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” came out of the “stock car” racing in America in the early 1950s, and which developed into the multibillion business which is today NASCAR racing.

The logic was unassailable: if your company’s car got the chequered flag in the events over the weekend, then you could expect buyers in your showrooms on a Monday, looking to share in that aura of success.
So, motorsport has become an enormous sector in the global economy and still remains an effective form of marketing.

The trick to making your sponsorship buck pay, though, is to back it up with awareness campaigns and marketing because, these days, you need to reach the people who can’t get to the events…and you need to stand out among the rest of the marketing messages, which have grown exponentially since the 1950s.

For some years now, Toyota (both internationally and the South African operation) has been pouring a lot of money into campaigning racing versions of its Hilux bakkie. Given that motosport is normally about sports cars, that expenditure would seem counter-intuitive, until you realise that the Hilux is, most months of the year, the biggest-selling vehicle on the South African market.
While it is a motoring industry legend and its fans are some of the most diehard around, Hilux nevertheless has been facing serious competition from the likes of Ford’s Ranger in recent years. Hence the need for Toyota to get the motorsport bragging rights.

This has now paid off handsomely, in what is regarded by many as the toughest motorsport event in the world: the Dakar Rally. In the latest edition, Toyota got two Hiluxes on to the podium, in second and third places. South Africa’s own Giniel De Villiers was piloting the third-placed vehicle.

The feat was even more remarkable because the South African developed and built Hiluxes were up against purpose-built race machines and global players with deep pockets.

All the while, the campaign was backed by messaging in print, TV and online that reinforced the image of the Hilux as tough and capable. Toyota’s long-time ad agency, FCB Joburg, provided that work.

For the men who are by far the bulk of the customers for bakkies in this country, the Hilux win will mean bragging rights in the pub and a chance to put one over on the Ford supporters. But it will also mean sales in the showrooms.

So, it’s money well spent and astute marketing. Orchids to Toyota and to FCB Joburg.

My sweet, charming (ha ha) daughter gave me a simple Christmas present: a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Grumpy old git”. So, bear that in mind when I tell you I am again having a go at atrocious use of English in a marketing context.

This particular pearler appeared on the bizcommunity website and was – or at least appeared to be – a piece of PR fluff about how to put together a PR strategy for the hospitality industry.

Given that the only person quoted was one Jade Allen, managing director of Red Carpet Concepts, one has to assume that said press release was put together by her or one of her minions as a way of marketing her company. (And in this case, I don’t think it is the responsibility of the website to edit such copy…)

The last paragraph ran as follows: “For well written, compelling stories journalists and copywriters key to the field will have a better understanding of the internal workings of the media and a good harness of what will grasp the customers’ attention.”

That is exactly as it appeared on the site.

I challenge anyone with more than a nodding grasp of English to translate that paragraph for me.

I have passed it along to a number of PR people in the industry whose views I respect and all have been baffled.

Anyone can make mistakes.  However, if you are publicising yourself or your brand, you need to double check everything. And then get someone else to double check you.

There can only be two explanations for this, neither of which reflects particularly well on Red Carpet Concepts. First, the sentence was the way you intended it. Second, there was a mistake, but no-one checked or no-one noticed.

And people wonder why cynical old journalists (gits?) like me rant on about the lack of professionalism in the PR industry. Onion for Red Carpet Concepts. Oh, and if any of you out there can translate that, let me know. Or if you have seen other, similar, language outrages –


Men are more of a risk – true story. Windhoek Lager ad – untrue story.

First for Women has always been a company focused on its product – providing insurance packages tailored especially for women. This acknowledges that there are gender differences when it comes to underwriting risks. Some men might not like that but it is the reality: Men are more of a risk, when it comes to insurance, because, generally, they are less cautious than women.

First for Women’s advertising has, over the years, zeroed in with humour on those differences…sometimes annoying men in the process. My brother-in-law, for example, complained that the advertising was sexist because of its implication that men were worse than women on the road.

The opposite, he claimed, was true. I don’t know how long after that my sister made him sleep on the couch, but at least he made his point…

First for Women is now focusing on the fact that women are also worried about their safety, especially on the roads. So, the company has devised the “Guardian Angel” app which has clever features, including crash detection and alerts – as well as the normal assistance which the company provides its female clients in an emergency.

To showcase this useful offering, the latest TV ad shows two women obviously off on a road trip. One is cramming an overpacked suitcase into the boot (no comments here from me…) while the other is contemplating what CDs to play on the trip (all of them are pink – again, no comments).

All the while, they are conversing with each other and one is talking on the phone to various people.

The chat also mentions that the app is on – a vital part of the trip preparation.

It’s short, it’s simple, but it shows clients (and potential clients) that First for Women understands them and will help protect them.

That peace of mind is a powerful sales pitch in that target market – so First for Women gets an Orchid.

I do realise that advertising is not meant to be literal, nor is it, in telling a supposed “brand story”, anything like an official history.

But I really get riled sometimes by the silly liberties taken with reality.

Having been inundated with repeats of the Windhoek Lager ad on Comedy Central, I began to focus on it and note its absurdities.

The premise of the ad is that, way back when (it looks like the 1930s, and certainly pre- World War Two) the brewers of Windhoek Lager ran out of the hops, yeast and other natural ingredients with which they made their beer. So, rather than use any old rubbish lying around, they stopped brewing.

Now that part I sort of  believe, although South West Breweries (or its equivalent in German) as it was then known, would have been run by highly efficient German who would be unlikely to have not ordered in the ingredients in time, they would have halted brewing.

This would have been because the Windhoek brewery only makes beer according to the centuries-old German “Purity Law” which permits only a certain number of natural ingredients in the making of beer.


However, what is certainly not “100% pure” – as the beer definitely is – is the history in the ad.

In the 1930s, Namibia was a South African-administered territory where the rules of apartheid were strictly applied and black and white workers simply did not mix and have fun together.

It would have been less than a generation since tens of thousands of Herero people in eastern Namibia were massacred by German troops under General Von Trotha.

I lived in Namibia and even when I was there up to independence in 1990, there was nothing like that racial mixing.

So, for stretching historical facts way too far, Windhoek Lager, you get a pure Onion.

A pity – because Windhoek Lager is still my favourite beer.

Lesbians at the dinner table? Who cares? We’re more worried about our taxpayer cash being squandered

I just wonder if South Africans are not more liberal and “let and let live” than a lot of people – and advertising agencies – give them credit for.

That thought came to mind this week when I was chuckling over the new TV ad for Debonairs Pizza and its “Awesome Foursome” pizza, which is a mega pizza with four slices with different toppings.

I can understand that Famous Brands, owner of the Debonairs brand, and ad agency FCB Joburg were probably aiming to raise eyebrows with the piece…and they may have done so ten years ago. Now…I wonder.

The tone of the ad is that the Awesome Foursome offering helps to “Celebrate Different” and to convey that, it looks at the “diversity” of our country.

In this case, we see a normal suburban family, where the daughter is coming home for dinner and lets Mom and Dad know she is bringing someone.

Father’s long-suffering worry lines get exercised again as he envisages a host of less than salubrious characters sitting at his daughter’s side at the dinner table: A “gang banger” with gold teeth; a body builder capable of flicking his nipples under his shirt; a long-haired bad love song singer…

Mom says not to worry, he’s a doctor. Dad starts paying attention.

The doorbell rings, and Mom observes through the curtains that “he’s got a nice car, too…”

When the door opens, the companion (whose hand is being lovingly held by the daughter) is…a woman.

Instead of shock, Dad is delighted – “A doctor?” he remarks with barely concealed glee.

Then all four sit down to celebrate their differences, with the different pizza offering.

The ad is slightly unexpected because lesbian and gay characters are still not mainstream in South African marketing, let alone in prime time spots for a major fast food brand.

But, it is not that shocking.

Why do I say that? Because my wife watched the ad for the first time and what made her sit up and take notice was the pizza itself.

“Hey, that’s a good idea,” was her comment.

And whether or not there were lesbians front and centre either never really worried her or she didn’t notice.

That doesn’t make the ad bad, though, because the way the product is showcased – and the product concept itself (nice one, Debonairs)  – is executed very well. I can imagine calls to Debonairs outlets spiking around the times this ad is aired.

So it gets an Orchid for Debonairs and for FCB Joburg.

I don’t think it will shake the earth in terms of comments or complaints, which means we are becoming much more accepting as a society and we already “Celebrate Different” – or at least tolerate it. And that’s not a bad thing.

I see Comrade Ace Magashule, newly elected ANC secretary-general, has been busy furthering the aims of Radical Economic Transformation by throwing buckets of taxpayer cash at the Gupta newspaper, The New Age.

It’s obviously expensive to keep up the assault on White Monopoly Capital, so Ace’s Free State institutions last week dumped a dozen ads in one edition of the newspaper which has a circulation so miniscule that the proprietors refuse to have it audited independently.

Apart from casting taxpayer bread upon Gupta waters as the Comradely thing to do, one wonders if they may have been another motive…

It has already been widely reported that Magashule’s sons have been involved in business with the Guptas and have even visited Dubai. So, it was interesting to see one of the reporters’ bylines in that particular “Free State government edition” of The New Age was one Refilwe Magashule.

Funny old world, isn’t it?

But, Comrade Ace, you get an Onion for bad media spend, regardless of your political or family motives. Putting advertising money where there is little or no audience is just idiotic and that’s why you get the Radically Untransformed Onion.

I hope the Auditor-General is reading this…

Hey Proteas! We’re coming for You! And Appletiser puts the air in airhead…

I sat down to start writing this column just after the First Test between the Proteas and India got under way at Newlands in Cape Town.

I had just been watching a cute little video of the latest ad for Standard Bank, put together by TBWA\ Hunt\ Lascaris. Basically, it is about the youngsters who really love the game of cricket and how they are determined to make it to the top.

We see them in all sorts of places – in dressing rooms, in the nets, catching balls, smashing sixes out of the ground, giving comments to the press, sitting in the team bus. All as the real Proteas do. And these kids wear the real Proteas kit.

Their message, though, is tough and uncompromising: We are coming for You. These are the Buds who Bloom into Proteas later in life, the ad makes it plain. And they are not shy about warning the guys who should be their heroes: You are in our sights. And your days are numbered.
Tick, Tock, they say repeatedly.

Hardly had I finished watching the video than I looked up at the TV. The Proteas were already three wickets down. I did a double take for a quick second…was I watching South Africa or was I watching England?

Tick, tock, Proteas. Can these little okes do much worse than you did?

Fickle fan that I am, I am a bit ashamed to say, that was my initial emotion. Over the next few days, as the match see-sawed backwards and forwards, so did the emotions. In the end, the Proteas made me swallow my initial anger by wrapping it up on the third day.

But the timing was fortuitous – and I am sure more than one cricket fan will have been shouting at the Standard Bank ad, calling on the kids to get out there, like now and replace these palookas.
Whatever the reason, the ad works really well and it reflects the passion we feel for sport..even when it is less than well-balanced and fair (Sorry, Faf…)

So, Orchids for Standard Bank and TBWA\ Hunt\ Lascaris.

Sitting at home over the festive season (and how nice that was, actually, away from the hustle and bustle of holiday crowds) I had a lot of time to ponder the adverts. And by far and away the most irritating one of the entire period was the one for Appletiser.

It featured a nicely-balanced trio of gorgeous girls, supposedly showing their wonderully successful lives – sexy, intelligent (look I won the contract – take that boys!) and even incredibly agile, enough to skip out of the way so I don’t get splashed on my beautiful designer dress by a car going through a puddle.

They all laugh their perfect laughs, which showcase their perfect teeth. And they sip the power drink of note – Appletiser. And they probably don’t, as the lovely in the famous song, even get their lips wet.

Then, with a coquettish flirtishness, one drops something on the floor for the hunky man to pick up…and everyone giggles (natch..)


Now, before I go on, let me say I like good-looking women as much as the next man. That’s why I’ve been married for 32 years. But I like intelligent women even more (again one of the reasons the woman in my life was so attractive to me…and still is).

But I really do have an aversion to bimbos. In my better-looking youth, I took one or two of them out on dates. And returned home with a headache from trying to make conversation. Trophy babes can be very shallow.

And that, I’m afraid is what this Appletiser ad screams: Bimbos!

So it gets an Onion from me.

Appletiser’s bubbles, clearly, put the air in airhead…


We can Fix Our Sh$t and we can still make great ads…but let’s lose the political correctness, please

Timing is something which always sets Nando’s ads apart from the rest. Sure, the ads are funny – and in a way we, as South Africans, instinctively understand… but it is their timing which gives them their humour.

So, whenever something is being talked about, there is a Nando’s ad, making a wry and cynical comment about us and the way we carry on…or poking fun at those we can’t.

But, the flighting of the latest ad for the fast-food icon has to be some of the best timing yet…and perhaps that is a serendipitous coincidence.

The ad’s theme is “In South Africa, we can fix our sh$t”…and it was on our screens in the very week that our straight-talking High Court judges in Pretoria, led by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo, were taking steps to fix the Zuma/Gupta sh$t.

The ad speaks of how we, as South Africans, are a mad, crazy bunch, but we fix our sh$t, whether that is oppression or corruption. The ad is a cleverly edited montage of current and past video footage, garnered from news agency archives as well as social media, accompanied by insightful and humourous comments which point up not only our foibles, but also our strengths as a nation.

One of those strengths, we would hope, is our opposition to corruption and to state capture. So the video ends with a funny poke at the Gupta family (and the actors really do look the part – well done casting agency! ) as they hurry to flee the country with bags packed full of cash and trying to fit a larger-than-life portrait into the back of their luxurious Range Rover. Look carefully and, apart from an image of a Gupta brother, you will see the Union Buildings.

Enough said…

A nice touch is the number plate on the Rangy: We Run GP.

Typical Nandos. Entertaining. Biting social commentary. And everyone (bar a few in Saxonwold and Pretoria) is left chuckling and with a good feeling about the brand.

Nando’s ads have, over the years contributed in a major way to the brand’s image as cheeky and even as a challenger, which it is not, having been around for a long time and expanded right across the globe. That a brand can seem young and fresh after so many years is a triumph of marketing.

Another Orchid for Nando’s.

One of the most untransformed industries in South Africa is advertising and now, 23 years after the advent of democracy, this allegedly liberal sector is being dragged kicking and screaming into the reality of life in South Africa. Black creatives are only now starting to get some respect and freedom and allowed the space to produce good work.

It is a debate for another forum about whether our local advertising has helped or hindered our chances of breaking down racial barriers. I wonder how much bitterness has been built up over the years by ads which show pretty, successful people in white skins…

True, this is due to the fact that many brands now import overseas ads, but I still think we haven’t done enough ourselves. And I am not talking about the fake Carling Black Label beer ads, where you have an unrealistic multiracial scenario.

However, having said that, I am irked by agencies and brands now going in the opposite direction and bending over backwards to seem politically correct.

One such as is for Cadbury’s Heroes chocolates, which features a nicely, racially balanced, and progressive group of people: Black husband, white wife and their (coloured) child, who all go to party at the house of an Indian family.

Missing from the ad? A white male.

cadburySpeaking as a grumpy member of that demographic and happy to acknowledge we have been guilty of many things, I don’t believe a Stalinist airbrushing white men out does anybody any favours.

Cadbury, your ad just looks deliberately contrived.

So you get a politically incorrect Onion from me…