VW smooths out the bumps in the road and racial airbrushing, Absa-style…

One of the endless debates in life is about whether women are better drivers than men. The boys will point out that there has never been a female Formula One champion. On the other hand, women will say that insurance statistics prove women are a better risk than men. Finally – ask a 4×4 instructor which is the best pupil and you will get the answer: women. They listen and don’t try to bliksem the vehicle to prove their testosterone levels.

From personal experience, I know both men and women whose on-road skill is such that, if I am told they will be behind the wheel, then I would rather walk.

That’s probably why the TV ad for VW’s “Volkswagen for Life” programme is so appealing.

We see a whole neighbourhood cringing in fear – or just plain ducking to safety – when the “learner driver” in the Golf is out on the streets. People know it’s going to be torture – and possibly damage.
The car roars into the driveway – from an angle – and takes out the rubbish bin. The man of the house looks on in anguish as the car comes to an agonised halt, with the L plate on the rear window clearly visible. He looks at the young girl who gets out – and we instantly think she’s the culprit. But, no. She alights from the passenger side, looking as tormented as everyone else by the antics of the driver.
Out climbs the learner – a doek-wearing “gogo”, clearly Man of the House’s Mum. And, be honest now – how can you shout at your Mum?

The soothing message is, though: don’t stress, VW is always there is to “Protect, Assist, Repair and Care”…all of which are clearly needed here. But, at the same time, it makes the point that your VW relationship is going to be for life (and these cars do last a long time – I know, I had a Jetta which I sold when it was 26 years old and it’s still going). And you know there will always be someone to help sort out the bad or anxious times.

The ad is typical VW. It speaks to a great product and to a basic human emotion, as the company’s ads have done for more than 40 years, in a uniquely South African way.

Another Orchid for VW and its long-standing agency, Ogilvy.

There has been plenty written and said – a lot of it negative – about Absa’s new logo and how it looks worrying similar to that for Telkom subsidiary Open Serve. That doesn’t really bother me because I know that in two years’ time, we will all have forgotten about the previous logo.

What does disturb me, though, is the bank’s new “African-acity” campaign. Supposedly a combination of “Africa” and “tenacity”, it hopes to portray Absa as not only looking to Africa for its future, but also saying it is tough and will be around. African-acity is defined as “the distinctly African ability to always get things done.”

Fair enough. Some of the visuals – like the one below, seen on social media – are attractive, it must be said.

What I am trying to get my head around is the TV commercial, which is a general brand building one. As such, one would expect it to be as inclusive as possible, because Absa has a wide range of clients.

So, at the risk of being tarred and feathered by the anti-racists, I have to ask: why are there no white people in your ad, Absa? Have they ceased to exist as your clients? Are why people not African enough to be capable of African-acity?

Whether you like it or not, race is a hot button issue at the moment and to run the risk of alienating or insulting some of your potential clients (and whether they are right or wrong in their attitudes or beliefs is irrelevant) is just plain business recklessness.

So, Absa, collect your Onion here…

Business of death gets a moving spin… but North-West website doesn’t walk the talk

It can’t be easy sitting down to come up with an acceptable, non-offensive, advertising idea to promote a business whose stock in trade is, essentially, dead bodies.

You can focus on the costs of burial insurance, which is part of what the business offers, but this has been done before. You can show a grieving but cared-for family at a funeral (also done before).
Or you can do something completely different.

And that’s what the et al Group (a creative agency) and Luma Animation did for funeral service and insurance mutual company Avbob, which this year celebrated its 100th year of existence.

It’s certainly a left-field, but highly effective way of portraying – via beautiful vocal and visual metaphors – that Avbob has been around for a century. It is the sort of institution which will always be there with you, come rain or shine, growing as you do, but all the while providing shelter from the vicissitudes of life.

The way et al and Luma chose to portray this message was through the lens of the baobab tree, one of the biggest and longest-living trees in Africa. We see it start out as a seed, growing into a sapling and then a sturdy tree and finally into a solid, massive anchor in the soil. All the while, it shelters creatures – from a beautiful sunbird to a tortoise and a squirrel. All find shelter under, on or in the accommodating old tree.

The amazing computer-generated images are accompanied by moving words, read out in the form of a poem – something the producers tell me owes its inspiration to Avbob’s Poetry Project.

It is an elegant concept, brilliantly executed. Have a look at this and tell me the animation wizards in this country have to step aside for anyone else in the world…
It’s also sweet, and peaceful and, at times like these, that helps it stand out in the hurried and often angry clutter of our daily lives and the lives we live vicariously on TV.

So Orchids to Avbob (and happy birthday, by the way), as well as et al and Luma Animation.

I wonder which one of Supra Mahumapelo’s friends or relatives must have got the hugely inflated tender to do promotional work for the North West government.

More correctly, whoever was paid to help put together the “Mebala Ya Rona” platform, should “pay back the money!” (Copyright EFF).

It is billed as “a new and exciting” platform developed by the Bokone Bophirima (North West’s new name, by the way) department of Rural Environment and Agricultural Development.

The website is badly put together, especially when it comes to logic and sloppy use of language.

But what really made me sit up and take notice was the way they tried to promote the province’s “Heritage Walk” last week.

I saw an ad in Sowetan newspaper on the Monday, the day entries closed (great logic that) … but what made me rue the waste of my money (I am a taxpayer, after all), was that when I went to the site to find out more information, there was none. Nothing about transport to or from the start or finish of the 113km route, what the food would be.

Nada.

But the salt in the wound was when I tried to download the registration form. The link had been entered incorrectly, so I got an “address could not be found” response from Google.

heritage_66049-389x205

Pathetic. Surely Website Building 101 and PR 101 requires someone to actually check any and all links on the site or that you might use in your advertising.

So, for the North West government and whoever you hired to do this awful job: A Mega Onion.

And, if you were wondering why there were only a handful of civil servants on your walk, now you know…

 

They’ll definitely thank you later…but not if you make them miss their bus

Over the years when our children were growing up, there was not a lot of money to spare, so we couldn’t splash out on the toys and trinkets other parents could. Would I have liked to give them a few more bits and pieces? Yes, certainly. Do I think the lack of these made them any worse as adults? Most emphatically not.

As parents, too, we didn’t get the latest cars or fancy clothes – keeping up with the Joneses may be how middle class South Africa rolls, but it’s just not us. The result was, though, that, years later, we were able to send both children (sorry, young adults) to university. They’re now both qualified professionals.

That’s probably why the Investec Asset Management videos – on their site, http://www.thankmelater.co.za – are so appealing to me. That’s because they show a parent not bowing to the pressure of bling and wasting money. They show a parent being wise and thinking to the future their children will have…a better future, thanks to Mom and Dad looking after their money.

Mind you, I must admit, the teasing inherent in the little stories appeals a bit to the sadist in me…

There are a couple of executions which I really like. In the first we see a father telling his young son he has a surprise for him: a beach holiday. The boy’s excitement knows no bounds – until he arrives downstairs and sees a “beach” (complete with sandcastle, umbrella and plastic pool) set up in the garden. Clearly unimpressed, the boy makes his feelings known, kicking down the sand castle and storming off.

The punchline, though, justifies the apparent “cruelty” of the parents – He will thank you later.

In the other cute one, a little girl is promised by daddy that he has got her a pony. Her excitement turns to disappointment and then anger as she discovers it is a hobby horse , literally a horse head on a stick. Same message: don’t worry, she’ll appreciate you later.

The message is crystal clear that if you’re careful and save now, then your kids will benefit – and thank you – later. And how to do that is, obviously, through saving with Investec.

So, Investec Asset Management gets my Orchid for this week. And, even if you don’t put your money with them, then what they’re saying has resonance in a country where we seldom think about tomorrow…

I do realise that advertising’s role is to show products in the best possible light and that, to do this, agencies and their clients sometimes construct stories or scenarios which are improbable.
There are plenty of those around at the moment, but one which struck me quite forcefully the other day was one for Trinco Tea.

The little constructed storyline goes: A women restaurant/tea shop owner is closing up at the end of the day. As she turns the “Open” sign around to “Closed”, she looks across at a group of people huddled together under a bus shelter as it begins to rain.
Overcome by weapons-grade Good Samaritan-mania, she flips the sign back the way it was and invites all of the people to come in for a hearty cup of tea – Trinco, naturally.
Everybody sips and smiles…because we all know tea is the cure for all known human problems.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Firstly, it’s closing time, or the owner wouldn’t be flipping the sign. And, clearly, therefore, the people at the shelter (none of whom are getting soaked, by the way) are waiting for the bus so they can go home. Do you think you would abandon the shelter – and risk missing your bus – just to get some warm tea?
I don’t think so.

trinco

So, for a silly, unrealistic story line, Trinco, you get an Onion.

Rush, Rush…to your nearest Toyota dealer. And, make sure your social media team has a sense of humour.

I love road trips. And this has to be one of the best places in the world to do a really great road trip. I hear the complaints about our potholes and our dreadful drivers. But, what about those lonesome vlaktes and surreal mesas in the Karoo? Drive along one of the gravel roads there and you feel alone in a vast, beautiful, sparsely populated universe.

So when I saw the ad for Toyota’s newest product, the Rush “entry-level” SUV, my accelerator foot got itchy. Time to get out into the Karoo…

The ad was shot over four days in the Tankwa Karoo National Park (it’s always been on my bucket list, but the Rush ad has just bumped it up a few places) and the Cederberg (also a magical place and worth going back to). The scenery is a perfect backdrop for the vehicle, which is billed as ideal for roads in the back of beyond, if not an out-and-out offroader because it is not a 4×4. This is a vehicle, the ad says, which will take you to those places where memories are made.

And, being a Toyota, it will get you back, too…

As a vehicle for a young family, the Rush is perfect – well-priced, capable and with bags of space. And I predict it will sell like the proverbial hot cakes and give its competitors another Toyota-sized headache.

Interestingly, though, the ad itself is pitched at the Millennials, the group about whom every brand manager or ad creative director is gagging these days. This ad sets out to show this allegedly juicy target market how the Rush can make you much cooler – in the same way that bling makes rappers cooler and is often featured in rap songs.

Hence, there is a pseudo-rap sound track following the group of young people as they blast out and about on their road trip, doing silly things striking silly selfie poses…as one apparently does if one is a Millennial.

I am surprised that Toyota and ad agency FCB decided on this approach, given that these group featured in the ad all seem to be single and care-free and more like to gravitate towards a Polo than to a Toyota Rush. I hope there is more material in the pipeline which will target families, because they are the ones who are going to be beating a path to your door, Toyota.

Having said all that, though, I still quite liked the ad…mainly because as a grumpy old man, I could ignore the rap and focus on the vehicle and the scenery. Both are stunning in the ad. And, it is interesting that an ad which has such a focused target market should be able to make “collateral impact” on someone who is outside this target market. Were I not already driving a Subaru, I would certainly consider the Rush as road trip transport.

So the ad gets Orchids for Toyota and for FCB Johannesburg, as well as Robin Goode of Figment Films.

 

One of the dangers of social media, for a brand anyway, is the team you employ to manage it. That has already burned a few brands whose digital clevers have either spoken out of turn or upset people on social media and done some serious reputational damage in the process.

Last week, it was more funny than horrible, although the lesson about ill-equipped social media “responders” is just as valid.

A local comedian posted a Tweet along the lines of “Just got kicked out of Mr Price Home. Apparently ‘scatter cushions’ is not an instruction…”

Ha ha ha for most of us. But the humour flew over the heads of the Mr Price social media team, who responded (quickly it must be said) with a request that the comedian contact them by direct message so they could address the matter with the particular store.

And, of course, the Mr Price reaction was just as funny as the original Tweet.

When your marketing makes people laugh at you, rather than with you, Mr Price, you get an Onion.

KFC makes a meal of it but Maroon 5’s Three Little Words give me ad indigestion

One of the things to be thankful for about the FIFA Football World Cup 2018 (Trade Mark registered) is that it was not held here…if only for the fact we wouldn’t have to put up with God-awful Budweiser beer. Nevertheless, we were pounded by all of those international ads…even for products we can’t get here (like some Hyundai SUVs promoted by pop group Maroon 5) or which are, thankfully, not mainstream, (like Budweiser).

Most of the ads washed over me like lukewarm dishwater because, when you make an ad for such a wide audience, bland tends to be your watchword.

One ad did stick out, though, because it speaks right to the heart of one of the major problems with professional football these days…and that is that theatrics which accompany almost every foul, tough tackle and so-called injury.

Brazilian superstar Neymar was, far and way, the Oscar winner for his performances in this sector, but there were plenty of others whose antics would have you believe that playing football is about as dangerous as charging into machinegun fire on the battlefield.

KFC, one of the sponsors of the football epic, capitalised on this by showing a not-so-over-the-top dive on the pitch (compared to the ones which took place in real life, that is), followed by an agonising roll. It starts off no different from plenty we saw in the tournament. But then, it goes on and on. As fans and TV crews chase the player’s agonised writhings, he keeps spinning over and over…out of the stadium, into the surrounding city. On and on until finally, he rolls into a KFC outlet.

Suddenly, he is cured. He has “made a meal of it” – both on the pitch and off.
And that slogan – “Make a meal of it” – was the hashtag for fans to communicate with KFC every time they saw some outrageous diving and players making a meal of it in their over-acting.

It’s humorous, it speaks to phenomenon everyone has been talking about, and it works to emphasise how far you would go to get the great taste of KFC.
So it gets an Orchid from me.

The Onion for World Cup ads, though, must go to Hyundai and Maroon 5. It’s not that I don’t like the product, or that the ad doesn’t accurately showcase features of the company’s product. The problem is not just that we can’t get those products yet in SA…but it is the fact that, repeated over and over, ad nauseum, Maroon 5’s song, Three Little Birds (Everything’s gonna be alright…) eventually becomes painful, like having a tooth drilled.

maroon

For violating one of the Golden Rules of advertising – don’t push anything past its natural pain threshold or sell-by date – Hyundai gets an Onion.

We have, in this country, a group of superheroes, the mere appearance of whom will cure all of our ills. They are called politicians…and at least they seem to believe that seeing their attractive (not) mugs on newspaper ads, on TV and on roadside billboards, will sort out everything from AIDS to poor school results.

Doesn’t appear to be working, people, at least going by the popularity of our new national symbols – the barricade and the burning tyre…

Yet perhaps the most pathetic one I have seen was down in KwaZulu-Natal recently – and may I preface this was saying in all humility (in case His Majesty is listening), I have nothing against Zulus: They are by far the most interesting people who have threatened to kill me.

On a number of the byways I love to take when I am down in The Kingdom, I saw repeated pictures of one Willies Mchunu, who is now Premier, but was once MEC for Transport. These images were adorning posters urging people to think about road safety.

Point one: using a poster on the side of a road (which can easily cause a driver to be distracted from the job at hand) to promote road safety is not too clever. One would have thought that Mchunu, in his previous life of MEC for Transport, might have realised this. Never mind that these posters have clearly not been checked or replaced in the two or more years since he left the portfolio.

Point two: What on earth does your face have to do with road safety? I am so sick and tired of the cult of ego among our politicians. It proves one thing with crystal clarity: public office is all about the politician and not the people.

Yet another Onion.

Imagine that money being spent on doing some actual good. To quote John Lennon: You may say I’m a dreamer…

Cross-cultural confusion makes for a funny ad. But PR confusion makes Jack an unhappy editor…

It doesn’t take a lot to make South Africans angry … and facts, especially, are not needed when there is an angry argument to be made on social media. So, for example, there were those on Twitter last week bemoaning the fact that Africa had, again, not made it to the Last 16 of a World Cup. Must be racism, they cried …

Dear, oh dear.

With that in mind, and considering this angry divided country of ours today, it takes a brave company, or brand, to tackle some of our cultural issues in a roundabout, even humorous way.

There is so much danger there in offending those who don’t share your sense of humour. And those you offend are also those who are unlikely to buy your product.

On the other hand, one thing we still do have as a nation is a collective sense of humour. And, we can – most of us anyway – still laugh at ourselves.

King Price Insurance has shown it is not afraid to use culture and humour … and it has done so effectively, because its advertisements often “go viral”, being spread around the internet.

The last one – of an Afrikaans-speaking boer who cuddles up to his farming equipment because the doctor suggested he do “sexy things to a tractor …” – went far and wide.

The follow-up is already popping up on social media and being forwarded by e-mail and now King Price have aired it on TV, too, so it’s bound to get a lot of eyeballs. And, I think, also chuckles.

We see a well-dressed Cherman trundling through the countryside to the love of his life, Thandi. She greets him rapturously at the door to the family home and our intrepid suitor beams in a way most of his countrymen would have been doing, had they stayed in the World Cup.

Then, Thandi’s stern-faced father appears at the door. Don’t worry, says the earnest young Teuton, I have come to declare my “luff” for your daughter. I want to marry her and I have brought the lobola. He produces a box containing a kettle, and then, beaming, points out that the father wanted “50 kettles” as lobola for Thandi … and there they all are in the back of the bakkie.

Fifty kettles? That’s probably what the father said, and what the German heard. Cultural misunderstanding … cattle, not kettles, is what the old man wants.

It’s a typical South African, not-listening, talking-past-each-other, moment. But it’s funny and it has a simple innocence about it.

 

Still, it could offend somebody in this easily-offended world of ours. But the humour and the bravery are what make this advertisement stand out. So another Orchid to King Price.

There is nothing guaranteed to rile an egotistical journalist more than getting his or her name wrong than to waste their time, or clutter up their e-mail and voicemail inboxes, with totally inappropriate press releases.

Public relations rule number one: understand your target market. Do not send someone like me (who writes about media and cars and runs a news operation) material more suitable for an engineering or fashion magazine. Yet, that is what happened recently.

First up was a release from Paddington Station PR agency about “Beetroot Inc” and its “beautiful lifestyle furniture and home décor items”. With tears in my eyes, people, NO! I am not interested in your scatter cushions. Why are you sending this to me and not to the appropriate person? By addressing me by name, at the correct address, you must surely have my title? That being the case, do you think  I am the Interior Decor Correspondent? Remember, you want my publication to give your clients publicity and you expect me to correct your lack of professionalism? I don’t think so.

Onion to Paddington Station.

Next was a release from Gugulethu Ndlovu at nGage, addressed to me personally, not just some arbitrary “editor”.

It started: “The complex core geometry at the Katherine Towers project in Sandton saw PERI South Africa deploy its RCS-CL (Rail Climbing System Carriage Light) to reduce crane time and maximise platform sizes for the complex core geometry. Please find attached a press release detailing the complete solution supplied to realise this challenging and intricate structure.”

Do I look like I edit Engineering NewsArchitectural Digest? Big Cranes Weekly? More bad PR. Another Onion. Do some research please, nGage …

And this tailpiece is not really an Onion, just a reflection on perhaps the most bizarre “house advertisement” in the history of newspapers in this country.

Afrovoice-last

This advertisement appeared in Afrovoice newspaper on Friday championing Afrotone Holdings, the vehicle businessman Mzwanele Manyi used to buy the Guptas’ media interests, including the TV channel formerly known as ANN7 and now as Afro Worldview and the newspaper formerly called The New Age.

Quite ironic to be boasting about having 500 employees when, for many of them it would be their last day, as the newspaper closed down on Friday.

Fly, the beloved country… high above the “vapour research”

These days, when you leave the toxic atmosphere of Twitter (and I am forced to lurk there as part of a my job as a newsman), you feel as though you should have a chemical decontamination shower, so vile is some of the anger and hatred.

There seem to be so many on this social media channel who believe that the whole “Miracle” of 1994 and the idea of the “Rainbow Nation” was all a lie. Further, Nelson Mandela was a sell-out because he bowed down to white people and “Big Business”…

Exposed to so much of this line of reasoning does make me acknowledge that perhaps we (all of us) were too naïve in our acceptance that 300 years of history could be re-written by one man and one election. When I look back on those times, I sometimes cringe to see the sentiments – the lofty but unrealistic ones – being expressed by people. It’s rather like looking back at the 70s and platform shoes …“What were they thinking?”

And nothing sums up that rose-tinted era quite as much as the triumph in the World Cup Rugby final at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg in 1995, where Joel Stransky’s sublime drop-goal made us World Champions, triumphing 15-12 over the All Blacks.
There was Madiba, Francois Pienaar and the Webb Ellis Trophy. There were the strains of “Shosholoza” echoing around the stadium, as well as those of the strange, new, hybrid national anthem.
Then there were the multicoloured, joyful crowds in the streets afterwards, all overwhelmingly proud to be South Africans, united by a pride which went beyond skin colour.

But it was the goose bump-inducing flight by a massive South African Airways Boeing 747 jumbo jet, low over Ellis Park, which announced the world we were a “can do” nation. Nobody else had done – or possibly even could do – such a daring, and potentially disastrous, piece of stunt flying.

The man flying the plane was veteran SAA pilot Laurie Kay and, as people close to him said later, it was as though his whole life in planes – from passenger jets to aerobatic prop-driven craft – was leading up to this.

MTN’s new “Sounds the Call” ad wonderfully evokes those times, with a clever blend of actual footage, set-up scenes using actors and some computer-manipulated imagery to pay tribute to Laurie Kay – who passed away some years ago – but also to rekindle national pride. As a sponsor of the Springboks, the cell provider has, like fellow sponsor FNB, focused on the intangibles of emotion to underline its contribution to nation-building.

Now, I suppose one could be cynical about this sort of patriotism, but it works for me. It’s a reminder of what we once were and, through rose-tinted optimism glasses, what we might be again…

So Orchids to MTN, ad agency TBWA and Darling films.

Research Rubbish – Chapter 2
A few weeks ago, I got a breathless release from Reputation Matters, a PR outfit in Tshwane, about how that City had been “voted” best African capital in terms of “sustainability”.

According to Reputation Matters, the firm had surveyed “15 African capitals” ahead of Sustainability Week held in Pretoria. When pressed by my cynical questions (because I am very wary of “vapour” research), Reputation Matters provided the list of these 15 African capitals.

The list has shrunk to just 14 places – including Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Rustenburg, nogal. There – now you know…Rustenburg is an African capital city.

Even worse was to come, though.
Reputation Matters said it had 76 responses to its survey, 80% of which came from South African cities, with Cape Town topping the list at 43%, followed by Tshwane at 27% and Joburg at 8%.
If that’s a survey, then I’m a rabbi…

A research expert friend of mine (in my survey of experts across the continent – if you can do it so can I) shook her head in disbelief (at least that’s what it felt like down the email line). Her company does serious research and, without quantifying who was asked what, invoking “African capitals” when there were more responses from SA cities, as well as the absence of judging criteria, was, in her view, not proper research. Nor was it well-written, “even as a media release…” she wrote.

That last comment sums up how professionals in business – and note, not just cynical old journalists – take with a pinch of salt this sort of fantasy.
Sadly, there are many in the media industry who will look at this as genuine, simply because it is flagged as “research” or a “survey”.

So to Reputation Matters, the second of our Fake News Onions (the first was last week). One day someone will see through the nonsense…and how sustainable will you then be?