“Cityproof” Nissan Qashqai hits the urban edgy spot, but latest Castle Lager ad has no fizz, bru (brew?)…

I’ve always had a soft spot for Nissan: I learned to drive in a Datsun (that was originally the main brand and corporate name for Nissan) and I own a rare Datsun sportscar. But other than those cars, I’ve never felt that attracted to Nissan’s modern day products, interesting and quality cars though they are.

The company definitely has its finger on the pulse of young urban dwellers – its Micra, Juke and Qashqai models are different from their competitors and have a huge component of funky in their DNA.

Even though I am not an urban youngster or a “millennial”, I think Nissan is on target with its marketing of all those vehicles.

In particular, the Qashqai – no I am not sure how to pronounce it – has been one of the global company’s big successes. It is said to be the biggest-selling “urban crossover” in Europe and is doing well in South Africa, despite the fact it is competing in a difficult market and in a segment with plenty of players.

Clearly, though, Nissan wants to keep the urban chic aspect of the Qashqai going and that’s exactly what it has gone for – in conjunction with ad agency TBWA Hunt Lascaris.
The latest TV ad features the punchline “Cityproof” and shows how you can go a bit wild even in the middle of “civilisation”.

We see a bunch of daredevil “longboarders…young, funky men and women who whizz down hills on their roller boards at insane speeds, performing crazy stunts.

I understand the ad took its inspiration from a crew of longboarders from Cape Town, Gravity Dogz, headed by Decio Lourenco. They were used in the ad to weave in and out as the Qashqai heads downhill, also accentuating the “Intelligent safety” features on the car, including blind spot warning, cameras and emergency braking.

It’s the kind of video vignette which attracts attention, as does the whole genre of adrenalin adventures…so it hits the target market spot on. At the same time, it does more than just push the brand, it details the virtues of the product. That is not always easy to achieve in one ad.

Orchids to Nissan, TBWA Hunt Lascaris and Egg Prodcutions, as well as the crew from Gravity Dogz. Big Ups, dudes.

No big ups, unfortunately, for the latest ad for Castle Lager and its new 1-litre bottle.The copywriters strained every possible clever cell in coming up with the one-syllable expressions of – what is it? Howzit, I suppose. Or even… wonder? – in rolling out bru (brew,geddit?); bro, bruski etc etc.

Four people gathered at their door to greet the long lost buddy who has returned with his enormous 1-litre bottle of beer and they express their glee when he arrives. He only has one bottle, though.

Which means that the total of five people only get 200ml each…and you see them with their pathetically small glasses.

Who on earth only has 200ml of beer?

The ad is a silly attempt at being clever in the first place and, even though it is an ad, badly fails at the first test of logic.So it gets an extra large Onion (to be split between the copywriters).

Corporate social responsibility should be more than a clever marketing con trick…

Corporate social responsibility, as a concept, sounds fine in theory…but in practice, it often turns out to be another marketing scam. I would far rather that a brand put real effort and commitment into improving the lot of people in society by lowering prices and reducing rapacious profit margins (to say nothing about outrageous executive salary bills) than telling me how it’s supporting communal veggie gardens in a rural area.

But, it is also true that brands can be important agents for social change (even though that is not their primary purpose for existing).

So when I see brands which appear to be working for common, societal, good, rather than just using charity as cynical marketing, then I sit up and pay attention.

Last week marked International Women’s Day and, all around the world, brands focused, in their marketing, on pressing issues facing women .

In South Africa, where we have one of the planet’s worst rates of woman and child abuse, two particular campaigns caught my attention.

A colleague of mine noticed the gut punch campaign for Carling Label beer, a video of which was done last year, promoting the idea of “Champion Men” – those who do not beat women and kids. It hurts to watch that video…and that’s the point: we men who see it should be ashamed, and ashamed enough to change our abusive behaviour towards women.

Carling Black Label took it even further on March 3, when it arranged for a group for women singers to take to the field before the start of the Soweto Derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. Before the packed stadium, they sang the well-known song, Masambe Nono, with the lyrics changed to tell the story of a woman who suffers from abuse after her husband comes home from a soccer match. Being under the influence of alcohol is not an excuse, a team losing a match is not an excuse.

The song hit home and many were the men in the stadium who, if they did not hang their heads in shame, were given pause for thought.

A brilliant idea. A brilliant place to air it. And a real way to help the women of our country. It was also a brave move for an alcohol brand to take, because abuse of alcohol and abuse for women often go hand in hand, or should that be fist in face?

First for Women, the insurance company, did a similar thing, capitalising on that week’s episode of the hugely popular Grey’s Anatomy on M-Net, which saw the story of violence involving Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington) and her abusive ex-husband, Paul (Matthew Morrison) reach a horrifying climax.

This season of the show has been dealing with the issue of women abuse and, in the US, one episode title was changed to that of the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the US.

Even though the show in South Africa still had the original episode title, 1st for Women took out ads during the show and a ticker tape, along with social media conversations, to promote its online platform, For Women, which features resources for abused women.

Another brand using its clout to make a difference. And that is what genuine corporate social responsibility is all about.

So Orchids to Carling Black Label and to First for Women.


When kindness can be deadly… and when bad PR means a lost opportunity

When I had my “conversion”, it wasn’t on the road to the Biblical road to Damascus; it was on the back of a large elephant.

In the beginning, it had seemed like one of those “bucket list” things to do: at the time, not many people had been riding on the back of Loxodonta Africana, the African elephant and I wanted to have something unusual to brag about around the braai.

The reality was painfully different. Sitting, without a saddle, or any padding, on the spine of an adult elephant brings new meaning to the word split and you get in touch with parts of your anatomy you never knew you had. However, it was the handlers’ use of metal rods to push the animals in the direction we wanted to go – with some force and clearly inflicting pain, even through those thick hides – which made revulsion flow up within me.

Since then, I have refused to become involved with “animal experiences”, where animals come into contact with humans. It’s just not right. And that judgment on my part was based only on my gut feeling that these “shows” are circus-like and a perversion of the natural order.

Now that I have seen the stunning billboards for the latest Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) campaign about petting captive carnivores, and heard the rationale, I know this sort of human interface is more than just something that makes you feel bad, it can endanger wild animals.

EWT’s argument is that petting captive carnivores is the last link in a cruel, and potentially deadly chain.

The organisation says cubs (mainly lions but leopard are also used in this way) are often removed from their mothers for use in “petting zoos”, which is stressful for both.

Worse, though, is that once the cute cubs get too big, they cannot be reintroduced to the wild and may be sent to a “canned hunting” farm, to be shot by hunters paying hefty money.

The EWT billboards have a two-tier effect: firstly, is the aww, as you see the photograph, followed by the gut punch of the copy.

One billboard features a cute little girl, hugging an even cuter lion cub. The message: Your kindness is killing me.


The second shows an young woman with an older lion cub. “Killing me softly” is the stark headline.


Well done to the EWT for putting this issue on the agenda and well done to Artifact Advertising for executions which get the message across so clearly.

Orchids to you both.

One of the things I don’t mind government doing is supporting entrepreneurs and so, when the Gauteng government mentioned the ANSYS group and its CEO, Teddy Daka, I assigned our two young interns to do a piece on him.

They politely asked for an interview in which they wanted to know about how he had got started on the road to success, what inspired him. My brief to them was to write a piece from that interview which might inspire others, because Teddy Daka is indeed a role model.

His PA, Lebo Madiga, came back in a superior arrogant way and said she could not “grant” the interview”, because it was “not pitched right for Teddy”. Apparently, he deigns to speak about himself and only wishes to talk about his company and sector.

Any good PR company out there want to pitch their services to him?

Because, Ms Madiga, Teddy Daka and ANSYS have missed an opportunity to get some free, and soft publicity which would be worth hundreds of thousands of Rand, once calculated on the PR scales for editorial coverage. It would have been a non-controversial piece and an opportunity to reveal the human side of Teddy Daka. Most importantly, though, he would have been able to put something back into the community (and the government has been supporting his enterprise, according to Gauteng Premier David Makhura)…by inspiring others.

Just as important, because our Citizen.co.za website is optimized for search engines, the chances of our soft feature appearing on Google’s search results would have been high. And, investors and possible partners, when doing their due diligence examinations of a company and its personnel, often look up things on the Net.

Lost marketing opportunity – or, more correctly, deliberately rejected marketing opportunity  – will always equal an Onion.

Not even Elon Musk or Bill Gates, when they were starting out, turned away free positive publicity like this…

Up and over – to the place called Obsession…gets an Orchid for Toyota’s Prado. But ministers who waste taxpayer money on their own egos get Onions.

My colleague and friend, Paballo, is a photographer and, as is the mark of a top cameraperson, he can be slightly obsessive about getting things right: exposure, composition, expression – they all have to be just so.

So I wasn’t at all surprised when he dropped me a note to say he loves the latest TV ad for Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado – because it’s about photographic obsession.

We see the Prado clambering over rock and up impossibly steep mountainsides. The man is driving and employs each weapon in the Prado’s arsenal – the gears, the outside view cameras, the angle gauges – to go whether the woman directs him.

You do wonder about what her intention is…until they reach where they are headed and she hauls out her long-lensed camera and readies to get the shot of the elusive bird she has been seeking.

A pause here to consider the combination of both types of obsessive – the photographer and the “twitcher”. And the partner of any such person will, no doubt get the rewards in heaven for their endless patience.

After the long uphill trek and the perfect position, she-with-the-camera begins to focus while he is focusing on what appears to be a mark on the windscreen. He rubs it and it doesn’t go – so he turns on the wipers. And off the bird goes. Cue the angry, “you are such a moron” stare from her.

But then, they see the bird again. And they’re off. Everyone’s happy because he gets to play some more and she (hopefully) will get the shot she wants.

It’s cute and, like the best ads, it highlights the features of the product it is trying to sell.
So, yet another Orchid to Toyota and to its ad agency, FCB Joburg. That’s a partnership that’s been going 40 years so it’s no surprise Toyota is one of the country’s top brands.


Nedbank had a finely crafted print ad, which ran the day after the Budget. Apart from being eye-catching, both pictorially and in the words used (“Budgets can be taxing. That’s why we have a bank account that isn’t”), the product was pitched at a perfect time – when everyone was feeling the pain of the various tax hikes shoved down our throats by the then Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.

Nedbank’s tax-free account is something a lot of people will have looked at and will be considering, given that the government is squeezing us in so many places. I don’t suppose it took a rocket scientist to figure out that there would be tax pain in the Budget, but Nedbank’s timing was perfect nevertheless.
An Orchid to Nedbank and to their agency, Joe Public.


I wish that Aaron Motsoaledi, minister of health, would stop acting like the rest of his ego-obsessed Cabinet colleagues when it comes to spending taxpayer money (yes, this is the week to be hammering on about that!) on communication campaigns.

Motsoaledi is one of the few ministers from the Zuma administration who deserved to retain his job…but his latest ad campaign – warning about obesity – shows he is just as out of touch with marketing communications as the rest of them.

Why, oh why, minister, do you think it necessary to have your mugshot attached to the obesity campaign? You are not obese and the sight of yet another minister in an ad could easily get a person to turn the page.

When will you apparatchiks in government learn: you are servants, not stars. We care about what you do, not about your image.

Dear Comrade Ramaphosa: Please tell your ministers to stop wasting our money promoting themselves. And while you’re at it, can’t you force them to drive Toyota Corollas or VW Polos (they’re made here, so it’s all about jobs…)

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 – brendans@citizen.co.za