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…

Coca-Cola moves with the health-conscious times…and abuse takes to the road

Perhaps it’s because we are sliding into the silly season, but I really have not seen anything this week which has irked me enough to hand out an Onion. And, I’d rather not devalue my critical currency, the Onion, by handing it out just because you expect me to be bitchy.

However, for only doing half a job this week, I will start off by awarding myself half an Onion. And I will work a lot harder on my grumpiness, I promise … To compensate slightly, there will be two Orchids this week.

This first goes to Coca-Cola, for its print ads, which broke this week, and which deal with the tricky issue (for a maker of sweet soft drinks, anyway) of sugar and healthy diets. Soft drinks with sky high sugar contents have been fingered as some of the prime culprits in the soaring rate of obesity. And, while soft drink companies have already introduced low-sugar or sugar-free alternatives, they are still trying to fight government efforts to control their industry.

This week’s ads have a clever pun: Different Cokes for different folks. That is an opportunity for the company to explain that it is always looking for healthy alternatives, without losing the unique flavours of its products. It’s simple and it’s clever and it’s tactical, and it does the job. So it gets an Orchid.


However, I can’t help but remember, as I noted a few weeks ago, that the company’s reduction in the size of its containers seemed to be more about profit than health considerations, no matter what they said at the time.

The Western Cape government has already got a few Orchids from me for its road safety campaigns, executed by FCB Cape Town under the banner of “Safely Home”.

The latest is timed and angled to coincide with the 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children. FCB says the ad is intended to show the similarity between violence towards women and children and aggressive driving. So we see a woman who, at first, appears to be a victim of domestic violence. Her words reinforce that impression.

“Something inside him just snaps. He won’t listen to reason.” “ I just have to sit there and take it…” And then: “ but this time he totally lost control …”

She has a battered and bruised face and her tears flow.

She then explains that she was told that if he was driving any faster, she would not have survived. It becomes clear that we are looking at an accident survivor.

However, the kicker lines which follow emphasise: “There are many forms of abuse; aggressive driving is one of them.”

Then, comes the slogan #ManUpSlowDown, which makes the point that being a man is not about driving fast – or hitting women.

It’s not pleasant to look at but it hits home. So more Orchids for the Western Cape government and FCB Cape Town.

MTN’s “Bright side” really dazzles, but this Sunday Times sub sinks without a trace…

I’ve talked before about the mega-battles of the cellphone brands as they launch their end-of-year campaigns (why they focus on summer is a bit beyond me, given that summer’s already been underway for almost three months by now).
It’s good to see them moving away from those perpetual festive season clichés of party people on beaches (normally Durbs) having fun. Cell C got an Orchid from me recently for their colourful and energetic efforts to get the coveted “Millennial” demographic on board.
We’ve all really been waiting for MTN to see what they’d come up with. And the wait, in my opinion, has been worth it, because the company and its ad agency TBWA has produced a visual feast and some of the best animations we’ve yet seen in South Africa.
And using animation and CGI (computer generated imagery) is the way you target the gaming generation and those whose lives are lived through, and in, their device screens.
What the ad does is take us into the heart of a computer “battle”, where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are not just blurred, they are blown away in technicolour explosions.
At the centre of it all is moving yellow (MTN yellow, of course) oval button which the two contestants keep tapping, as they would with a game console. However, at some stage in the proceedings, a mother pops up to ask: when are you going to be home? To which the only reply (you’ll know this parents) is: I’m busy…
The characters in the game smile in mocking sympathy – a nice touch, again melding fantasy with reality in a seamless way.
The point is that MTN is inviting you, through the oval portal-button, to “Come over to the Brightside”.

It works well and is a visual treat – but at the same time makes a good marketing point.
The concept is great, but it would be nowhere without the execution so, in addition to giving MTN and TBWA Orchids, I think the people from Wicked Pixels and Monkey Films (under director Daniel Levi) also need to step forward for their Orchids.
It’s wonderful to see visual, marketing story-telling is far from dead in this country. This is as good as you’d get anywhere else…


Another quick Orchid this week goes to a PR person – and I don’t often hand out those because of the generally poor state of the business in this country…especially when it comes to being a cost-effective part of a client’s marketing machinery.Hardly had the news hit the wires about Prince Harry’s engagement to American actress Meghan Markle, than Amanda Hardy of The Travel Corporation in Johannesburg, was putting out a news-driven press release to travel media punting her client Luxury Gold’s special nine-day Royal tour, which includes all the highlights of the Windsor family’s way of life – from the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace to a tour of Edinburgh.Hardy is an ex-journo and still a news nut and she knows the value of linking marketing material to what is happening around us. TTC, which is part of the global corporation run by the Tollman family, who came originally from South Africa, is also one of the masters of producing content for news outlets which sells their products, as well as being entertaining. PR, as a part of marketing…at its best.As I start the Onion award this week, I am mindful of two things: that we don’t normally criticise our competitors in the newspaper business; and that I am running the risk of getting complaints about lapses in our own subscription system here at The Citizen.Also, one is not supposed to speak ill of the dying. However. Given how Tiso Blackstar (publishers of the Sunday Times and The Times) deals with its customers, I am not at all surprised The Times is being killed off as a print product.My Sunday Times subscription expired last weekend so I tried to renew it online. There was a helpful link in the reminder email, which I duly clicked and tried to pay using my credit card. However, I entered the wrong expiry date, so the bank rejected the payment – quite correctly.But when I clicked on the email again, I could not repeat the process. Instead, there was a message from Tiso Blackstar saying there was a problem and giving me what appeared to be an email address to click on.When I did so, using my Firefox web browser (because I don’t trust Google on anything personal), I was told the link could not be opened and special software might be needed). I tried it again (on Google, because I was getting frustrated) and, again, it didn’t work.In the meantime, I got a reply email from Tiso Blackstar informing me the payment hadn’t gone through. I replied to that email – and to two others I have found on various emails. These included real people in the subs department.A week later – no response. Even the phone help line rang unanswered…Customer service is something which should be top of mind in an industry facing huge pressure, like the newspaper business. The fact that it clearly isn’t for Tiso Blackstar, gets them the commemorative “Shoot Yourself In The Foot” Onion.

Spar’s collective chill pill brings a smile, OLX’s techie-ruined site brings a grimace…

It has been a long, hard, stressful year and South Africans have been at each other’s throats for most of that year. So, maybe it is time we took a collective national chill pill as we head into the holiday season.

Let’s forget about the tensions of race, gender, religion, even sporting allegiance, and ponder that we might have actually more in common than we think.

That’s the premise behind a new, eye-catching TV ad for Spar, the supermarket chain. As the normal crowd of shoppers is moving through the Spar, the intercom crackles to life, asking “all grandparents to join us at the front of the store”. There are pleased smiles all round as the various grannies and grandpas wander forward.

Then it’s the turn of “all those who believe in Santa Claus”… groups of kids rush forward. And, as you watch you can already sense what is happening: from being disparate groups of people – different races, ages, interests – they are realising that despite the differences, they have something in common.

Then come those with tattoos, followed by the single parents, the “newly in love” (and, of course the hand-holding elderly couple prove that love is not only the preserve of those with unlined skins) and, finally, by those who will be alone at Christmas.

They come forward grudgingly (no-one likes to admit they’re lonely, after all) and are welcomed by the others. Suddenly, all the different pieces of that fascinating jigsaw which is South Africa are standing up front, united in ways they did not think of and, of course, united by the fact they do their shopping at Spar.

It’s a sweet, feel-good ad from the brand which has positioned itself as the sweet, feel-good shop around the corner. The Spar near us is exactly like that – smiling faces, spotlessly clean and efficient. So, Spar gets an Orchid for reminding us, at a time when we so need reminding, that the things which make us different are much less than those which unite us.

It looks to me, though, that the concept was slightly modified from a thought-provoking video done by a Danish TV station a few years ago. In that work, people are separated into their little group boxes and gradually lured out of them by the things they have in common – from being bullied, to being the class clown, even to being bisexual.

What they all have, proudly, in common, is the fact that they love Denmark. Memorable piece of TV that was and no bad thing Spar borrowed the concept and gave it a South African flavour.


Check them both out below and compare:



I must say I chuckled a bit when I heard the online shopping sites of a number of local e-commerce operations crashed yesterday under the pressure of the Black Friday onslaught.

While that proves the power of online as a purchasing medium – and a research medium, although I still have my doubts about it as an effective marketing communication medium – it also proved once again that the techies got caught out. Surely someone anticipated there would be a tsunami of orders and increased capacity?

In the past week or so of using web sites to do some research on used cars (I am helping my gardener buy the first car he has ever owned; he has a modest budget and I will not see him ripped off), I have been frustrated by a number of sites with illogical functionality.

This ranges from clunky search facilities – where the parameters default to the first one used, regardless of what you do – to search engines which simply don’t work at all. And I am not talking now about the deliberate scams you see on used car sites – the ridiculously low prices for cars whose photos have been nicked from somewhere else which are meant to lure you to a place where you can be scammed or robbed. I am talking simply about the digital infrastructure.

But the prize for techie-driven illogicality and inanity goes to OLX. I clicked on an ad for a car in the R25 000 price range (where all of my searches have been centred) and was told the ad had expired. However, the site gushed, it had found some “related” ads for me to look at.

First one up? A used MercedesBenz ML 55AMG for R480 000. Seriously? The rest were similary stupid – including from the other end of the spectrum, with ads for components. So much for your search facilities OLX; so much for any claims you might make about using your data to understand your users.

Fail Onion for you.

When the best part of a Springbok match is the ad at half time…

To say that the most entertaining slice of television during the Springbok-Ireland game was an advertisement is not so much a compliment to a clever piece of creative marketing inspiration as it is an indictment of how badly the Boks played.

It was brave of Mahindra to commit a large chunk of money to flighting an ad during the game and perhaps they had some sort of inkling that the Boks would be woeful…and therefore that their ad would gain more attention from frustrated and bored fans.

And the ad was certainly funny and entertaining. My wife laughed out loud – as did my brother-in-law.

We see a man awakening in hospital from a three-year coma, his hair and beard long and matted. As his eyes focus, he sees his wife; then his brother. His brother looks sheepish.

Then his wife says: “Meet your nephew…”, indicating by rubbing her clearly pregnant stomach. You can see the coma man’s internal calculator clicking over: three years…nine months?

The nurse, who overhears this mutters “that’s heavy…”

And that’s the punchline – because the whole soap opera is taking place in a set being towed behind a Mahindra Pik Up bakkie. The vehicle, clearly, can cope with “heavy”.

So the point is made humourously and effectively.

Mind you, when my wife stopped giggling, I asked her who the ad was for. She didn’t know…which also goes to show the risks of entertaining people so much they miss your marketing point.

Still, it is an ad which does stand out so it gets an Orchid from me.

Design is a crucial aspect on any piece of marketing communication – and, too often, not enough attention is paid to it.

In particular, print ads are often rendered almost useless because the designer who drew up the ad didn’t think about the environment in which it would be running. And, one of the biggest mistakes made by designers is thinking that the words they can see clearly on their screens will be just as easy to see on a printed page.

So, you will frequently see text colours which blend into background colours because, no matter the printing process, the result on paper is not going to be what you see on screen.

But the biggest mistake designers make is using print fonts which are too small. Most newspaper stories run at what we call 9 or 10 point. This makes it reasonably legible for someone who doesn’t need glasses to see. Any smaller and even someone with good eyesight might have to squint – and smaller still, they will have to reach for a magnifying glass.

I saw a classic example recently in a newspaper ad for Chinese car brand Haval (the luxury brand of GWM), which was boasting that its H2 model had achieved a “5-star ANCAP rating*”

The asterisk was meant to direct people to the lower part of the ad where the acronym ANCAP would be explained.  I know, as a petrolhead, that ANCAP stands for Australian New Car Assessment Programme…but most people probably don’t know that, and especially the young, upwardly mobile families who would be the target market for the H2 SUV.

Yet, the print explaining what ANCAP meant was in type so small that I could barely make it out, with my glasses on.

Really, really stupid, considering the whole point about the blazing headline was to boast about the car’s safety – and ANCAP is one of the most highly-regarded car crash test programmes in the world.

So, an opportunity to make the most of a really good selling point was not maximised, because no-one bothered to look at the ad (literally) through the eyes of a consumer.

So an Onion to Haval’s designers – but not to the company itself, because the idea was a good one, just badly executed.