Sanral bravely tackles the long road back from reputation damage…but perhaps too much glory for Ocean Basket?

As far as government agencies or parastatals that we “love to hate” go, the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) is right up there with Eskom.

The roads agency, it must said from the outset, plays a critical role in the South African economy, designing and building what is still the best highway infrastructure in Africa…the sort of image which is used regularly to set us apart from the rest of the continent.

Yet, Sanral has such a bad public image that the mere name has almost become a swear word.

And that is, as we all know, because of the contentious e-toll project in Gauteng…or, more correctly, from the way the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project was implemented – which millions of road users believe disregarded them.

In the process, the boycott of toll payments has become the biggest single mass defiance campaign in the history of a democratic South Africa.

Most of the damage to Sanral’s image was done by one man, someone you might call the Donald Trump of the civil engineering sector, Nazir Alli, the former CEO of Sanral.

In blustering, dictatorial and often inaccurate tirades, Alli tried to force the concept of electronic toll collection down the throats of the public. And that did not go down well with motorists, whose level of ignorance about the scheme was such that they believed they were being hoodwinked. Marketing Mistake Number One: bad communication.

It didn’t help, of course, that the final cost of the project saw the country saddled with some of the most expensive roads in the world. It didn’t help either that some of the “experts” trotted out by Sanral to justify tolling were guilty of misleading the public.

Now that Alli has left Sanral, one can feel the winds of change in the air.

The organisation has completely changed its “do what we say” approach to one of marketing persuasion. It has realised that it needs to “sell” its product to a public which is constantly battered by more and more price increases.

Rather than bombard us with figures as Alli did (in the hopes maths-challenged people wouldn’t see the logical sleight of hand which was his forte), the “new” Sanral is looking at the benefits roads bring us.

The first ad in the series was flighted some time ago, and focused on the joy in an ordinary family, coming together from all over the country for a celebration. Connecting people via excellent roads. It’s a great ad because it is not only true, it is subtle – as is the best of marketing – and shows Sanral for what it is… a facilitator.

The latest in the series looks at how roads are essential to lving the lives we want. So we see coffee, on its journey from the estate, through roasting to the final, aromatic and deeply satisfying, cup.

Something like 80% or more of our goods are transported by road in this country, so without the efforts of Sanral, our little treats and daily necessities might be more difficult to obtain, or be more expensive.

Elegant point, elegantly made.

Sanral still has a lot to do to redeem itself, especially as e-tolls still has not been resolved – but these ads are an excellent start. They enable us to see the good side of this organisation.

Well done to Sanral and its ad agency, Blueprint. Orchids for your marketing skills…and your bravery.

The problem with using social media for your marketing, as I have said many times, is the danger for any flaws to be magnified and seized upon to actually damage your brand.

Latest in line for that lesson is seafood restaurant chain Ocean Basket, one of my favourite family places.

It generated a bit of a flurry on social media this week when it aired a promotion that many likened to the “glory hole” fad which had its origins in the San Francisco gay bathhouse culture of the ’70s and early ’80s.

Suffice to say that many commentators on social media were reminded of “gloryholes” by Ocean Basket’s hands appearing from holes in a backboard, holding various meals.

Perhaps, as our online colleagues noted on, the comments were more of a judgment on those making them than on Ocean Basket, but, nevertheless, the comments were there. And they were wholly incompatible with the ethos of a family restaurant.

And Ocean Basket may complain till the cows (or cod) come home that this is a misinterpretation of its message but I ask: Why did anyone not foresee the possibility?

Given the “woke” and raucous nature of social media, you have to be extra careful – and you weren’t.

So you get an Onion.

I only hope it was not intentional…

The future of driving may be Kia…and the future of advertising may be – shock! horror! – digital fraud


There are many moments which remain in our memories but, for a petrolhead like me, it will always be the moment I first had control of a car…when I managed to get it moving forward in first gear without stalling and then, because we had a long driveway, a quick change into second gear and braking to a stop.

I guess I have always been fascinated by cars, even before I got behind the wheel of one and the way you can tell I am a true petrolhead is that I will drive anything with wheels – and enjoy it. In my time, I have piloted everything from a Ferrari and a Lamborghini to a Morris Minor and driving has never lost is fascination for me.

In the past few years, the debate about “autonomous driving” has been gathering steam. This envisages a future where electronics, robotics and computers will guide vehicles to their destinations without any human input.
That, to my mind anyway, is like intravenously injecting bags of plastic nutrients into your body when you could be dining on the finest French food.

In this country, thank goodness, autonomous driving is some way off – although some cynics might say a version of it has already arrived because so many vehicles on our roads are not under the control of  human beings…

Interestingly, despite the move towards robotic transport, many motor manufacturers are making more interesting, faster, and more powerful cars aimed at people who love to drive.

That’s why I was drawn to the TV ad for Kia’s new Stinger high-performance sedan.
The car is a radical departure for a brand which has always pitched itself as different – “The Power to Surprise” is its most well-known slogan – because it has been targeted directly at the sporting products from the high-end German manufacturers. And, the motoring journos who’ve tried the car have been astounded at how good it is.

Kia needs to throw a lot of marketing muscle behind the Stinger, though, because the brand is not normally associated with performance. Quality and reliability, yes,…but, up to now, sportiness –  well, not so much.

The challenge has been to convince loyal brand followers to give the Stinger a try.
Around the world, Kia campaigns for the car have focused on its driveability, but, here in South Africa, the brand and its agency, OFYT (Old Friends Young Talent) have managed to put a different, but effective spin on the driving enjoyment aspect.

With the de rigeur shots of the car blasting around a race-track, the ad simply asks one question: What is the future of driving? then it answers it: Maybe the future of driving is actually driving..
It’s a great line, and it sums up the car. I think it will help Kia sell the car in this country, where many of us are not quite prepared to surrender our increasingly guilty pleasures to robots. Not only that, but the ad could have a halo effect for the rest of Kia’s products, which share the same automotive DNA as the Stinger.

So, to Kia South Africa and to OFYT, Orchids for good marketing and for reminding us (not that some of us needed it) that cars are more than just means of transport.

The second biggest criminal enterprise on the planet at the moment – after drugs – is digital advertising. As much as half of all “interactions” in cyberspace come from some form of “bot” – a piece of computer programme which replicates a human. And then there are the “click farms” which, for a modest fee, will drive your product’s, or site’s, all-important numbers into the stratosphere. You can buy shares, likes, users with a few clicks of a mouse. And then you can go and hoodwink the people who are paying you money to use your allegedly enormous numbers as a medium to promote their products.

And that’s without even talking about CTRs (Click Through Rates – or the actual number of times an ad is clicked on), which are generally half a percent or less. In other words, your wonderful digital ad will only be seen by one in every 200 people (or bots).
For me, though, the absurdity of an industry which is doing flick-flacks to convince everyone it is effective, and honest, is the voodoo science around “interactions”.

Excuse me, but I call bullshit on all of it.

Last week, we had experts telling us that the social media and cyberspace debate around the Ashwin Willemse TV walk-off had a “reach” of 3.8 billion. Stupid, uneducated person that I am I asked an expert, Tonya Khoury, how it was possible that around one in two people on the planet were debating something about which, frankly, even the majority of South Africans don’t give a damn.
She explained – as one has to do to an old-fashioned person who still believes the oppressive lie that one and one equals two – that “Reach is the number of outlets & their readership or the number of followers of any tweeter / intagrammer. It doesn’t mean that many people “read” it – it’s the reach of the story. For example #Trump 1 tweet on #Gaza garnered reach of 52M.”

She went on that “some people call it #ImpressionData – I don’t like the term because it gives the impression that the post made an impression :)”

If I assessed our newspaper in the same way, I would say that because we distribute in Gauteng, and Gauteng has a population of 12 million, our reach is 12 million. But then each of those 12 million knows another ten people, so our reach is 120 million. I cannot believe any marketer doesn’t question this.

In the end, Tonya revealed that there were around 150 000 people involved in the “conversation” about Willemse. In others words, one in every 300 people in South Africa.

That’s the reality, not the fanciful dreams of “reach”.

Anyone putting out that garbage gets an Onion from me and any marketer paying the slightest bit of attention to it should explain to his or her company’s shareholders why he’s wasting their cash on listening to bullshit…


The dignity of discipline and labour, contrasting with the invasion of your space…

When I grew up, there was never much money in the house. And, with Irish ancestry, I have a fear of poverty in my DNA, which can probably be traced back to the Irish Famine. So, I am careful with money.

I was, for much of the time my own kids were growing up, also a bit of a disciplinarian – overly so in many instances, I now realise – and it would also irritate me to see their mother “spoil” them on the odd occasion. That, I believed, would turn them into soft spongers and lay-abouts.

I’ve met, and worked with, a few of them in my time: the ones with loaded parents, private school educations and the proverbial silver spoon upbringing…who did not believe they had to work for anything.

Fortunately – and probably thanks to their own efforts, rather than my “spare the rod and spoil the child” belief – both my son and daughter have turned out well. And, interestingly, they are also sensible when it comes to money.

So, I must say, I could relate to the new TV ad for investment specialists Allan Gray.
The message of the ad is the same, basically, as that of every other long-term financial institution: patience and discipline will see your money gradually, but inexorably, grow.
The challenge for Allan Gray and its ad agency, King James II, was to convey that common message in a way which stands out.
The result is a very South African, and very touching, ad.

We see a black family over the course of 50 years. A young boy discovers early on that his disciplinarian father always wants a “cut” of any money he earns – whether it’s carting bricks or selling vetkoek. As the boy grows up, heads to the big city and gets a job, he continues to send money back home – in cash or in postal orders (anyone remember those?).

It always seems as though he is giving, giving, giving to the old man. Finally, when his father dies and the formalities are being concluded, he discovers that his father has been keeping a detailed ledger over all the years – saving the money, which now goes back to his son. The message is, appropriately, “true rewards take time”.

The ad is beautifully shot, in black and white, by director Pete Pohorsky of Plank Productions and the attention to detail in the clothing, props and locations is impressive, creating a memorable period piece.

But the ad goes further than that – as all outstanding advertising does – by making a social contribution, even though that was not the intent. From my perspective, you cannot watch this ad – especially as a white person – and deny that black people in this country have had a huge struggle. You are reminded of this in the scene where the dutiful son collects his postal order from the window marked “Net Nie-Blankes” (Non-Whites Only).

At the same time, you are reminded – whoever you are – of the dignity there is in discipline and working hard… values which are sometimes hard to find in today’s society.

Yet again, the advertising of Allan Gray makes you stop and pause for thought, in so many ways. So Orchids to Allan Gray, King James II and Plank Productions. It’s a time reminder that our ad industry hasn’t lost the ability to tell spell-binding tales…

If I had a buck for every time some genius has tried to tell me the “future of advertising is mobile”, I could have bought myself a tropical island. The reality is that a lot of advertising which comes through to your phone is borderline, and even actually, fraudulent. If you have to force something down people’s throats it’s an acknowledgment how ineffective mobile is as an advertising medium.

So, everybody reading this will have encountered the spam SMS messages – because we all know the biggest dodgy industry in this country is data base marketing – and the “robocall” phenomenon. This is where your phone will ring and, hardly have you said “good morning” than an automated, recorded message starts playing. That’s intrusive marketing at its worst.

The latest one to annoy me comes from this phone number – 010 590 8977 – so if this one ever pops up on your screen, don’t answer it.

The one which disturbed my day was from an outfit called “Doctor, Doctor”, offering some sort of assistance for R5 a day. You press “1” and you’re automatically signed up. You can press “9” to “opt out” – but you just know that won’t work because they system will flag you as a real human being and you will be on a call list for eternity.

This number has come up on a few number-tracking sites and the user comments are uniformly angry, and negative. I understand that, because having this is like having burglars bust into your house. I cannot understand why so many big brands – FNB and Edgars have been cited by complainants as using this marketing system and number – get involved.

This actually harms your brand and makes people angry. So Onion to 010 590 8977 – please pass this number on to everyone you know – and to Doctor, Doctor for using this dodgy service.

Cheers, from the lads, to Windhoek Lager – but, FNB, How the Hell can we believe you?

Beer is, for the most part, a product for men. They are, by far, the majority of its consumers and, therefore, the advertising is generally directed at them. And over the years, beer advertising as a genre has generated some good ads and some shockers.

The ads which fail are those which lose sight of the reality that men are, in fact, just big boys…and they get amused by little things. And they are amused by the fact of being boys – and doing the things only boys can do in that little, exclusive club of theirs.

Interestingly, when it comes to sexist attitudes, race doesn’t come into it…
What boys don’t really like is when their beer brand tries to preach to them or, even worse, when it tries to pretend it is something it is not, or to paint a false reality. That, in a beer cap, was what made the Carling Black Label ads of the 80s and 90s so cringe-worthy. The white bosses and black labourers simply did not get together – after a hard day building dams, rescuing damsels in distress, or even getting kittens out of high trees – and sink a Carling round a braai fire.

That was the sort of ideal society the Soviet propagandists used to portray – while everybody on the ground knew the harsh reality.

Windhoek beer (in this case Lager, but also its other, lesser-known brands) has always been my favourite. I lived in Namibia for almost five years and it was the drink of choice for the boys (women would only occasionally have a Windhoek Light, and normally only if it was a lunchtime braai). When I came to South Africa, I found it very difficult to find Windhoek products. I couldn’t stand any of the SA Breweries equivalents, so I switched to wine. And that’s where I’ve stayed…except for the occasional hot day or when we have beer-drinking guests. And out comes the Windhoek.

So I am still fiercely loyal to the brand, as are many men…and it hurt me to give Windhoek a marketing Onion some months ago for their silly Carling Black Label copycat ad supposedly telling the story of the Windhoek Brewery and how everybody – black and white – came together in a crisis in the 1930s. Rubbish…

I wondered then why they hadn’t continued their earlier ad idea of a slightly mocking portrayal of the silliness of men (and we can laugh at ourselves).
I am glad they’ve got that groove back, though, with their latest TV ad, because it speaks to all of the good and bad things about men.

We see a couple – young and, we suppose, in love – as they watch a magical sunset over the sea. The dolphins perform for them, forming a romantic heart, as do the birds flying past. Even the clouds form a cute heart.
She turns to him and asks: “Can it get any more perfect?” He’s about to agree, when his eye falls on a neighbour, sitting with a woman, both with bottles of Windhoek Lager in hand.

He doesn’t have one in his hand and his envy is as green as the beer bottle. A tear comes to his eyes. She thinks it’s because he’s a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) and she wipes it gently away. But we know the truth.

Parting a man from his beer will make him cry. And that’s what reminds us why we love the brand, not the silly fake kum- ba-yah moments.

Great ad from a great beer, so it gets an Orchid from me.
So, this one falls in the “pull the other leg please” category. First National Bank has, according to the SMS it sent me last week, changed the way its ATMs operate. Now, if you make a withdrawal, you card will be spat out of the machine before the cash.
So, said the SMS, “Do not walk away. PLEASE wait for your cash.”

What intrigued me, though, was the first line of the SMS: “You spoke and we listened.” In other words, the implication is that consumers wanted this change. No-one asked me. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else actually asked the bank.

I don’t think so. I think they just decided to change the system, because their techies said so…or to use the same standards as others.

So this week’s “How the hell can we believe you” Onion goes to FNB…


Of Hope and Hate Speech…different approaches by South African marketers

Over the long weekend, I did something I had sworn I never would: I watched the movie of the book “The Bang Bang Club”. I didn’t want to because I knew I would be angry at the distortion of the story of the news photographers who covered the township violence in the 1990s.

When I did watch, I was angered by the strange, American accent of the man playing Kevin Carter, a man I worked with during that time. Other parts of the movie were pure, and silly, fiction.

But when I saw the scenes of newspeople cowering behind walls in the midst of a Tokoza or Katlehong firefight, I was transported back there, to when I was trying my best, as a reporter, to make sense of the violence and chaos that was South Africa lurching towards democracy.

On some of those dreadful days – and again after having three of my ribs broken by an angry white, right-winger in a small Free State town – I despaired. The country looked perched on the brink of a bloody civil war.

The ghosts of assignments past brought some diverse memories which intersected for me over the long weekend. April 27 is our anniversary so there were all of those happy, and not-so-happy, times to remember and to give thanks we’re still here.

And April 27 was the also anniversary of the birth of the New South Africa. Given the state we’re in at the moment, it takes a very brave soul to even mention the word Hope.
That same feeling of pessimism I had 25 years ago creeps up at moments now, as the gulf between races looks wider than ever, and as anger becomes our national anthem.

So it was interesting to see the new #HopeJoanna campaign, also launched over the weekend. Set to the tune of Eddie Grant’s iconic anti-apartheid anthem Give me hope Jo’Anna, the video features a seamless blend of actual news footage and re-enacted scenes from our turbulent – but also triumphant – past.
So there are the police Land Rovers spewing tear gas from big fans, the kids throwing petrol bombs at Casspirs; Mandela’s fist in the air as he walks free from prison; the war on the East Rand (also very accurate, at least as I recall it); Chris Hani’s assassination; the triumphs in the Rugby World Cup and African Cup of Nations; our own World Cup pageant; the #RhodesMustFall campaign.

The video closes with footage of President Cyril Ramaphosa promising a “New dawn” and we see the little girl who was in the opening frames, now grown up with her own child, her own Joanna, and her own new Hope.

The timing of the release of the campaign – the video is on YouTube and may well appear elsewhere – can be questioned, given that we are in the midst of a collective national mood of near-hate and the realisation that the “Rainbow Nation” was never anything more than a comforting political mirage.
Yet, because of that, perhaps now is the time we need to sit back; assess where we have come from, how close we came to disaster…and make sure we again steer ourselves away from the brink.

The video is a collaborative effort from a number of people but they can pass along the Orchids – people like Grid Worldwide, The Bomb Shelter (which produced the video), Rob Roy Music (which was responsible for the music) and Freshly Ground, for putting their unique signature to Eddie Grant’s classic.

As you all say in the video: When we have Hope, we have everything…


When you tout yourself, and your agency, as being right at the top of the happening digital pyramid, then you shouldn’t do a Helen Zille on Twitter and post things which lead people to seriously question not only your judgment but of the prospect of doing business with you, given your political beliefs.

Such was the position VML’s head honcho, Jarred Cinman, found himself in last week after Tweeting that he hoped Afriforum’s Ernst Roets and Kallie Kriel – off overseas to gain support for allegedly beleaguered white South Africans – would die on the way.

Cinman deleted the Tweet chop-chop and apologised, but got a roasting anway. And rightly so. When you are involved in any form of marketing, dude, Rule Number One: You are not the target market. You should keep your views to yourself, because not everyone will share them…and those who don’t won’t do business with you.

You are a brand, just as your agency is – and you have just badly damaged it with your juvenile hate speech.
In the end, this is not even about Afriforum, it’s about marketing recklessness, for which you (and because you are so closely associated the agency), VML, get our Hate Speech Onion.





Tales of great marketing communication from our own political Twilight Zone – and Volvo breaks the advertising mould

There are times, in modern-day South Africa, when you feel as though you have woken up in some sort of Twilight Zone – where things are upside down, or not where you expect them to be.

So, in the past week or so, we have seen the Democratic Alliance – via Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba – proposing a highly socialist and anti-free market housing policy which will force property developers to set aside portions of any new development for low-cost rentals. The policy did not originate from the comrades at either the ANC or the EFF…

Then we have the almost surreal picture of the new ANC administration under President Cyril Ramaphosa preparing to do battle with labour unions in a manner which would have done the “Iron lady” – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – proud.

Most stunning aspect about the new tough stance on the unions was a piece of marketing communication from the Department of Labour. It was a no-holds-barred warning to unions by Thembinkosi Mkalipi, Chief Director for Collective Bargaining in the Department of Labour, which ran as an ad in a number of newspapers recently.

It stood out like the proverbial sore thumb because, clearly, it had been written by a journalist or writer, no doubt with some tabloid experience – and to a “scare them shitless” brief from the client.

dept labour

Mkalipi used very un-bureaucratic language in warning the unions that, if they did not get their houses in order with regards to strike ballots and picketing issues, “We will deregister you and you know the consequences.”

Among those consequences, would be that the union would not be able to represent its members at CCMA hearings and the union would not be able to go to the Labour Court either.

“All hell will break loose. Your competitor will approach your members saying: you are wasting your time with this union”.

Very strong stuff indeed, especially from a department which has long been accused of being a sucker for workers and an enemy of business and of hampering the process of job creation and even investment.

There were plenty of other instances of tabloid language – “hot issue”, “chilling message to labour” and “dire consequences” – making the overall ad radically different from the often mealie-mouthed government communication. Mkalipi also resisted the temptation to have his photo adorn the piece, as many other ministers, MECs and even directors-general often do.

The message will not have gone down well with labour – but that is not what we are discussing here. The department’s ad set new standards for plain-talking government communication. It was easy, and interesting, to read.

Long may it continue – and let’s hope other departments follow this example.

An Orchid to the Department of Labour and to whoever wrote this “take no prisoners” piece of communication.

There is a weird, but attractive Volvo ad flighting on TV at the moment for the company’s XC40 SUV.

Set to a new version of the song “My Favourite Things”, from the Sound of Music (yes, really), the ad supposedly tells the story of a young woman looking, in a disillusioned way, at the hectic, shallow modern world around her – in which consumerism and advertising play a major part.

The way the ad has been edited for South Africa focuses on the car itself, ending up with it being one of her “favourite things” – somewhere she can get back to her happy space.

As such it does work, but it will be interesting to see if Volvo follows through with the full ad, which promotes a programme called “Care” – where people can rent, rather than own the XC40. Or, as Volvo puts it, “the car you can subscribe to”.

The punchline in that, overseas, version is clever, and thought-provoking: By not owning things, you are not owned by things”.

That’s a direct appeal to all the modern and the modern-at-heart who are financially comfortable enough to make such statements. It’s alluring: I am free. I go where I want.

Of course, I live in a nice apartment, no doubt I know where to get the best espresso and I rent my car… But, still part of the system lovey.

But, overall, the ad is quirky and intriguing. Volvo is still considering whether the Care scheme can be introduced in this country…we will only know sometime next year.

But, even as it stands, the ad has a magnetic quality, luring you in by piquing your curiosity. And it works here to sell (as opposed to subscribe to)a car, so it gets an Orchid from me.

The Onion this week goes to Telkom. They want me to take fibre and, oddly enough, just as they set up their little marketing gazebo on the corner near us, my ADSL line goes on the blink…as does the phone.

Funny coincidence, guys? I don’t think so. I think it is cynical marketing to push me to go fibre while you allow the copper-based system to continue to deteriorate.

My question: Why should I reward you for treating me like dirt? Do I look like an ANC supporter in Mahikeng?

Forcing me to even ask that question means you have one very irate customer. That’s bad marketing. That’s an Onion, Telkom.

Getting lost in translation is one thing, but using someone else’s incorrect, and dangerous, garbage is something totally different

I am not always convinced that a brand which makes arbitrary funny gags as “content” – which is light on, or even missing, a marketing message – is doing the right thing. A brand exists to sell its product or service, not to entertain.

Having said that, though, the most memorable ads are the ones which not only make you smile or laugh, but which also have a strong link to the brand.

So I am a bit torn about the latest ad for King Price insurance, which was put up on their Facebook page and, thanks to assiduous marketing and social media plugging, has “gone viral”. I am conflicted because it is indeed funny – and very South African – but there is no obvious link to an insurance product.

King Price maintains that the link is that, in the ad, something major gets “lost in translation”, much as insurance companies and their customers often don’t communicate clearly enough.

That “lost in translation” joke apparently is an adaptation of a joke told by the father of Bennie Fourie. Fourie junior styles himself as a “writer/actor/film-maker” and he has set up a production/company/agency with the like-minded and experienced Bouwer Bosch. Their company, Freckle, came up with the concept and made it a production reality.

What we see is an ordinary day on the “plaas”. A worker is toting a bale of hay around when he hears seductive music coming from one of the barns. He peeps around the door and is shocked to see the “boer” almost “making love” to a very old, and very battered, tractor. It’s all swoons and gyrations and pouting of lips. (In that sense, it reminds me very much of “Boet” from the old Castrol “Can of the Best” ads from back in the day.)
When the boer realises he being watched, he ruefully explains (in Afrikaans) that he has been having some problems in the “love department” and that the “Engelse dokter” in the drop had recommended that he “do something sexy to attract her”… and that gets lost in translation to end up as “do something sexy to a tractor…”

It’s a bit corny but you can’t help but smile. And we certainly need things to cheer us up in this current South African reality. It’s difficult to think badly about someone, or something, which has made you smile.

Something like this does get people talking and, when it goes viral, then a brand gets to far more places. So that’s clever marketing. An Orchid for King Price and for Freckle.

An organisation branded “Arrive Alive” would surely not be careless or cavalier when it comes to road safety…that’s what you would think, anyway.

Yet, it has just made itself guilty of the same unthinking, and reckless social media sharing which has got many into trouble. More than that, though, it is guilty of posting something potentially dangerous.

This piece of “fake news” Tweeted by Arrive Alive came from
It posed the legitimate question about what you would do if you discovered you were running out of fuel on the highway. But – and this is a huge but – the material used in answer to that question was a heap of rubbish, which appears to have originated in America and then been put into an amateurish graphic in the Philippines. I am not kidding…

There are plenty are Americanisms – references to “gas”, “miles”, “mph” (miles per hour if you can remember that far back or were not around in the 1970s, when South Africa switched to the Metric system) – as well as mixed-up tenses (a common Americanism) but also just plain bad writing. Example: “If this unfortunately happens to you, have a presence of mind”.

Then there is also a silly reference to being able to download an app, which will enable you to have fuel delivered. In South Africa?

But the worst, and most dangerous, piece of this idiocy is the recommendation that, as soon as you see you are about to run out of fuel, “Get into the right lane immediately…”
That’s fine in the USA, where they drive on the right and the right hand lane is the slow lane. In this country, it is the opposite. Getting into the fast lane and slowing down to save fuel, will almost certainly help you “Arrive Not Alive”.

arrive alive

This is a warning to all those people responsible for a brand’s social media: get your facts right. Just because someone else posted it doesn’t mean it’s either correct or appropriate.
An Onion to, as well as to Arrive Alive. Remove this rubbish as soon as possible from the information superhighway.


Country roads, take me home… to the ad which makes me want to take a road trip.

One of my greatest pleasures is a road trip. Getting up before sunrise, packing, with the aroma of the bacon-and-egg sarmies wafting through the car, almost as heady as the anticipation in the air. And this country, South Africa, has provided me, and my family, with some amazing memories.

In the old days, the then SA tourism body, Satour, used to have a slogan which talked about a “world in one country”. Even though that’s not used today, it is still apt. There is so much to see and do within the borders of this country that you sometimes have to wonder why you would go anywhere else.

I’ve sat amazed when friends and colleagues talk to me about trips overseas, yet they have not travelled the Garden Route or looked out over the Blyde River Canyon…

And, when you see a great ad which speaks to the idea of a road trip, the accelerator foot gets itchy again. Such was the case for me with the latest spot for SA Tourism’s Sho’t Left campaign to get people to see their own country.

It’s all so familiar: the early morning, the car packing, the sarmies, and, especially, the excitement. The ads takes us across the breadth of the country, from beautiful beaches to magnificent mountains, to exotic eateries. All the while, it’s about fun.

The interesting thing about the ad – and one cannot ignore this in a country as obsessed with race as we are – is that the only people in it are black. Now, in anticipation of the howls of “racism!” from whiteys, I think it is intelligent marketing.
The reality about the South African tourism scene is that black people are only now – 24 years after the end of apartheid – starting to travel more inside their own country. They will be the lifeblood which keep the tourism industry growing into the future. Yet, the long-awaited “freedom dividend” for the industry is still some way off.
There are still places in South Africa where black people feel uncomfortable because they are dominated by white guests. The ad doesn’t, correctly, address that, but seeks to convey to young, black, upwardly mobile people, what they have on their own doorstep.
In doing so, there is a vibe and an energy which should really make even the old fart whiteys like me yearn to get out there. And I did, despite the fact that the first time I saw the SA Tourism ad, I had just got back from a magic weekend in the Groot Marico.

So Orchids to SA Tourism, to FCB Joburg and to Ola! Films. And I only have one thing to add: Forests! I need to breathe the clean air of forests and mountains…

I have tried to stay away from commenting on the controversial listing/non-listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange of the Sagarmatha Technologies group…mainly because they will accuse me of attacking them because they are our competitors (they are the company which, effectively, runs Independent Newspapers).

I cannot comment on the very convoluted and technical financial stories I have read about the so-called tech behemoth which should have had a market capitalisation of R50 billion. However, there are a couple of curiosities from a marketing point of view which, while they might not deserve an outright Onion, certainly deserve a comment.

The use of words in a marketing context is critical, because they say so much about you and your products – and particularly in ways you never intended. And there are a few words used by Sagaramatha which make you wonder if they had any professional advice about corporate identity.

The references to the “Galactic Superhighway” – upon which this giant is about to travel – are nonsensical. Galactic? Are you going into space? Superhighway? What? Isn’t that just an outdated way of describing the Internet (with Information ahead of it)? This sort of language might appeal to fans of TV’s Big Bang Theory comedy…but serious investors? Not such.

Then there is the big noise about the group is that it is going to be Africa’s answer to Google, Amazon etc. So why on Earth name the company after an Asian landmark, Mount Everest, and use its local name? What would have been wrong with Kilimanjaro, or Zambezi, for instance?

The next curiosity is the insistence that the group is a stock market “Unicorn” – i.e. a tech start-up with a market cap of more than 1 billion US dollars.
The Unicorn is, though, a mythical beast. Pretty much like Sagarmatha’s JSE listing, which was abandoned last week when the exchange said the group had failed to meet the technical requirements.

If words are not really that important, then why not rename the Group “Titanic Limited”?

Orchids for Wimpy cuteness – but Onions for PR sloppiness…

There’s cute and there’s cute and knowing how not to overdo it or get too twee and clever – that’s what makes the difference between ordinary and great advertising.

I recently panned Sanlam for using a precocious, overly cute girl in one of its ads…but now along comes Wimpy and gets it just right.

Ad agency FCB Joburg have a knack of getting the tone and South African-ness of their ads just right and the Wimpy series of recent years has been entertaining and funny.
The one ad which got everybody going “aww” was the one about “Mr Cuddles”, the giant furry teddy bear who, apparently, plays a major role in the family. The first time we saw Mr Cuddles, he was being blamed by the greedy Dad, who could not stop himself from nicking some of Mum’s cheese-griller sausages when she went to the loo.
“Mr Cuddles took them, I swear,” was Dad’s transparent little lie. That, in turn, got his cute daughter to raise her eyebrows in that look that every idiot father knows so well…”

“This guy,” she sighed.

In the latest episode, the family are again in a Wimpy and the daughter asks Dad if he can remember the time he blamed Mr Cuddles for stealing the cheese grillers. “Yes…” he responds, a little hesitantly.

“Well,” she says with that Madam-type attitude that we Dads know well, “Now it’s payback time”.
She reaches over to take away Dad’s delicious-looking milkshake. He pulls it back: “Don’t you think you’re a little too big for Mr Cuddles now?”

Her response, as she takes his milkshake away again, is: “Don’t you think you’re a little too big for this milkshake now?”

Good point. He could use with losing a bit of weight. He turns to his wife, who giggles, not terribly supportive at all.


It’s simple. It’s funny. It continues a long-running gag. And, in all that, it also showcases Wimpy’s tempting food…and the fact that it’s a great place for a family meal.

And so, another Orchid for Wimpy and one for FCB Joburg, as well as for Egg Films. You’re not too big for one of those…

Let’s call this next section: “Why you should read your press releases before sending them out to the cynical media…”

A couple of weeks ago I got a release from MasterDrive South Africa, which talked about the troubles at the Road Accident Fund.

Firstly, it referred to the things being done at the fund to “stabalise the liabilities” of the fund. The word is, actually, stabilise, people.

Worse was to come, though, as someone described as “Herbert” began making comments about the situation. There was no clue as to whether his first name or surname was Herbert and who he was within the MasterDrive organisation. Maybe he was Mr Cuddles’s brother, who knows? The release didn’t give any clues.

Sloppy press release writing and even sloppier checking, so PR Onion Number 1 to MasterDrive. I hope your vehicular coaching is better than your communication skills.

PR Onion Number 2 goes to one Londeka Ngubane, of Training24 at an organisation called

The email with the release was titled “Creative Writting for Business & Media”. In details of the R8 grand per delegate writing (one t) course asmcomm was offering, there was a section on “proof reading”.

Presumably you will be on that course, Londeka…

But this sort of thing should not be left to one person. If you are serious about accuracy – which is, after all, what you claim to be able to teach people – make sure you are accurate.


When cute becomes cloying and how to win (and lose) at the car insurance business

Sometimes cute does work in advertising. And sometimes, as a critic of advertising, if you pan something which is cute – or, even more dangerous, includes an animal – you incur the wrath of diverse constituencies, whose hate mail wishes you all manner of unpleasantness.

I learned that the hard way some years ago when I had a go at “Buddy”, Toyota’s long-served Boxer dog, which featured in a series of ads over a long time. I suggested that it was time he was put down…
South Africans do love their dogs…and their Toyotas. And they do love cute.

But I think cute for cute’s sake can detract from the serious point you’re trying to make in your advertising.

Just in case you think it is just me, the grumpy old git, again, let me point out that when latest TV commercial for Sanlam comes on, it’s my wife who yells at me “Change the Channel!” (seriously, which household is it where the women have control over the remote on a normal TV night?).

Titled “Bright Idea” (yo, cool one, copywriting dudes), it features weapons-grade cuteness in the form of a little bicycle-riding girl. She pedals through the streets of a town on the outskirts of San Francisco (and tells us so in what is quite clearly a South African accent) and then heads for a local fire station where, so Wikipedia tells us, a light bulb has been burning continuously (other one or two times it was switched off) for more than 116 years.

With a wise head (and and even wiser copywriter), Miss Cutie Pie asks: “Why can’t we make things to last?”


Cue Sanlam, which will make your money last and keep it going, just like that light bulb.

You went all the way to the States with a local kid (unless you dubbed the sound track afterwards) to make this ad? Didn’t we have anything locally which could have made the same point?

But what really irks me is the cloying cuteness of the whole thing. I’d prefer the people looking after my money to be expert, rather than cute.

So, Sanlam, you get a long-lasting Onion (this will go online and, as people are now beginning to realise, nothing ever dies in cyberspace, so it will be around, somewhere, far into the future.

After starting off with an Onion, I’ll follow it up will another well-deserved Orchid for the people at agency Joe Public (this time Joe Public Unlimited) for the thought-provoking activation they did on behalf on the Apartheid Museum on Human Rights Day.

At selected restaurants around the country, patrons who ate there were presented with an extra bill, that of the human cost of Apartheid.

It was done just like a restaurant bill – but with lives, instead of Rands and cents. And it was sobering. A reminder that the day was not just a “day off” for wining and dining, but for remembering those who sacrificed to get us to where we are today.

bill or rights final
Excellent piece of work, So Orchids to the Apartheid Museum and to Joe Public Unlimited, particularly, for proving that advertising and marketing does have some redeeming social value.

And now for an interesting tale about the power of advertising.

I have been insured through a firm of brokers for ten years, with only one claim and no hassles. This year, when renewal time came around and I had no response to some urgent queries, I got in a huff.

Instantly, thanks to the call-to-action marketing out there, I went on to get some comparison quotes. After giving details online, I was called back in double quick time and gave some more details, and again in double quick time, got a number of different quotes.

DialDirect was a name which stuck in my mind (as did the five others mind you) and, because it was at the top of the list, I opted for that.

Again, very efficient follow up (within minutes). Gave even more detail and was then sent a detailed quote. I had a query on that, which was handled quickly. Then, finally, and ready to sign, I sent an email to confirm where the insured vehicles would be parked during the day, wanting to be absolutely accurate (as they tell you to be when dealing with insurance).

Three weeks later, I am still waiting for a call back from DialDirect.

That didn’t do much for my mood, so I contacted OUTsurance – this time my train of thought was started by a OUTsurance-branded licence disc holder lying on my desk.
And, surprise, surprise, OutSurance lived up to its claims (or more correctly, the claims of its customers) in its current TV commercials: good, friendly service (even if there were a few extra calls to correct mistakes) and a good rate.


I save R4 000 annually on two cars. And no, I am not being paid to say this.

So, for living up to your promises, OutSurance, you get an Orchid from me.

But, as for DialDirect, I am considering giving you the Onion of Lost Opportunities…but I will get back to you on that. I promise…