I’ve always thought South Africa has talented people in abundance on the creative side of the ad industry. They stand out from their counterparts in other parts of the world because they can go where angels fear to tread when it comes to controversial ideas and story lines.
I think that’s part of who we are as South Africans: we’ve always been able to laugh at ourselves and, given that we’re still pretty much a lawless frontier society, we take chances.
Sadly, the edge has been dulled in advertising. Brands are getting more concerned about public opinion – and especially the dreaded “social media backlash” (you understand this, don’t you, Fireworks?). So, creatives are being pushed towards the centre: to bland; to the place where there is less chance of offending.
So, it’s interesting to see a home-grown creative guy stirring things up in the US in recent weeks, with the sort of risque (borderline tasteless, some might argue) copywriting which used to be common here not so long ago.
Melusi Mhlungu works for the David agency in Miami, Florida, and was reportedly the copywriter behind a talked-about Super Bowl commercial for the Devour instant meal range by HeinzKraft. The Super bowl is the Mount Olympus of US advertising, with slots costing millions of dollars for 30 seconds of TV time … and there is a huge audience. To have your work aired is a triumph; to have it talked about all over the world is amazing.
Mhlungu’s idea is of a couple where one has a “porn” addiction – but to three-minute food porn. So we see a desperate woman describing how her man is constantly at it, how she’s tried to “spice things up” and when that didn’t work, she joined in.
There are two versions of the ad, the censored and purified 30-second one – which refers merely to addiction and not porn – and which aired at the Super Bowl. However, the uncensored version has been flying virally on social media. I understand why they cut it: the longer, smutty version is just too tacky (with its constant sly references to masturbation). Not the sort of thing which will get your appetite going for any kind of food …
Still, the concept of food addiction portrayed in this way – where you have to have Devour’s meals or nothing else – works very well.
So, even though it’s not going to flight in South Africa, I still think the ad deserves an Orchid and Mhlungu gets a special Expatriate Orchid for reminding us that we can still rock the ad business.
While on the subject of South African ad copywriting and how the best examples of it tap into news events or common foibles and behaviour, I think the Tops at Spar “Sip of the Nation” social media campaign, which played on the much-anticipated State of the Nation address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday night, was just stretching it too much.
Not awful, but just a little tired – not to mention cynically opportunistic. I suppose the rationale was that some may have celebrated the speech and others may have wanted to drown their sorrows … and all could have gone to Tops at Spar (the chain’s booze shops) to buy their tipple.
Sorry, guys, but it leaves me colder than the Windhoek Lager in your fridges. So you’ll get an Onion from me.
Ask the Nando’s people how to do it properly …
Finally, on a grammatically pedantic note, I award the Correct Use of English Orchid this week to Bush Breaks. Its radio ad almost made me want to weep, because, for once, someone in South Africa – in the ad industry, in the media, just in everyday life – got it right.
The ad said something like: “When did you last experience the thrill of the bush?”
The vast majority of South Africans, including those who should know better, would have written that as “When last did you experience …”
That second one, people, is a literal English translation of the correct Afrikaans, wanneer laas het jy ... But it is not English.
I suppose that by next week Wednesday some chop will get so annoyed with this Onion he will come and throw me with a brick.