Happy days are here again

Finweek English Edition - - Advertising & Marketing -

THE COVER GIVES a clue to the kind of waspish, ironic hu­mour within. It de­picts a head­less black man hold­ing a de­ter­gent box la­belled “Newish, im­proved SOUTH AFRICA” and promis­ing “Gets rid of those stub­born whites!” and “brings out the bril­liance in blacks!”

The ti­tle of Happy Nt­shingila’s book Black Jerusalem was in­spired by Carly Si­mon’s fem­i­nist an­them Let The River Run that was the theme song of the 1980 movie 9 to 5.

Nt­shingila was one of the three founders of the quirk­ily named Herd­Buoys ad agency that later be­came Herd­Buoys McCann. Now head of mar­ket­ing at Absa, he’s writ­ten a highly per­son­alised ac­count of those early days – with con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion given to the bug­bear of any ad-man’s life: the new-busi­ness pitch. The book is amus­ing, likely to be chal­lenged by peo­ple with a dif­fer­ent mem­ory of events and some­times comes close to li­bel.

As he wrote in his in­for­mal, quaintly Run­yanesque style: “The Coca-Cola Com­pany’s ar­ro­gance is a well-doc­u­mented truth that at times has helped them, at other times has tripped them up and at most times has in­fu­ri­ated those who have had to deal with them.

“This boy (Coca-Cola’s Ben Lang­don) was on the up and up and he didn’t care whether the bodies he was climb­ing over were dead or alive; al­though if pressed for a pref­er­ence I think he would have in­clined to­wards the cold va­ri­ety.”

Pressed by Lang­don in an “in­ap­pro­pri­ately worded email” to fix the Coca-Cola prob­lem, Nt­shingila re­sponded: “Dear Ben: Piss off.”

Herd­Buoys man­age­ment wasn’t im­pressed when other black agen­cies jumped, as they saw it, on to its band­wagon. Nt­shingila writes: “Af­ter Herd­Buoys had es­tab­lished it­self, a crop of other so-called black agen­cies sprung up; mostly trans­par­ently ill-con­ceived at­tempts con­sti­tut­ing black man­age­ment with white to­kens who were old and looking for a pen­sion plan. The most il­lus­tra­tive ex­am­ple was Aza­guys, who couldn’t even be both­ered to come up with an orig­i­nal name.

“What made mat­ters in­ter­est­ing was the chief Aza­guy him­self, Sipho Luthuli. This man, who was to ad­ver­tis­ing what Mike Tyson was to the evo­lu­tion of man, made a lot of noise by claim­ing he was go­ing af­ter Herd­Buoys’ busi­ness.” Bru­tally frank sums it up.

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