Are lo­cal brands miss­ing the mark? If brands want to be rel­e­vant to black con­sumers, they are go­ing to have to do more than sim­ply ‘black-ver­tise’. Crit­ics say there are only a few South African brands that have man­aged to do go deeper with their brand me

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while the tone and style of lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions has un­doubt­edly be­come far more rel­e­vant to the aver­age SA con­sumer in re­cent years, many ar­gue that it is still largely coloured by a Western nar­ra­tive. In­deed, if one glances through mag­a­zines or spends time chan­nel surf­ing, most ad­ver­tis­ing ap­pears to de­pict a de­cid­edly Euro­pean or North Amer­i­can con­text – not a proudly African or South African one. But, as lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing pro­fes­sion­als point out, the so­lu­tion is not sim­ply to ‘black-ver­tise’ and in­sert tired racial stereo­types into ads – it re­quires delv­ing far deeper into re­al­i­ties that ex­tend be­yond race.

“It’s not so much that the nar­ra­tive is Western, it’s just that it is pro­foundly un­in­ter­est­ing,” ar­gues Ka­belo Leh­long­wane, deputy strat­egy di­rec­tor at ad agency FCB Joburg. “When mar­keters ‘black-ver­tise’ they tend to­wards that which barely scratches the sur­face of who we are.”

Ac­cord­ing to Leh­long­wane, lo­cal mar­keters thus tend to­wards sto­ries that re­flect “first-base ob­ser­va­tions”.

“This makes the work a lit­tle shal­low – and there­fore off the mark,” he adds. “It’s why it feels ‘not black enough’, which is dif­fer­ent from it be­ing ‘too Western’.”

In his view, lo­cal brands are at­tempt­ing to tai­lor their work to re­flect lo­cal con­texts and re­al­i­ties, but end up work­ing off mis­cal­cu­lated “and some­times weird” ideas of what it means to be black.

“It’s all ‘black peo­ple are mu­si­cally in­clined and like to dance so we’ll sell them every­thing from chicken to cell­phone con­tracts by show­ing other blacks danc­ing’ and so on,” ex­plains Leh­long­wane. “And I’m not at all sug­gest­ing that it’s wrong to show black peo­ple (or peo­ple of any race) danc­ing. It’s just that danc­ing blacks can’t be the be­gin­ning and end of the way we talk to peo­ple sim­ply be­cause we’ve got noth­ing else sub­stan­tial to go on…”

Ni­cole Shapiro, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of brand at Added Value S.A., a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy, agrees that many lo­cal brands are try­ing to be rel­e­vant by tap­ping into “cheesy, and of­ten of­fen­sive, stereo­types”.

While she points to KOO and Cas­tle Lager as ex­am­ples of brands hit­ting the mark, she notes that “there are only a hand­ful of brands” re­ally get­ting it right.

“Al­though South Africa has pro­duced a num­ber of iconic brands, which have be­come part of the fab­ric of our so­ci­ety, there’s still a great deal of ‘wasted’ ad­ver­tis­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions with lit­tle im­pact be­cause it’s sim­ply not rel­e­vant in the mar­ket,” she says.

Be­sides us­ing stereo­types, she notes that brands also tend to “ap­ply” in­ter­na­tional cam­paigns in the lo­cal mar­ket with lim­ited im­pact and suc­cess.

“They are merely re­pro­duc­ing in­ter­na­tional cam­paigns and ideas with some lo­cal ac­tors, think­ing that will hit the sweet spot,” ex­plains Shapiro.

That said, she main­tains that there is “strong in­tent” among lo­cal brands and com­pa­nies to re-tar­get their propo­si­tions to speak rel­e­vantly to black con­sumers.

“For in­stance, think about the al­co­hol cat­e­gory: over the last few years, there have been a num­ber of es­tab­lished brands that ini­tially tar­geted the older, white, tra­di­tional males and now are clearly chang­ing their strate­gic in­tent and fo­cus – Bell’s, Klip­drift, Oude Meester and Grant’s im­me­di­ately spring to mind.”

Ni­cole Shapiro As­so­ciate di­rec­tor of brand

at Added Value S.A.

Ka­belo Leh­long­wane Deputy strat­egy di­rec­tor

at FCB Joburg

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