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
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