E-toll spat a PR car crash
THERE is a cynical adage that a lawyer who falls overboard into the great white-infested Indian Ocean would be pretty safe: the sharks would leave him (or her) alone… out of professional courtesy.
Over the past few years, it has been interesting to see how law firms have started to dip their toes into the world of marketing as they chase briefs here and there. This has produced some interesting advertising, mainly in print and mainly in the pages of financial publications like Business Report – but it has so far not attracted what we might call popular attention.
Until this week, that is, when there was an unseemly public spat between two legal firms around the subject of e-tolls. All it was, really, was some comparative marketing.
First up was Findlay & Niemeyer Inc, which went public with an offer to defend any e-toll road user who gets dragged to court by Sanral.
Then came Patrick Bracher, a director at the legal firm Norton Rose Fulbright, who opined that the offer amounted to “incitement to commit a crime” because the Constitutional Court had already supposedly dealt with the question of the fairness of e-tolls in Gauteng.
“Somebody could be motivated by this to break a law while being under the impression that it is not a valid law,” said Bracher.
Well, someone had to try and pour cold water on the marketing bonfire the Findlays offer became – websites and social media were ablaze with positive comment about them.
I am not sure whether Bracher is correct that the court ruled the e-tolls were fair (as he was quoted as saying by Fin24); I thought the court said it could not interfere in executive decisions of the government. It made no adjudication as to fairness, as I recall.
Be that as it may, if someone wishes to challenge Sanral’s bullyboy tactics to crush dissenters, then they should be allowed to. The whole system is geared to pushing people to take out e-tags – and in ways which, prima facie, Mr Bracher, do look like they’re unconstitutional.
I still think Findlays deserves an Orchid: whether you believe they’re genuine or not, they have captured the moral high ground. And as far as Norton Rose Fulbright is concerned, Bracher may well be right – but he would have been better advised to keep his own counsel, because he is appearing to defend e-tolls. Anyone who does that in this current climate – and again whether he is right or wrong does not count – is doing a marketing disservice to his firm.
And being guilty of that will get you an Onion, no portion suspended.
I have been pretty harsh on government departments and parastatals for “vanity advertising”, where they waste taxpayers’ money telling us what a wonderful job they are doing.
The Gauteng provincial government was caught doing that this week – running billboards which were, coincidentally, in the colours of the ANC. That’s such obvious abuse I’m not even going to dignify it with an Onion, but I am going to hand out an Orchid to a good, fit-forpurpose government ad.
This week, the National Treasury ran a print ad on behalf of RSA Retail Savings Bonds. It featured a picture of a group of happy university graduates, diplomas in hand, with the tagline “Have you started saving for your child’s education?”
The ad served a dual purpose: to encourage people to buy the bonds, which are low-risk and attract no fees or commission, but also to encourage people in general to save.
So Orchid to the National Treasury for the wake-up for young parents.
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