Beige and boring

2010-12-30 14:02

So I watched the broadcast of the Miss SA pageant a few weeks back.

When I say “watched” I use the term loosely because with the ­miracle that is PVR I was able to fast-forward through most of it – mercifully.

My interest was not so much in beauty pageants but rather in finding a spark of relevance to popular culture. I found none (anyone remember her name?) but the exercise was not in vain.

The entire broadcast was a lesson in how sponsorship payback can induce a beige coma.

Allow me to explain.The TV broadcast reinforced my belief that beauty pageants are a relic of the 20th century.

The fact that the event was not shown on one of the national broadcaster’s channels but rather on a DSTV channel was telling.This narrowed the viewership down to the privileged few who can afford satellite TV.

Reduced viewership, in turn, affects advertising revenue and therefore the budget for the show.As with practically every event today, the Miss SA pageant relies on sponsorship – in this case a clothing group, a shoe sponsor and a hair removal product – the main sponsor for a number of years.

So, all in all, a good cluster of brands.And in this economic climate, once you sign on willing sponsors you treat them like royalty.

This is where things usually go a little pear-shaped.Sponsors want some form of ROI (return on investment), which is understandable, but the world has changed and, with it, consumer mindset.

Consumers are a lot more techno savvy and our new communication channels enable us to fly ­under the radar of traditional ­advertising.

We now prefer brands to engage with us, not talk at us, and when they do we like the content to be clever, humorous and innovative.

Traditional methods of advertising, such as billboards and banners, just aren’t effective any more, because with information overload it all becomes wallpaper: there, but not riveting.

In short, beige. Beige is probably the most ­diplomatic way of describing the Miss SA ordeal. It was quite clear that the show’s producers were doing all they could to provide ROI for the ­sponsors.

And that is what the ­entire show became – a sponsorship ­payback.As the main sponsors were a clothing group, most of the show was dedicated to showing their brands’ ranges, which meant that as pretty as the clothes might have been, there just was no variation.

The girls paraded and then paraded some more.

Every now and then a banner would flash up on screen telling you who the shoe sponsor was, ironically obliterating any chance of seeing the sponsored shoes.

The clothing sponsors’ name was also repeatedly inserted into the presenter’s scripts, which was as
unsubtle as the frozen smiles of the beauty queens.

My point is that anyone watching knew who the sponsors were and where the clothes came from.

They got the message the first time around.

Force-feeding a sponsor to an audience may keep the bean counters happy, but it kills credibility instantly.

By trying to appease their sponsors, event organisers neglect the essence of the event itself, which is why the sponsor signed on in the first place.

Somehow no one sees the irony in that.Fifa does the same thing.

They do less and less for the actual game and instead make decisions that are just financially lucrative.

The South African World Cup ­illustrated that it was never really about promoting the game to a soccer-mad country, but protecting the sponsor’s interests, which they did with zealous bullyboy tactics.

The Miss SA producers did not use bullyboy tactics, but rather bludgeoned you with so much sponsor payback that everything became a beige haze.

You never got emotionally attached to any girl because they were too busy parading the sponsor’s wares (coincidentally also beige) and their only chance of speaking was reduced to a stereotypical sound bite.

The presenters’ roles were not to encourage a narrative (which would have been nice) but rather to deliver a link and then plug a sponsor’s name – again.

In the end you didn’t really care who won because the entire experience was, well, just plain beige.

Sponsorship is a crucial part of brand-building today but marrying the money with credible content is crucial for today’s discerning ­consumer.

Today’s consumers are tired of being underestimated.

They’re also busy and distracted, so if you want to make your brand memorable, create content that is relevant and entertaining.

They no longer just want to buy a product but look for brand experiences that make an emotional connection – and in many cases this requires subtlety.

Hard sell is not just unsubtle, it is simply irritating and our brains have developed sophisticated firewalls that block anything that vaguely smacks of beige.

» Chang is the founder of Flux

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