Georgina Guedes

Advertising moves away from seeing race first

2014-09-02 11:16

Georgina Guedes

Last week, my husband, a sometimes-actor, went for an audition for an ad for a mainstream product. I asked him how it went, and he said "fine", but expressed his frustration at the fact that the casting brief hadn't even outlined what race the character had to be.

This is irritating for an actor because it means that instead of being up against a handful of "tall, white, dark-haired, good looking, quirky, 35-plus males", he's going up against every Thabo, Dick and Harry in the Johannesburg acting profession. It's lazy casting (or lazy briefing, or lazy agency planning, or lazy client indecision).

But when I heard his story, it gave me one of those "everything is going to be OK" moments, because it's an indication that when the people who create marketing for products look at their South African audience, they're not thinking purely in terms of colour anymore.

We're buying it

This means that, as a society, our racial - and cultural and financial barriers - have broken down to such an extent that products can now be marketed to a middle-class audience using a white or a black (or an Indian or a coloured) actor without fear of alienating the rest of the racial spectrum.

I presented this theory to my husband who pointed out that I have no idea what's actually going on behind the scenes. A swastika-toting client could be violently objecting to a black lead while a "libtard" creative director at the agency is pleading with him to consider the 90% of South Africans who make up his target market.

The picture behind the scenes of the advertising industry might not be as pretty as I've chosen to paint it, but I'm still happy to work with my version. Even if the picture is more "The Scream" than "Water Lillies", the reality is that nobody's been able to come up with a cogent reason why the lead in the commercial should be one race or another.

If you advertise to them, they will buy

I recently interviewed Kaya FM COO Linda Reddy, who told me that she often comes up against marketers who say they won't advertise on her radio station because black women don't buy their products. Her response is that black women don't buy their products because their marketing messages aren't directed towards black women. If they are, she said, then they do.

So while it's lovely to see that things are a-changing in the advertising industry, it's clear that clients, agencies and the media still have a long way to go before they stop making certain assumptions.

My husband told me another story of a black actor that he works with being turned away from a tennis club in the Free State. So that still happens. All the time. And I'm sure there are going to be some horrific comments on this column.

But I'm still taking my optimism where I can get it. And if it comes in the form of racism-free advertising that equates me with people of every race in this country, then colour me happy.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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