Kim Penstone

Lighten up people!

2004-08-17 08:19

The problem with having such a diverse population, is that, whatever you do, you're likely to offend someone.

This is particularly true in advertising, which often plays on stereotypical behaviour to elicit a laugh, make a point or prompt a sale.

Take the famous Landrover ad, that used a topless Himba women, breasts in full flight, to demonstrate the speed of the vehicle.

Then there's the Dulux spot, which used the image of a black and white hand crossed across a pregnant belly, to demonstrate its unlimited colour palette.

And the Handy Andy one, that shows a black domestic taking it easy while her white 'madam' is at work, to demonstrate how easy cleaning can be.

More recently, there's the Sasol spot that shows a snippet of a Jewish wedding as part of a demonstration of excess; the Hi-Fi Corporation ad that uses an Asian man to typify a bargain hunter; and the Eskom one that shows black men stealing cables and refers to them as "Izinyoka", or snakes.

The list goes on and on. And while racial stereotypes dominate the list, there's also no shortage of gender stereotypes, religious stereotypes and cultural stereotypes.

In all of these cases, consumers complained, and the Advertising Standards Authority investigated. Some complaints were upheld, resulting in the ads being banned. Some were dismissed.

But the bottom line is that all of them touched a raw nerve in South African society, and ten years into our democracy, this nerve shows no sign of becoming less sensitive.

In fact, it would seem that, the further we progress down the road of democracy, the more sensitive we become.

And while I have no issue with being sensitive, and showing empathy for another race, religion, gender or culture, I have a huge issue with being over-sensitive, especially when it comes to advertising.

From over-sensitive, it's a very short walk to bland. And bland, as we know, doesn't sell.

So what's the way forward?

I'm tempted to say simply that South Africans, across the board, need to grow a sense of humour.

As a nation, we need to learn how to recognise our foibles, and laugh at them. We need to learn how to laugh at ourselves.

More importantly, however, I believe we need to learn to laugh at each other, and accept that laughing at each other is not necessarily cruel.

We need to stop being so scared of stepping on each other's toes. We need to stop pussyfooting around our differences and pretending that we're all alike, and instead revel in our diversity.

In short, we need to get over ourselves.

Advertisers and advertising agencies are constantly chastised for not creating ads that are grounded in South Africa, but who can blame them when South Africans take their lives so seriously?

Send your comments to Kim

  • Kim Penstone is editor of Marketingweb, a website wholly owned by Moneyweb that focuses on the media, marketing and advertising arena. For more articles of a similar nature, go to

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