Judging from conversations on social media and radio talk shows, there is no doubt in my mind that advertising in South Africa is not regarded by the majority of our citizens as having any real value to society.
As I have pointed out before, far too many consumers still believe that advertising is some sort of trivial pursuit practiced by the modern equivalent of snake oil salesmen.
The Minister of Health has not contributed anything positive to the reputation of the advertising industry with his acerbic attacks on it as the root cause of alcohol abuse.
In Sydney, Australia recently, the latest International Advertising Association's (IAA) global advertising campaign was been launched.
'The Case for Advertising' aims to demonstrate to consumers and governments the vital role the marketing communications industry plays in all economies and comes at a time when the global ad industry is "under ever-greater scrutiny", according to the IAA.
The campaign's first out-of-home ads launched at Sydney's International Airport and in the city across OOH! Media Australia donated sites.
The campaign includes lines such as: "Without sponsors for concerts, all you'd hear is the sound of silence."
And: "When advertising does its job, millions of people keep theirs."
Support the cause
I really hope that the mass media in South Africa will donate some of their plentiful unsold inventory to this cause because unless the consumer understands the vital role that advertising plays in the economy, the ad industry, the media and consumers, will continue to suffer.
In the not-too-distant past, South African advertising people always took great delight in telling visiting ad industry firemen that we were different to almost every other country in the world. Our isolation during the latter stages of the apartheid era had made us different, in terms of the trauma both advertisers and consumers felt in the rapid move from regulation to free market.
We used to be different too, because we were such a fascinating mix of first, second and third world cultures. And we were certainly different because when it came to creative advertising, we were world beaters. Not anymore.
South African advertising was special in those days and we could be justifiably proud and totally partisan about it. Thanks to the considerable amount of publicity emanating from myriad local and international awards, South African consumers were pretty damn proud of oaf our ad industry.
Of course, there are always cynics who will question the degree of national pride among consumers. Sure, it might not have been as high for advertising as it is for rugby, cricket or soccer, but it was still substantial.
A blatant lie
For example, 23 years ago when German automaker, BMW, decided to build a plant in the United States, it put out a press statement to the effect that this was to be the company's first car plant outside of Germany. Of course, it purposely omitted to tell the world that a BMW car plant had existed in South Africa for decades, but because at the time South Africa was still polecat of the world, the corporate affairs people in Munich decided to keep mum about their SA connection.
The statement was broadcast on CNN TV round about noon SA time on a Tuesday.
From then until about midday the next day, BMW South Africa's head office in Midrand was inundated with phone calls from ordinary South African consumers who were totally incensed that CNN should broadcast so blatant a lie.
Heaven forbid what would happen if CNN suggested that South African ads never featured in international awards!
What is now important is that the advertising industry really knuckles down to making sure that the vast majority of consumers understand what advertising is all about. Obviously, for advertising to work it has to be trusted and it won't be trusted if the perception that it is all some sort of legalised money-making scam, keeps gaining ground.
It is vital that the advertising industry does not get the same reputation that the short term insurance industry seems to enjoy - that of being a necessary evil.
Now, it is all very well saying the industry must do something about it. Leaving it up to the ACA is not enough. Sure, it might well be the function of the ACA to do this sort of thing but it simply does not have the manpower nor the resources to tackle so huge a task.
By promoting advertising, its professionalism, its functions and it's contribution to the economy, by doing this now in our powerful emerging markets will cost practically nothing compared to the cost of crisis management should the situation arise out of ignorance where some community or other decides for whatever reason, to point fingers at the advertising industry perhaps because it is perceived as a rip-off or maybe something devilish that leads children astray.
Already government ministers are using advertising as a scapegoat to cover up their inability to solve problems. Bashing advertising is a safe bet for politicians wanting votes.
The IAA has an international campaign running in Australia - it's a huge project that wasn't put into the place on a whim. We need to do the same here in South Africa but perhaps even on a far bigger scale.
The ad industry has been talking about doing something for the past two decades. It now needs to stop talking and do something.
Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
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South Africa's advertising industry will improve its consumer cred through an ad campaign alone. You build trust with South Africans by:- Doing consistently amazing work that South Africans love, not just ads that grabs our attention and/or win industry awards- Using platforms and media that create an engaging and personally relevant experience, rather than invading, irritating and polluting our lives- Showing that its not just a hard $ell, but also about making a better South Africa- Not treating us like "consumers", but by genuine conversations with us about what is good, bad and ugly about adverts, branding and consumer cultureThis requires a more rapid and radical shift in almost every aspect of the ad business. The ad industry revolution will not be advertised, it will be grow out of more innovative and meaningful connections with South Africans.Who in the industry are driving this change?
South Africa's advertising industry won't improve its consumer cred through an ad campaign alone. You build trust with South Africans by:- Doing consistently amazing work that South Africans love, not just ads that grabs our attention and/or win industry awards- Using platforms and media that create an engaging and personally relevant experience, rather than invading, irritating and polluting our lives- Showing that its not just a hard $ell, but also about making a better South Africa- Not treating us like "consumers", but by having genuine conversations with us about what is good, bad and ugly about adverts, branding and consumer cultureThis requires a more rapid and radical shift in almost every aspect of the ad business. The ad industry revolution will not be advertised, it will be grow out of more innovative and meaningful connections with South Africans.Who in the industry are driving this change?