It took me a while to make up my mind about Vodacom's 'Surf for Free' ads - it wasn't until I read a 'gossip and chart' report received via some SMS info service, to which my cellphone-geek daughter subscribed me. I don't normally pay attention to the gossip bit, but it turns out that I share the same sentiments as Sir Elton John, but regarding our ad industry lately. [video]
British singer Sir Elton John has described today's songwriters as 'pretty awful' and pop music as uninspiring.
I am not too sure what is happening to creativity in our ad industry, but the Vodacom "Surf for free" ad - it just doesn't cut it.
First, I find the concept rather too phony and irrelevant (and insensitive) for the offer Vodacom is selling. The concept is around a cruel dictator, Idi Amin (former prime Minister of uganda), who if he were still alive, I'm sure his case would still be continuing in the Hague Court, being convicted for genocide and some atrocities he committed.
Stereotyping not history?
I thought stereotyping Africans in ads was history in the new dispensation of our country, but I guess I was wrong. I know this might sound political, but my point is, what has such a character (or concept) got to do with the service Vodacom is offering? Is there a relation between the service and Idi Amin I'm missing? How did this concept get approved at agency level? Why did client approve it? Two different executions, nogal! Isn't this a waste of money?
To use Sir John's words, the advert is pretty awful, uninspiring and distasteful for me to get up and get the service.
Frankly, I do not even know who the target market is from the advert. The message is clear but I have a problem with how it is conveyed through its execution.
An ad is supposed to be a call to action or informative. Yes, there are ads that are kind of unexpected in the way they sell their product or service, but they never leave you thinking or wondering what a mismatch of the offering and the execution - even if there is a mismatch, it's executed in such a clever and humorous way - it leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling that is memorable.
Targeted at students?
I would understand if the ad was targeted at students - who are obviously nocturnal - and like to cross-night or do their assignments in the early hours of the morning when energies are down and there is fewer disturbances (and then sleep in).
I thought TVC concepts (or campaign concepts) are supposed to be relevant to the product/service it's offering and should also have a moderately high likeability rate. Humour is optional. Ads should not be irritating and leaving one frowning and wondering what the ad was all about.
That I could connect the concept of the Vodacom ad to the movie The Last King of Scotland, for me, its plain laziness and lack of creativity. Yes, movies are supposed to inspire, but creativity is about being inspired to be original, not copy, tweak and paste (or flight in this instance).
We have such great sources of reference from our history and diversity of backgrounds, so what's wrong with being inspired by the diversity of our rich culture in our country?
Inspiration from our own backyard
If only creatives found inspiration from our backyard, not from some Hollywood movies which glorify idiotic behaviour.
Where have all the best creative's gone? John Hunt and Reg Lascaris once espoused the notion of 'life being too short for mediocrity or settle for mediocrity' (can't remember the exact words) and, during those early advertising days, this is when the then up-and-coming creatives learnt and knew that creativity is not supposed to be mediocre. Hence they were consistently good and inspired in what they did.
Now, what is happening to today's creatives? Why are so many of them so uninspired? Why aren't they reading books? Why aren't they researching instead of playing PS4s? What happened to mentors? Or are the mentors uninspired themselves?
"Is this the end of advertising as we know it", or maybe 'the creative ones are not yet born'?!
Note: all the sentences that have double or single inverted commas are not original. They are from various books by cover titles (some of which I tweaked to put a point across): The beautiful ones are not yet born by Chinua Achebe and The end of marketing as we know it by Sergio Zyman. The Gossip and Chart report on Sir Elton John is from the 35050 information subscription service received fortnightly.
Bonnie Ramaila has extensive experience in marketing, advertising, PR, research, branding, and media and communications across government, public entities and the private sector. She is one of the few women marketing and communication specialists with solid and vast experience in these fields and across the three sectors. She currently works in The Presidency as a communications director in the Performance Monitoring and Evaluation unit. She writes in her personal capacity. Contact her at .
The ad is funny and that's all it is. I have to agree with Bonnie on this one. It makes you laugh and ? It is not a call to action. Doesnt Vodacom want a return on their investment as I would have thought that's why brands have marketing budgets - spend them on advertising fand increase sales. None of you are saying anything about buying whatever service being advertised. Cause if laughing is all this ad is making people do then its not really doing anything. They could have just given free tickets to a comedy session and get people laughing. What is Vodacom's core business? Making people laugh? Oh, I see. Posted on 5 Nov 2010 15:57
I have to agree with you - but I certainly don't think these ads are alone in their awfulness! The chewing gum 'Infinity' advert somes to mind immediately - I can't even remember which brand it is for, and I saw it last night! There seem to be so many adverts that make no sense, tell you nothing about the product or service they are advertising, and leave me - and it seems you Bonnie - wondering where South Africa's outstanding creatives have gone. I also happen to find the Vodacom ads unsavoury in their depiction of stereotypes - and I am a white South African. Posted on 5 Nov 2010 18:20
I love the ad,i think personally from a South African perspective,the advertising industry has been quite dull and its forever trying to create humour in local scenarios which we all are accustom to. For the first time in the industry we have an advert breaking the mould, whether it be in a negative or positive manner,the message behind the ad is achieved.
These are my creative thoughts as to how the ad indirectly "challenges" the cellular network competition in Soth Africa,we a dictator (which is mostly associated with African continent)....which i think in this ad would be MTN(look at the amount of yellow collours)in the ad,then theres the new service being provided by vodacom,then there the play in words"we,ve been having it with an exagerrated laugh,,could this be a mockery to their network rival? if so then the art directory deserves an award for breaking the silence and openning a new form of competitive advertising,getting the message through with a tad or more of satire.
The competitive rivalry between the two network is quite obvious in the fact that vodacoms domination and popularity in SA,while MTN has found a niche in the the African market....the ad has open the creativity in the art of adverts and challenges those in the industry to break formal boundaries that overshadows our creative ability.
One needs to look beyond personal perception and enjoy our countries creative artists on film. Posted on 6 Nov 2010 00:10
I agree, it's hackneyed and derivative, in the Leon Schuster mode of lowest-common denominator humour. Lazy thinking all round. It should not have made it past a first creative review. (What the hell is the strategy?) And for an awful client who makes billions on exorbitant, exploitative rates. Distasteful by any measure. Posted on 6 Nov 2010 12:08
The ads are great!It's hard to follow your rambling argument Bonnie: I don't understand what you mean when you say "what has such a character (or concept) got to do with the service Vodacom is offering?"I think its clear that saying "we've been having it" is another way of saying "don't believe the claims of our competitors"? Ads frequently use metaphors to make a point - if you followed your logic, ads would be "show and tell" ads only. What does James Dean have to do with Alan Gray? Great ad Vodacom, much better than that meerkat! Posted on 8 Nov 2010 06:42
I love this advert and personally think peaople of all races, ages, sexes, religions etc etc etc etc should quit being so friggin sensitive!!!! What about the Elton and Jan campaign? Jan is the typical stereotype of the Afrikaans rugby supporter and the competition that runs between teams in SA everyone loves those adverts and we havent seen (or at least I havent) seen anyone hopping around about Jan not being used as he may offend some Boers out there!!! Apartheid thank God is over lets all move on and take marketing for what it is "tounge in cheek" I think the Surfing at night with the dictator whom ever he is supossed to be is fantastic and my whole family love it :) well done to the marketing team from agency to client this advert is absolutly brilliant, and the thing to remember is you can't please all of the people all of the time, and Africa is Africa lets not forget that, it works so well because as Africans white black, colored or polka dotted we all get the concept and thats what makes it work!! I certainly never saw the "dictator" as Ida Amin and no where have I seen mention that this is who he is supossed to be. Is this not just the perception or assumption of Bonnie Ramaila? Vodacom keep them coming you have a large group out there that love this ad concept and look forward to more of the same. Surfs up Dudes keep riding the crest of the wave!!!! :) Posted on 8 Nov 2010 09:46
Strategic direction (and politics) aside, I think it suffers from a more basic (but common) problem - revealing the punchline at the beginning of the "joke". The pun on free surfing appears within the first few seconds of the ad. If the spot would have built up a little more gradually and cryptically - to get you guessing what this "dictator" and his cohorts are doing on a beach at night... and then told the punchline (free surfing) as we get the reveal - showing "moonlight" surfer, I think it would have been far stronger. Posted on 8 Nov 2010 12:50
i especially love doing it in the nude. once when i was surfing at night, naked obvs, i caught a giant zambezi shark using my willy as bait. also, get back to work all of you. geez. Posted on 8 Nov 2010 17:34
Seems that it is the same in creative as it is for client service. WHERE are the people to teach the New Bees the ropes. No time, no inclination. = no service to the client, me thinks. Posted on 8 Nov 2010 20:16
totally dig the ad - i happen to be the target market. running 500MB monthly and gettin free internet in the wee hours is perfect for watching porn and downloadin my music videos. i get the sense the writer didnt bother to do research, let alone understand internetsearch - otherwise wouldnt have misquoted John & Reg (their quote lives on the net) Posted on 9 Nov 2010 14:40
Not too long ago we witnessed our fellow Africans being burned alive in the streets of South Africa because of a plague that this continent suffers from (dictatorship). Today we sit and watch Vodacom making this a joke and we as marketers think its “cool, dig the ad…”
Well, the question to you all is “where do we draw the line? How far is too far? From the looks of things the industry fails to take into account the fact that we can’t make fun of everything in this world… all we want to is to sell our products at the expense of the countries moral conscience and trivialising serious issues… why don’t we just go ahead and make fun of aids orphans or people suffering from breast cancer!
Our problem as South Africans is that we think we are immune from these issues. Here’s a wakeup call, few years back we thought a man with criminal charges hanging over his head including rape, multiple wives and takes a shower to fight aids won’t lead the country as president and now he’s king of the jungle… Guess how’s next?? Malema… funny hey? Wait and see… first, the mines will be nationalised, then dictatorship is on the cards… it’s a pity that this will affect the future generations and we as marketers are training them that its perfectly acceptable to have no conscience as long as someone gets to laugh about it. I wonder how funny it would be to do an ad with an apartheid slant to it… “Very clever” Posted on 10 Nov 2010 12:40
I'm surprised that someone felt the need to write such a long article to slate this campaign based on such ill-conceived arguements.Finding the advertisement distasteful due to "stereotyping Africans" only shows an inability to accept and move forward from the events that have shaped our identity as a people comfortably enough to someday laugh at ourselves. Personally I believe this would be a sign of a larger underlying problem.On the issue of the advertisements not being well suited for the product they are meant to sell; well perhaps our writer needs to check out her social networking sites a bit more often just to see how many posts are meantioning the "we've been having it" line in jest. This popularity is not un-accompanied by the understanding that it is "free surfing at night" that is being had... tell me again how this is not working?!I think the problem doesn't stem from a lack of creative thinking from the advertiser but from an inability to understand creative thinking from one viewer. Posted on 10 Nov 2010 13:22
I agree with Sharon. We seriously need to lighten up. I think the ad is brilliant. Admittedly, in my ignorance, I had NO idea he was meant to be Idi Amin. Nevertheless, I think its a brilliant ad and I will literally dash from the other room to watch it when it comes on Posted on 26 Nov 2010 07:07
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