Re: race in commercials

Thu, 7 Dec 1995 05:33:53 -0500

Interesting that multi-racial ads are rare in the States. Here in
South Africa they are the latest gimmick in advertising: show that
your product is truly NewSouthAfrican by depicting black and white
consumers enjoying it together. While a lot of these ads are so
similar to each other that you forget what they are advertising, the
ones I like are those that poke fun at race in a uniquely South
African way. One ad for a popular radio station (radio metro) starts
with a nerdy white man listening to boring music on his car radio as
he drives to a posh black tie cocktail party. He thinks he's the
coolest thing out, and is singing along and admiring himself in the
mirror. When he arrives at the party, he stops his car in front of
the house, and throws his keys to the first black man he sees, and
asks him to park the car near the fountain. The black guy, who is
elegantly dressed in black tie, looks a bit bemused. Next the white
guy goes into the party, where he keeps trying to greet attractive
women, none of whom take any notice. Finally a beautiful black woman
notices him, and introduces him to his new MD - you guessed it, it's
the man he asked to park his car. The white man looks horribly
embarrassed as his MD hands him his keys back, and the ad ends with a
shot of the car, parked IN the fountain, with radio metro music
playing in the background.

A second ad, for cellular phones, has a yuppy white couple stopping
their car to look at some wire toys being sold by a black hawker
beside the road. The white man greets the hawker in Zulu - impressing
his girlfriend with his NewSouthAfrican ability to converse in
African languages. But anyone who understands Zulu will realise that
he is making a complete twit of himself by greeting the old man as
'granny'. They patronisingly tell the hawker that his wares are too
expensive, and refuse to buy anything. But then they discover they
have locked their keys in the car. The hawker then produces a
cellular phone, and waves it in front of them with a grin. The ad
ends with the AA coming to the rescue, and the white couple loading
all the wire toys - which they have been forced to buy in return for
using the phone - into the car boot. (As a subtext, the man playing
the hawker is in fact professor of English at a South African
university, who did the ad for fun.)

There are several more ads like this, and they are very popular. The
phrase used to greet the hawker in the phone ad - "Yebo gogo" - has
developed a life of its own, and become a national slogan.
What's nice about these ads is that white South Africans are able to
laugh at themselves, and at the very things which make them anxious
in the new dispensation - like affirmative action. But I suspect they
wouldn't work in the States, where concepts of race, and the
political context, are so different. Pity.

Justine Lucas