First National Bank's adverts calling for change in SA has been slammed by the ANC, with its youth league saying the campaign bordered on treason.
"This isn’t an advert – it's a political statement. An attack on the president, his ministers and government as a whole," ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza told the Mail & Guardian on Sunday.
The majority of contributors illustrated South Africa’s challenges from unemployment to high rates of crime.
“South African people need to wake up – 1994 is gone! It is gone!," Christopher – one of the participants – said in a video.
“This very minute South Africa faces unemployment, poverty and nationwide strikes, and a government rife with corruption.”
Along with their views, participants also offered ideas on solutions for South Africa.
“Stop voting for the same government in hopes for change – instead change your hopes to a government that has the same hopes as us,” said Tiara, another participant.
Some of the messages also decried the use of government money to upgrade President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla and the Limpopo textbook scandal where some pupils were left without work books and textbooks for the majority of 2012.
FNB said the campaign was a message that would “inspire the nation".
"The intention of the campaign is not to talk about ourselves, but rather to be a brand for betterment by providing the youth of our country with a stage to voice what impacts the daily reality of many South Africans," said Bernice Samuels, chief marketing officer of FNB.
“Perhaps it's time for us to listen to the voices we seldom hear, the youth of our country, because it is the South Africa we build today that will be the country they will inherit tomorrow.”
But the governing party said the campaign was unfair and unpatriotic.
"FNB is unfairly using children to articulate a view that we don’t even know for sure is their own," Khoza said.
“Young people don’t necessarily understand the challenges of governance and undoing 250 years of oppression and colonialism.”
Khoza added the series of adverts were “disingenuous” and did nothing to highlight some of government’s successes since 1994.
“They have drawn a line on how they view the government. They have chosen to attack the state instead of working together to solve the country’s problems,” he said.
Khoza’s comments were bolstered by the ANC Youth League, which said the campaign “declares war on the democratically elected government of South Africa".
"Business has been provided many opportunities to raise issues with the ANC but to do this on a public platform in such a manner is treacherous and borders on treason,” league spokesperson Khusela Sangoni-Khawe told the M&G.
Sangoni-Khawe also accused FNB of providing the participants with their content.
“How are we to know if what they are saying is what they truly feel? They [FNB] could have paid them to say those things,” she said.
The ANC and its youth league are not the only ones to find the campaign controversial.
Stiwe Chireka, communication specialist at the International Data Corporation, said the series had a “strong message” but an “unclear purpose”.
“There is a disconnect between the advert and what FNB is normally about, so it leads the assumption that it is not strictly an advert or marketing campaign - I don’t even think this would have been flighted if it were a series of TV commercials,” Chireka told the M&G.
Chireka’s views were echoed by communications strategist Sarah Britten.
"It fails to achieve its supposed goal by leaving people hanging as you are not left with any idea of how you can actually help the country. And the ads felt quite scripted too," she said.
"More common sense could have been applied with regards to the content in this campaign. Using schoolchildren as proxies for corporate communication is problematic," Britten added.
In response to the campaign, the ANC intended to engage FNB to “find out what its true purpose is", Khoza said.
"This is not assisting this country. People are allowed to raise their opinions, but a bank using children to articulate a controversial standpoint such as this is wrong,” he added.