Commercial value

They are commercials designed to shock. A young woman inserts a finger into her nose and then puts the contents lovingly into her mouth while a young man watches and then copies her.

Then there’s the glossy TV chef who starts preparing meat crawling with maggots and vegetables that are clearly decaying while almost salivating over his carefully prepared dish.

These ads have two things in common: both made viewers sit up and take notice and both were part of the very successful Vuka! campaign run by MultiChoice and screened on DStv channels.

(Incidentally for those who haven’t seen them, the first was part of an anti-smoking drive with the tagline along the lines of ‘Would you copy a bad habit?”, while the second highlighted the plight of the starving for Operation Hunger.)

The awards — now in their eighth year — harness the generosity and creative energies of the South African film industry to give a face to real-life problems. These commercials with a message also make a huge impact for the charities or cause they focus on. The winners have their public service announcements showcased on DStv to more than one million homes in South Africa and surrounding countries in the following year.

Since the start of the awards, filmmakers have embraced the concept of giving back to charities and NGOs who rely on public exposure for fundraising and support.

While MultiChoice has donated more than R70-million rand of airtime to screen the Vuka! ads on its DStv channels, the film and advertising industry has also come to the party by putting in about R30-million in facilities and personal expertise. There are Vuka! categories for both professional filmmakers and industry newcomers.

If you were told to create a commercial to stop men raping young girls because they thought it would cure them of HIV/Aids, what would you do?

This was the brief given to advertising whiz Cindy Lee.

She says she soon realised that it would take more than one commercial to change such a belief and so, in the end, the commercial wasn’t aimed at telling men what they were doing was wrong. She firmly believes more children would be saved if women were encouraged to stand up for themselves.


The ad was simple: through a baby monitor a woman hears the sound of her partner abusing his daughter. The tag line: ‘If you don’t stop him from raping her, who will? Find your strength.”

Lee had created a winner. She walked away with the Vuka! for best overall professional advert in 2003.

Last year’s overall winner was Saffron Doran of Threshold Collective for the Hang Dog ad for the Animal Anti-Cruelty League, directed by Richard Thwaites. The concept was premised upon having a charity can, which lives on a counter in a shop, coming to life and while we see it accepting money as aid, it wants nothing more than to go home with someone and be loved.

Says Doran: ‘Not only is Hang Dog a testament to the powers of technology. It is a testament to the soul, proving that life in any way or form deserves to be acknowledged and ultimately loved.”

Lost Sons won the overall newcomer category last year. The ad, which was created for City Mission, is a compelling piece of drama aimed at overcoming gangsterism. According to the ad’s director and co-producer, Annelize Bosch: ‘The whole project was wrapped in love. People just came forward and responded positively to everything that we needed, even the things we didn’t ask for. If it wasn’t for the generosity of suppliers and post-production facilities that came to our aid with invaluable sponsorship for film stock, catering, costumes and editing time, the concept might never have emerged from the storyboards.”

The M&G supports Vuka

The Mail & Guardian is a media partner of this year’s MultiChoice Vuka! Awards. This story was generated in conjunction with the award’s organiser. We encourage filmmakers to contribute to this laudable effort to spread awareness about organisations working to make South Africa a better place to be

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

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