If there was ever an ad guaranteed to make me want to go out and get drunk, and then drive around mowing down advertising creatives while singing “Kill the Bru”, it’s this one. It could have been so good; it will probably still make a difference, but it’s fundamentally flawed. It’s a corporate social responsibility ad from brandhouse, and it highlights the dangers of driving drunk. Or at least, of being caught driving drunk.
Ostensibly, a nice concept. Close-ups of men, seemingly leaving video messages on a dating site, with the camera gradually moving out and the messages and men getting more sinister. Eventually, you realise that you’re in a prison, that there are all these scantily clad men languidly lying around (who knew prison was like a sauna in Green Point), and that you’re being propositioned by criminals.
So it starts with “Hello, my name is Leonard, and I’m looking for that special person”, and culminates in “Don’t be scared of me, I’m not an animal” and “Pappa wag vir jou“. At least I think it ends with “Pappa wag vir jou” — it’s a little unclear, given that the speaker is a toothless coloured gangster. And herein lies the irritating problem. Is it really necessary to type your trajectory from good to evil, from gentle come-on to brutal anal rape, as one from white to black? And from English to Afrikaans, for that matter?
The only person figured as a victim in the ad is a white man, shown looking uncomfortable and nervous after a black man has said, “These hands will NEVER let you go.” Is the advertising industry so out of touch that it has no idea that it’s reinforcing racist stereotypes by making white men vaguely unthreatening, black men animals, and coloured men toothless rapists?
I know what you’re going to say — but most of the gang members are toothless coloureds. This isn’t a recruitment video for Prison Baths Series 1, it’s a public service announcement. Let’s barter a little bit of racism for a little bit of road safety? Give me a break. A few tweaks, and you’d have an ad that isn’t racist, but is still effective.
The ad’s bottom line (sorry) is that if you drink and drive, you’ll become the plaything of a hardened (again, sorry) criminal. It’s premised on the statistic that “88% of South Africans say fear of arrest deters them from drunk driving”. Which is in itself a lie, as it’s actually based on what 88% of News24 readers say, but never mind that. I’ve long gotten used to the ad industry’s apparent inability to understand how the internet works.
According to the press release, “the above-the-line campaign dramatises the possible consequence of landing up in prison, and most worryingly, who you could end up sharing a cell with”. Well, actually, the ad appears to suggest that the real worry is the black penis your arse is going to be sharing space with. And this is also deeply problematic as a negative stereotyping of homosexuality (even circumstantial homosexuality).
The real shame of this ad is what is says about how we think of ourselves as South Africans. There’s no appeal to our civic sense, to our desire to do the right thing, to our awareness of how driving drunk can hurt others. No, what we’re selling is how driving drunk can hurt YOU. If you can get away with it, fine. For this, I don’t blame the ad industry. Unfortunately, its analysis of the South African psyche is probably spot on here.
So kudos to brandhouse for the impulse, although some will remark on the irony of this coming from a company whose job is to make you drink, but next time try to think in a slightly more complex way about what you’re actually saying. Especially if you believe — which you must — that ads can actually change the way people behave.