New book delves into memorable moments in SA advertising

By Lesego Makgatho Time of article published Apr 4, 2021

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Whether we’re conscious of it or not, adverts have a way of creating memories in our lives. Now the book, It’s Not Inside, It’s On Top: Memorable Moments in South African Advertising written by Khanya Mtshali takes us back to some of the best and worst ads of our time.

South Africans know how to make iconic ads. Brands have influenced and borrowed from television, music, sports, comedy and youth culture in a way that has allowed communication across our diverse peoples. It also sometimes gets it horribly wrong. Mtshali’s offering is a blend of memoir, criticism and cultural commentary that is fresh, contemporary and informed.

On why she decided to work on a book like this, she said she was always intrigued by television adverts that made it to our screens post apartheid.

“It’s been at the back of my mind that I would like to investigate television adverts that mostly took place in post apartheid. I knew I didn’t want to do it as a thesis but I realised that my writing style is more suited to cultural commentary and criticism that you would typically find in a magazine, newspaper or online article. I then thought of writing a collection of essays where I try to use these adverts as a way to explore other parts of our democracy - to look at where we were socially, culturally, and that’s when I began jotting down notes here and there and so I started working properly on it in January last year,” she said.

While Mtshali gives a nostalgic feel to the reader by reflecting on ads that were aired years ago, she shows us how much the social landscape has changed over the years in the country.

Mtshali takes us back to ads such as the Sasol “Glug Glug” ad, the Nestle Cremora ad from which she took her title of the book, and more.

She said ads such as the Castle Lager one from the late 1980s to early ‘90s, showed an image of South Africa that hadn’t materialised on the ground.

“On the one hand you could say this was progressive as they were showing black and white people integrating, but on the other, you could say they were advancing a dishonest and potentially whimsical idea of racial relations. So they may have helped and shaped a certain constituency in our country, and moved forward and be open to the idea of integration in this country, but on the other hand, they may have let down another constituency by being dishonest about how things were on the ground,” said Mtshali.

On which ads she thinks are getting it wrong with their marketing strategy, she reckons Savanna Cider is one of them.

“The Savanna adverts were witty and dry. However, we need to be cognisant of the fact that a lot of drinkers of Savanna cider are black women who are enthusiastic and the ads behind the brand haven’t necessarily marketed to that demographic which is strange because they are one of the most social media savvy brands,” she said.

What to take away from the book:

How much our identity has changed as a country. There are parts of the book where Mtshali looks at part of our history that is unpleasant but these ads are a lens through which we can see how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t come. These adverts also help us see ways in which we are able to laugh at ourselves at a time where things weren’t so pleasant. If there’s one thing you can say about South Africans, regardless of race, gender, class, it is that we are able to laugh at ourselves and are able to see humour where there might not be humour. We are a country that is innovative, and one that is able to put up a mirror to look at how we navigate our problems.

Anyone who has an interest in our recent history should certainly pick this book up. So if you want to see how far we’ve come as a country, as a people, look at the developments we’ve made in various industries, then you should pick this book up.

It’s Not Inside, It’s On Top is available at all major bookstores.

Sunday Independent

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