South Africa: language policy in advertising

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Feb 9 17:18:58 UTC 2006

Acceptance into local parlance is advertising's golden arrow

The unconscious adoption of words from advertising messages into local
parlance by the person-on-the-street is a powerful indicator of
advertising success. When a campaign message is acknowledged by your
target audience to the extent that it becomes part of everyday
communication, then you know you have created great responsive advertising
that is truly in touch with what is going on in the community.
This is according to Ray Asiroglu, Strategic Planning Director of The
Agency. "It is every advertising creatives' dream come true when a phrase
or pay-off line is imported into local lexicon because it means your brand
is recognized, as well as the value of the contribution of this brand to
people's everyday life. There are many examples to illustrate the point,"
says Asiroglu.

"There is little doubt that many of the best advertisements to emerge
recently have been those that transcend racial and cultural barriers in
delivering communication solutions. Being able to deliver diverse and
appealing messages that are broadly understood and appreciated by South
Africa's many unique cultural groupings is an achievement to be
exceptionally proud of," he adds.

The Agency has a number of examples that demonstrate this stance:
The commercial for Telkom in which an elderly man's words 'Molo Mhlobo
wami' transcended all barriers was quickly absorbed into local lexicon and
independent research shows that it is still the most recalled advert by
consumers today - more than two years after its last screening. Local
leaders, including Nelson Mandela and President Mbeki, have used the same
words in public, speeches as have international figureheads such as US
singing star Stella Adams.

The Agency's commercial for Vivo Breweries was a first for the SABC who
were persuaded by The Agency to relax the 'pure language policy', enabling
them to introduce slang or 'isi chamto' (meaning lingo) into the
commercial and the words 'iyavaya eyethu' entered daily vocabulary.

Other shining examples include:

Cremora's "It's not inside, it's on top" ad provided much fuel for

Polka's "Serrius", first uttered by a truly convincing black 'kugel' in a
nail bar is a firm favourite for anyone trying to make a point.

Klipdrift's "met eish" advert now sees patrons adding this pay-off line to
orders in pubs and at braais across the country.

And of course, Vodacom's "Yebo Gogo".

"When an advertising message becomes part of the vernacular used within a
defined community to classify something, it becomes part of their everyday
parlance which is a manner of speaking that is natural to native speakers
of a language. It soon becomes a language often full of jargon, but not
necessarily intelligible to outsiders who have not been exposed to the
advertising message," explains Asiroglu.

When this happens it is a clear indicator that not only was your message
spot on, but so is the medium by which the message was delivered. Both
creative and media specialists understand this fundamental decision
principle and consider the interdependent nature of the message and medium
relationship when creating advertisements. There are two things about
message/medium interdependency that creatives and strategists must
understand - firstly, no medium is right for every creative execution and
second, ads and media must be matched to exploit the potential
communication impact of the message.

As for achieving the unconscious adoption of your advertising message into
the consumer psyche, Asiroglu offers the following advice:
Step 1 - talk the same language
Step 2 - get out of the office and go to where the action is
Step 3 - talk to people at the rock face, observe, listen and ask

"It is a mistake to presume that common sense is 'common'. Broadly, as an
industry, we still tend to make assumptions based on our own opinions and
we are still far too compartmentalised. While I agree that many agencies
are making tremendous progress in reaching South Africa's many
multi-cultural groupings, much work and research lays ahead. We need to
strive not just to deliver messages that people understand, but ones that
become part of their everyday life," concludes Asiroglu.

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