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Rugby, braaivleis and Peter Stuyvesant

It’ll be interesting to see which campaigns win big at this year’s Loerie Awards this weekend in Cape Town. What will their legacy be? As a member of the very first group of South Africans to grow up with TV, the ads I grew up with are etched into my memory. My childhood was Knight Rider and Mum Remembered Melrose and the A-Team; Felix Swart, the boy with nine lives and Airwolf and McGyver and Your two year guarantee store. It’s not inside, it’s on … top and the Omo tannie who nearly died. My neural pathways light up with jingles and logos like Times Square: the Peter Stuyvesant tune, the Chomp hippo, You can stay as you are for the rest of your life, or you can change to Mainstay.

These were the forces of commercialisation that Jaap Marais warned against in 1969, when he told Parliament not to install a TV service. “South Africa is not open to Russian or American controlled propaganda,” he said. When South Africans first switched on their sets in 1976, they were the last citizens of any Westernised nation to do so. There was no resisting the advertising rand, of course. In 1978, advertisers were able to ply their wares in the breaks between Riaan Cruywagen and Ter Wille van Oorlewing and soon after, the Loeries were established to encourage agencies to produce a quality product. (It’s worth noting that the iconic ad of the time, Rugby, braaivleis, sunny skies and Chevrolet wasn’t even local. There were almost identical American and Australian versions too.)

The Loeries are in their 33rd year now. They’ve lasted from the blue eyeshadow era of the Artes awards – remember them? – into the Samas and they’re bigger and more popular than ever. “You could say the Loeries set South Africa’s creative agenda much like the Cannes Lions sets the global one,” says Victor Dlamini, who’s the chairperson of Chillibush Communications as well as a columnist.

The Loeries succeeded in their original mission, by and large, because advertising was cool back then, and still is. When I was in matric some time back in the Upper Cretaceous, all the clever, arty, well-rounded kids wanted to be in advertising. We’d heard it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on, and we believed. “Life’s a pitch and then you die,” Style magazine observed sardonically — as Gus Silber recalls, Style routinely covered the industry back then — and that only made it sound more desirable. Forget sport, it was advertising where South Africans were able to prove their ability to compete on the global stage after 1990. Remember the BMW mouse ad? To win awards at Cannes despite our small size and decades of isolation was evidence that we weren’t a total basket case: that when we were good, we were the best in the world.

Since those ads of the 70s and 80s we’ve seen the Sasol Glug-Glug ad (still the most popular ad ever produced in this country, according to Millward Brown), the Yebo Gogo campaign and the rise of brands like Nando’s and Kulula, which have been built as much on advertising that gets people talking as anything else. Last year’s Grand Prix winner was the Allan Gray “Legend” campaign, written by Paige Nick, who writes for the Sunday Times. One of the winners tipped for this year’s Loeries is the Brandhouse campaign I blogged about earlier this year. This year’s VIP MCs will be squired around the Mother City in Range Rovers — there’s a whole story behind that, which you can read on my Loeries blog — so it’s appropriate that Land Rover has two finalists, Base Jumper and Colour Swatches. (Take a closer look at the second ad — you’ll be fantasising about all the places you could be other than your office for hours.) And of course the Loeries is about so much more than TV ads now: there’s outdoor, radio, digital, mobile, interior design, even architecture. One of Y&R’s finalists is Pick n Pay on Nicol, and having been exposed to the store from concept stage, I’m hoping we bring home some metal. For a supermarket to win would be entirely appropriate: after all, this is where consumption in a branded world is at its most vivid and real.

So advertising has changed, in that respect. It’s not just about braaivleis now; it’s about where you buy your boerewors too. It’ll be interesting to see who wins big this year; who knows where the industry will be a decade from now. Given more time, imagine the possibilities.