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The war of the newspapers?

I have been meaning to put this down for a while but kept procrastinating until yesterday afternoon, when I again drove past that billboard on the M1 South that reads “We’re ahead of the times”.

Now normally I would not give a rat’s you know what at such an advertisement, except this one is courtesy of that newspaper called the City Press.

You see, friends of mine a long time ago warned me about the dangers of the advertising industry where I was once a citizen.

You see, unlike normal human-beings, advertising types constantly spend time thinking about how to outwit, outplay and sometimes on that odd occasion, even stick it to the opposition.

A tough ask if there was ever one, because unlike in that land of that malaprop Bush, comparative advertising is not really allowed in these turbulent shores.

The Americans say that it is acceptable to stick it to the opposition in your advertising messages, and even ridicule the opposition, such as the well documented Cola Wars between Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

You must be almost catching my drift.

Anyway, so there I was driving in the company’s jalopy (and trust me, this is a real jalopy, unlike in the case of one respected newspaper scribe I deeply admire, who may or may not hail from the Zulu Kingdom) flashing back to my advertising days.

I remember that almost mythical story of how once Sonnenburg Murphy Leo Burnett capitalised on the experience of some middle aged fellow, if memory serves me right, who had survived a fall down Chapman’s Peak and he happened to be driving in a Merc. Leo Burnett’s opposition Hunt Lascaris, who happened to represent that other German marque pounced.

I am told within a short space of time the creative people at the agency had put together a TV commercial which would stretch the rules of the ASA a bit, and it would strategically flight over a weekend when the offices of the ASA would be closed.

I still remember the commercial: it showed a magnificent and sporty BMW driving where? You guessed Chapman’s Peak and it was shown negotiating the curves at high speeds. The title at the end read: “We beat the bends”

I am told that, as expected, the Merc people complained, but alas only on Monday, and at that time the Hunts crew was ready to voluntarily pull the commercial.

Now the fact that I am writing about it now should tell you the impact was already felt.

I digress.

So back to that advert by that Auckland Park based newspaper. Anyway I started wondering if indeed I was a creative person in an advertising agency, say one that represented the Sunday Times and/or The Times, what would I think?

I decided that I would, in my youthful smart Alec arrogance, declare it was on!

I would run to my art director and tell him that we have declared war on the advertising agency that does work for City Press.

“We have to do something bra! I mean dude we must. Stuff it, let’s just conceptualise and get it done. We will flipping convince the suits (adspeak for advertising executives) and client later bra,” I would say to my now psyched art director.

“Totally, dude,” he would answer emerging from a haze.

And then my art director has put together some layout with the usual corporate identity, I would apply my stamp with my one eye on that Loerie Award.

“Definitively more than just some city press,” my words would read on my mock-up for presentation to client.

PS: I spot these for fun and sometimes I smile to myself, like the time I was driving further on the M1 South and saw a string of billboards filled by advertising from the big banks. Incidentally they were lined up one after the other: ABSA, FNB and Standard Bank.

But interestingly ABSA’s advert just read “Where ABSA leads, the rest follow”. I only clicked after seeing the other bank’s Adverts. And I have reliably learnt from a high-placed source at ABSA that it was all planned. Part of some tactical campaign. Eish!


  • Sello S Alcock

    Sello S Alcock is the journalist formerly known as Sello Selebi who is still undergoing a transformation after being heavily teased about sharing a name and surname with former police National Commissioner Jacob. He maintains that Don Jackie is an acquaintance he met in a Hangar in Limpopo, finish and klaar! And of course he still believes in the notebook and tape recorder as tools of the trade of journalism. His other namesake, Julius, he thinks is just playing dumb. Sello is currently living the dream at Wits University after stints in the advertising industry and the financial services sector. He is still committed to fighting the good fight and reflecting on all things human and bizarre. He won't necessarily promise you a notebook but nothing but the truth so help him God.