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[Orchids & Onions] PR hack attack shows a tragic lack of suss

It's interesting how different ads are received and perceived by different people. I saw this first-hand this week when my wife complained about the latest TV commercial of Mazda's cute and funky Mazda 2 car...
Her reaction: Rubbish! What's the point? Silly!

My reaction: Listen, dear, you are not the target market.

At the risk of getting a clout upside the head from my nearest and dearest, let me say the target market for the car is clearly young, funky, upwardly mobile people, which I don't think we've been - apart from being younger, at some stage...

I, on the other hand, think it's great because it has the zip, energy and vibe to appeal to the target market.

We see the car (beautifully shot and in an arresting metallic red colour) cruising the streets of the urban jungle. So far, so standard. This is the template for most car ads these days.

But as the driver, young, blonde and pretty, not to mention with a subtle business-like air about her, turns the corners, she encounters hip young street artists and dancers.

Each one of them holds up and spins a sign: "Normal way", then "Not today", followed by "Live a little" and finally, "Go somewhere you'd rather be".

That 'somewhere' is a great party overlooking the city populated by the twentysomethings who are the target market.

All through the ad, the lines of the car are emphasised as are other subtle things, like its information display on the dashboard, its equipment, its alloy wheels.

Why this gets an Orchid, though, is twofold. First, although it starts out along the clichéd cityscape environment, it cuts loose with the funky artists and dancers.

Secondly, and best of all, it has local relevance, because it is shot in South Africa and not some piece of recycled mid-Atlantic wallpaper.

Mazda has recently split from Ford and is launching an all-out campaign to win back and broaden its South African fanbase.

This is a great opening salvo, and it gets my Orchid.

[Orchids & Onions] PR hack attack shows a tragic lack of suss
© Sergey Nivens –

In advertising, as in life, sometimes a great idea is let down by poor execution or a lack of attention to detail.

Such was the case this week with an earnest attempt by the Department of Social Development to do some real-time, effective communication.

Perhaps realising the second Anti-Corruption Conference - held in Pretoria this week - might not be something which would attract the attention of a short-staffed and pressured newsdesk, the department (and its advisers or PR or ad company, presumably) put together an interesting feature about corruption.

This ran in a number of newspapers.

The story - written, and well too, in journalistic style - detailed how a former civil servant, now serving jail time for defrauding the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), spoke at the conference, urging other government employees not to follow his example.

Not only did he speak, he came dressed in his new, prison orange, uniform. There were photos accompanying the story, which showed him with his head bowed in shame.

Pretty good content and so far a lesson even for some clever brands out there that content is really king.

What a pity it was that the whole idea was let down by the caption, which accompanied one of the photographs: "A former Sassa employee edges members of the public and his former employees to stay away from crime."

Edges? Please people. Learn how to spell. The word should be "urges".

So, for turning a good piece of government communication into a bit of a viral laugh, you get an Onion.

However, the story does not end there, because it just underlines what I have been saying repeatedly about what happens elsewhere in the PR industry.

Bronwyn Coppola, who runs a PR agency, posted this piece of vitriol on her Facebook timeline, with a picture of the offending caption I have just referred to: "Don't you just love the state of journalism in this country? And far too many of them are arrogant pricks who arrive late for events, don't pitch up or never return e-mails. Sub eds - please start reading books. It will help you to learn how to spell."

Sadly, all that rant confirms is her lack of knowledge about the difference between editorial and advertorial or advertising.

Had she paid attention to the department's piece, she would have seen it was clearly marked "advertising feature".

In the process, she confirmed that many PR people are woefully ignorant about how the media work - and she displayed her ignorance in public.

Even when this was pointed out to her, she didn't apologise.

Sadly, there were a number of hacks on Facebook who jumped into the fray too with similar attacks, confirming that many won't let facts get in the way of a good vendetta.

Not that I am defending sub-editors, or even editors.

But, if you want to have a go at journalists, and at South African journalism, make sure you consider the glasshouse you're standing in before you pick up stones.

And, if you think that makes me an arrogant prick, too bad...

*Note that Bizcommunity staff and management do not necessarily share the views of its contributors - the opinions and statements expressed herein are solely those of the author.*

About Brendan Seery

Brendan Seery has been in the news business for most of his life, covering coups, wars, famines - and some funny stories - across Africa. Brendan Seery's Orchids and Onions column ran each week in the Saturday Star in Johannesburg and the Weekend Argus in Cape Town. Contact him now on moc.liamg@4snoinodnasdihcro

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