#OrchidsandOnions: Flexing abs about ads

Illegal: show me a disc or move your unwanted trailer, please; Even Twitter gets a grumpy Onion for its Jane Fonda moves...
Crime related to advertising is, according to well-known American marketing analyst and cynic Bob Hoffmann, the second biggest illegal sector in the world, after drug trafficking.

That includes all manner of criminality, from click fraud (which is huge) to billing scams and, one which is particularly prevalent in our lawless part of the globe, illegal outdoor advertising.

Johannesburg is especially badly hit by this scourge, which has grown in equal proportion to the stated commitments of various city administrations and political leaders to deal with it.

Illegal signs are everywhere you look – on traffic signs, at road intersections (where they pose a threat to road safety), on huge gantries, on glaring illuminated billboards in quiet suburban areas. And, while a lot of people are making a lot of money, the boom in outdoor advertising has already started to evidence the law of unintended consequences as adverts start becoming unnoticed wallpaper in the background.

But the outdoor companies largely don’t care, as long as the clients keep paying.

And the clients don’t seem to worry too much if the ad is clutter or, more importantly, whether it is erected illegally. The cop-out used by all brands is something along the lines of: “Our ad agency handles that.”

That excuse does not change the fact that a brand advertising on an illegal billboard is an accessory to a crime.

And, even though the crime is a contravention of municipal or possibly national advertising regulations and people may therefore dismiss it as minor, it is anything but victimless.

What if you get T-boned at an intersection because another driver couldn’t see you because of a billboard or was trying to read it while driving?

#OrchidsandOnions: Flexing abs about ads

Another response is: “Hey, lighten up, bru … people have to make a living.” To which my comment is: you can say the same about drug dealers and child pornographers…

This was prompted by me seeing an illegally parked “transit” trailer at an intersection in my area, advertising Abbots College, a school just down the road. The municipal regulations are specific about these types of trailers: they are only allowed to be parked in certain areas – and this is not one of them. They also have to have a permit and prominently display an approval disc. This one had no disc.

The people who parked it there removed a wheel and the towbar because, I believe, residents in other areas have taken to towing away these illegal eyesores.

The company responsible is Simply Visible, which describes itself on its website as “a leader” in transit advertising. I called the number on the trailer – belonging to someone called Terence Katiyo. He claimed he had a permit, but when I tried to question him further, he hung up and then his phone went to voice mail.

Don’t lie, Terence!

As for Abbots College, this is not a good look – to be associated with advertising which is criminal in nature at worst and irritating to the community in which you operate at best.

So Onions for Simply Visible and Abbots College for allowing your brand to be linked to this conduct.

#OrchidsandOnions: Flexing abs about ads

Continuing in my grumpy mode, I found one of the launch ads for Twitter’s “premium” offering, Twitter Blue, to be so absurd that it seemed like parody.

It showed some of the stars of the Twitterverse (no, I hadn’t heard of any of them) dressed like gym bunnies who had escaped from a ’80s Jane Fonda workout video. Then they took their fingers on an exercise routine… to prepare them for being used much more (geddit?)

This product is supposed to be aimed at the frequent users of the social media platform but, having seen the ad I would never sign up for Twitter Blue, for fear of being considered an airhead.

Besides, as many people pointed out (on Twitter), who is actually going to pay extra for what essentially amounts to a few nice tools (including one which allows you to edit Tweets before hitting send)?

One Twitter user posted a pic of a group of clowns with a caption which went along the lines of: This is what Twitter takes its users for…

Onion for you, then, Twitter. Apart from the appalling marketing, I don’t think this thing will fly.

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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