Johannesburg - The Red Phone, a Johannesburg ad agency, has called on other agencies to support its campaign against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.
The campaign kicked off in Sunday newspaper Rapport on April 25 and continued in City Press on May 2 with ads urging: "End the Malema dilemma: Long live our boere, property rights and press freedom!"
Said agency MD Lauren Winchester, who spent R100000 on the ads: "We like to see ourselves as a brave and courageous agency and we took out the ads because we feel it's important for us to stand for something." The project was inspired by a Carte Blanche report on Malema, which showed that he shares traits with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
Winchester believes that the time has come for agencies to stop standing on the sidelines, but to spearhead and engage in national debates because they are positioned to do so.
"We have relationships with media and corporates." The ads encourage other brand agencies to get involved, but Winchester sees this as unlikely. Costs and clients are cited as reasons agencies choose to refrain from getting involved in issues. Advertising costs – which Red Phone carried itself – can be especially high for small organisations.
Clients could be uncomfortable with their agencies being linked to something they may not support. But Winchester claims to have never experienced any backlash from clients. "In fact, we have had a lot of support from corporates. We have had requests to join the movement; all we had were the ads, but we are going to embark on something bigger because of this support," she said.
The public has allegedly been supportive as well. The ads were created after the team discovered that people had become despondent and were left wondering what the future holds for the country. "We decided to create a message of hope, and we were overwhelmed by how such a small gesture was appreciated."
Message of hope of hope or not, the move may be see as a publicity stunt or just an attempt at being controversial and edgy. Winchester has been questioned on this point, but has no problem with being seen as controversial. She points out that the industry is slowly moving towards being more responsible, using the Young & Rubicam (Y&R) anti-gun campaign as an example.
Y&R Cape Town also used a political motif with its Umshini Whakho campaign, which encouraged the public to hand over unlicensed guns and called for the end of political violence.
Net#work BBDO executive creative director Mike Schalit's ethos of "doing well by doing good" which encourages marketers to be good citizens has been much publicised. Angel Jones is founder of Home Coming Revolution, an organisation encouraging expatriates to return to the country.
"Yes, we have been silent on issues in the past as an industry, but everything has a time and place and we will see more of commenting on national events," declared Winchester.