DISAPPOINTMENT is the word that most accurately sums up the ad industry’s reaction to the outcome of FNB’s little spat with the government over its controversial advertising campaign, writes Tony Koenderman in Fin24's sister publication Finweek
There’s disappointment at the government for bullying a leading bank into humiliating submission; disappointment over the poor handling of the matter by the bank; and disappointment that the bank surrendered so meekly.
Meanwhile, some agencies have sharpened their weapons in readiness for a possible move by FNB, whose agency, MetropolitanRepublic, executed the controversy-plagued “live broadcast” advertising campaign expressing the dissatisfaction of the younger generation with the government’s failure to deliver on such things as quality education and crime control.
According to the Sunday Times, one youngster called Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga “brainless”.
But FNB buckled and promised never to do it again when the ANC called the campaign “treasonous” and implied that FNB could lose its government and ANC accounts.
This was not an outcome the ad industry welcomed.
Government’s accusation was “so over-the-top as to be ludicrous”, said Mike Gendel, vice chair of the Association for Communications and Advertising (ACA).
“No government in any country would call a brand to task for a campaign like this, let alone accuse it of treason. People in SA can steal electrical cables and genuinely sabotage the economy without being called traitors.
“Even more depressing was FNB’s decision to cave in. I don’t see why it was necessary. This is supposed to be the epitome of democracy.”
ACA CEO Odette van der Haar said it was disappointing that the government didn’t use the self-regulatory mechanisms offered by the Advertising Standards Authority to settle the dispute.
“When there is disagreement, the system of self-regulation should kick in,” she said. “This complaint should have been lodged with the ASA.”
Government’s reaction “took everybody by surprise”, says Emmet O’Hanlon, MD of the other FNB agency, DDB South Africa. “I don’t think anyone expected it at all.”
But the rising dissatisfaction of the younger generation should have been no surprise. More than one recent opinion survey has found an attitude of disillusionment among young people.
A survey last week by Pondering Panda found that 54% of respondents aged 13-34 felt speaking out against the government was the right of all South Africans.
Pondering Panda’s Shirley Wakefield said: “The results show that a substantial number of young people are disenchanted with a perceived lack of delivery and leadership in government.
"One in three youths feel government is exacerbating the country’s problems rather than solving them.”
Clients, for their part, are increasingly restless in the face of a fading economy, and continue to dither about new agency choices. Vodacom Group [JSE:VOD]
, a R500m-a-year advertiser, is understood to be considering a change, and there are unconfirmed rumours about Absa Group [JSE:ASA], and speculation about FNB.
Another 8-10 clients together billing more than R1bn have either made a change already this year, or are pondering their options.
Among them is Eskom, which has gone to Groovin Nchabeleng’s Blueprint. Eskom sacked its previous agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, when internal restructuring left the South African agency less than 50% black-owned.
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