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20 Years – A salute to South African Advertising

Advantage Magazine – February 2013 Issue

 

A look back at the dawn of SA’s democracy, and the commercials and advertising people who were a part of our lives. 

 

1993 was a year of high tension and drama for South Africa.  It was two years after FW de Klerk committed to ending apartheid and creating a ‘new multi-racial’ constitution. It was the year after de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize at the Unesco headquarters in Paris. During a time of hope and anticipation, the unspeakable happened – Chris Hani, General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, was assassinated taking South Africa to the brink of violent insurrection.

 

The country would be pulled back from a potential abyss by Mandela, who wisely reacted to the crisis by saying: “Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. … Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.”

 

AdVantage Magazine was born into that era which was marked by Mandela’s generosity and his desire to unite and growth the country. Trade sanctions that had been imposed during apartheid were lifted, and this saw a decline in inflation. The advertising business-to-business magazine’s first years were at the dawn of democracy when the Mandela government restrained from resorting to economic populism, and foreign capital was flowing into this country.

 

In terms of advertising, it was a period where brands were investing strongly in advertising and in some cases taking risks to build their brands. Who can forget the Classic Continental Rooftop Ad which had us all at the edge of our seats in cinemas. The ad was shot on the roof of a building in downtown Johannesburg, and had the city (and country abuzz). The ad opens on a shot of a wheel with a Continental tyre, which hurtles into action as a white Opel ramps over a hump, and veers dangerously close to the edge of the high rise. Then skids. Brakes squeal. But the vehicle is safe, albeit millimetres from the edge, thanks to (you guessed it) the Continental tyres.

 

In 1993 Hunt Lascaris [now TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris] had been going for ten years. They were founded under the mantra of ‘life’s too short to be mediocre’ by John Hunt and Reg Lascaris who did their first client presentation out of the boot of a Toyota. Their second client was Nashua which realised the birth of that legendary Orson Welles-ian payoff line: ‘Saving you time, saving you money, putting you first.’ But the voice over was no Welles, but a local imitator the duo used.

 

In 1993 a former UK barrister was into his fourth year as the creative head of a new ad agency called The Jupiter Drawing Room. That was none other than Graham Warsop who would go on to become the most awarded creative director in the history of local advertising as measured by the number of Creative Circle creativity points awarded to him. Warsop went into business with Renee Silverstone in 1987, and the two subsequently became advertising legends. This means that Warsop celebrates a quarter of a century in the industry this year, the same year that AdVantage turns 20.

 

At the time that AdVantage was created, the company that became known as Ornico was close on ten years old. From a humble start-up situated in Sandton’s twin towers, Ornico has grown its product offering to become one of the biggest advertising and reputation research companies in Africa. Today Ornico employs close on a hundred people and has offices in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Lagos, and enjoys representation in a number of other African countries. We started our business a couple of years before the inimitable Castrol ads staring Boet (Ian Roberts) and Swaer (Norman Anstey) were created, and which so many locals fell in love with because of the humour the ads contained.

 

I cannot express in words what a privilege it has been for Ornico to grow up alongside the local advertising industry, from the unbanning of the ANC and release of Mandela, to the first democratic elections; through the creation of a vibrant economy; to witness the birth of the digital era; and to see local start-ups and agency founders become international giants.

 

The great tragedy, of course, is that the opinionated octogenarian John Farquhar is no longer with us to raise a glass to toast AdVantage. Farquhar adored advertising, lived for it, fought for it, screamed for it, while he courted and cajoled agencies to do better work. And Farquhar did so much to make AdVantage the magazine it is today.

 

So as we toast AdVantage for its premium content, exclusive analysis and thought leadership, let’s remember Farquhar and all he did to bring insight, innovation and excellence to the industry. Salute AdVantage! Here’s to another 20 years.

 

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