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Of Bubblegum and Paper Fires -A CRUNCHTIME Rant

So I’ve kept this to myself and done my best to forebear but please allow me to rant a bit.

There seems to be a proliferation in Zimbabwe of late of various brands and companies using the Nandos tactic of spinning current affairs into a catchy, witty, tongue-in-cheek advert. Considering that Nandos has done it for ages with significant success, it’s only natural that many will attempt to jump on the bandwagon-jumping bandwagon and try to come up with their own version of advertising sattire.

While it may appear to make sense I kinda have a problem with this. Trendspotting, as I like to call it, is built upon one simple premise – relevance. By creating content that takes a nod from what is currently happening an organisation shows the viewing public that they exist in the now. It also gives itself a “human” face as it gives the impression that it takes note of, worries about, thinks about and jokes about the same things that the everyday man does. If you think of a brand as a person (watch out for that series), think of this as that person doing what they can to fit in with the cool kids. They’ll try to laugh at what the others are laughing at. They’ll feign concern if others seem concerned. And even take up other interests if they think that it will help them fit in.

So here’s my problem with the practice. The lifeblood of relevance only works when the trend you are spotting touches a wider reaching audience that can relate to it. Nandos, through their adverts have tackled socio-cultural and socio-political issues like xenophobia, state-capture, African dictatorship and turned it into an witty advert for chicken. These issues touch the whole country and as such they resonate with a very high percentage of the populus. My problem is that here in Zimbabwe, many of the companies are too chicken (get it?) to tackle the heavier stuff and in the end focus on celebrity gossip and bar room banter. In the end a much smaller sample of people, probably of a certain geographical location, understand your content. in this age of social media, content travels much faster and much further than you can imagine. Gone are the days when content could be restricted to create regional inside jokes and inuendos. Now content even crosses borders faster that you can type “Sorry wrong group.” If someone has to ask what the advert, especially the copy, is about then you know that advert hasn’t reached them. It’s like explaining a dirty joke or translating a vernacular joke. He’ll get it in the end but it won’t be as funny. So rather than tell proverbial vernacular jokes with your content, that would need to be explained and subsequently watered down. Would it not be better to tell jokes that everyone will get?

Forced Relevance

Because this “angry woman and cat” meme was trending some made an attempt to spin it in their favour, with dire results.

What makes it worse is that there is so much forced relevance in the adverts. It’s like they go out with a fishing rod rigged with miles of twine hoping to get something, anything, that can help them use that trend to their advantage. Sadly, for many, there have been more old boots than tasty fish reeled in. Another thing, if you were that kid trying to fit in, but you were trying too hard to fit in, people will know that you’re trying to hard to look cool or to fit in. Eventually people will roll their eyes every time they see you coming. That shouldn’t be the case.

A passing moment

Apparently this is playing on the celebrity gossip that Prophet Passion allegedly bought Madame Boss a Merc. If you didn’t know the back story would it matter?

And the thing that most people don’t get is that every one of these trivial trends is exactly that – trivial, fleeting, passing. Over time people will remember heavy issues like xenophobia. They may remember the Zimbabwe Gems doing well at the Netball World Cup. What they won’t remember is Prophet Passion allegedly buying Madame Boss a Merc. Heck, I’m not sure many even care right now. Attaching the integrity of your brand to that condemns you and your longevity to the same fate. But because you are so eager to attach yourself to something, you will not deny yourself anything and in the end you will be seen as standing for nothing. And who would want to stand with a brand that stands for nothing? You will be just like a stick of gum that seems tasty and exciting at first but soon becomes bland and leaves people hungry. In so doing you will be nothing more than a paper fire that ignites brilliantly at first but fizzles out anti-climatically in a short space of time.

So what should you do?

I’ll give you the same advise that I would tell any teenage boy or girl that is struggling to find themselves in the world – be yourself. Yes, it’s that simple. Rather than trying to burden yourself with fake tatoos and unnecessary body piercings, just be you and show the world why you are worth getting to know. If you copy others, no one will ever actually get to know you. The purpose of advertising and marketing as a whole is to let people get to know you. So be yourself. Don’t resort to #bubblegumadvertising just because that’s what others are doing and you don’t want to be left off the bandwagon. Forge your own path and find your own place. Those truly with you will join you. It may take more thought, and maybe even more time, but it will certainly be more rewarding. I look forward to actually meeting you and getting to know you.

This has been a CRUNCHTIME Rant. See y’all next time.