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Driven a Ford Lately?

2009-07-24 15:05

Oh, yay, Mom remembered Melrose. Black belt? No, Black Cat. That's my Marmite. And Cremora's not inside... it's ooooon top!

I remember Melrose to this day. I still hear that tune in my head every time I walk past the breadspreads section in the supermarket. Those brands are so big they don't need to advertise anymore. Even Woolworths wouldn't dare no-name them. And they all made their name in the 80s, when advertising went from saying “Buy this, it does this” to “here's your fantasy come true!” South Africa, even in its white-run dark days, was always pretty cutting edge.

Was this because we had to make adverts to suit our unique political pathology, a world in which our future melting pot was still a compartmentalised, microwaved TV dinner? Or was it the drugs? I can't say – I was just a kid then. But picture this anyhow:

CED guy: (Fffffffft) So it's this sweet-smelling, cheaparse aerosol spray we have to sell to teen chicks...
Gay Junior Copywriter guy: (Ffffffft) How about we get a whole bunch of hot guys in white sailor-suits to stalk her every time she sprays?
CED: (Ffffffft) Yeh! Yeh! She'd love that.

And they were right. We girls just couldn't resist being Body Mist-kissed. The girls' changing room was a cloud of lavender and musk after gym class showers.

The test of a really good advert, in the long term, is not whether it is entertaining, memorable, or clever, or whether or not it wins a Loerie Award. The test lies in whether or not most people remember to buy the product, and keep on buying it.

For example, you probably also remember the Dixie Dishwasher advert:

Grinning Maid: “Madam, this new Dixie Dishwasher... you only pay for the part that works.”
Pre-Eve Madam: “Oh, Estie, I should let you do all the shopping.”
If you only pay for the part that works, what went wrong? Were most South African housewives more convinced by Sunlight's lemony goodness, or just even then unwilling to buy a product that sold itself with racist overtones? Or did Dixie Dishwasher not have many working parts, after all?

Luckily somebody at Dixie has apparently figured out what to do with the leftover chemicals, and started making cut price sodas under the same brand name. Drink up!

Things have moved on, through Yebo Gogo, Nandos and MTN, into the future. But still, when you mention the old commercials, the room erupts, people smile, the slogans are shouted and the old jingles ring out. Everything keeps going right! Toyota....

Why do these little pieces of propaganda still make us happy? Surely they're from a time many of us would rather not return to? Well the thing is, whatever the times were, our childhoods still belong to us.

We saw those adverts when we were kids, over and over again, and they'll always take us back to when we were young and more innocent, and life's possibilities were endless. Nowadays we're all a bit tarnished. Since those days, real life has taught us that advertisers lie; that smoking Stuyvesant doesn't lead to a healthy outdoor lifestyle skiing down slopes with bikini girls, and that Melrose is just cheese-flavoured fat.  A straight male friend remembers loving the Cameo pantyhose adverts, but also the awful “Crying Game moment” when he found out all their leg models were men. The new world we live in might seem less lovely. But only because we are too – we're harder to fool, and harder to please.  

Sadly perhaps, we can't have both youth and wisdom, both endless possibility - and the stupidity to waste it. Advertising will eternally tell you that you can, but it's just all a lovely lie.

Have you driven a Ford lately? Did you ever? I bet not. Despite all the promises, I never did, not once. And lately, the salesperson is probably going to be more concerned about whether or not you can afFord a Ka at all.

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