by Lebogang Rasethaba (@LeboRasethaba) If you want to know how tough 2018 was, ask polony. People won’t eat things that will kill them in much the same way they won’t consume bad content; the process of ingestion has become stricter and better.

For context, let’s go back even further.

Class signifier

It’s the early ’90s, South Africa is divided and we can’t agree on much but we agree that polony is signifier of your class — it’s aspirational and oddly kinda delicious. Fast-forward to the early 2000s and the black elite class doesn’t eat polony anymore; we eat things like bacon, salami, WE EAT HAM, y’all! But polony has a consistent and loyal fanbase in the working-class home. It’s still as delicious and aspirant and functional as it was in the ’90s.

Then it’s 2018 and, BOOM, polony is an enemy of the people. It’s now no longer a thing of personal preference; it’s no longer parma ham vs polony, it’s “if you eat polony, YOU WILL DIE!” And perhaps that’s what I enjoyed the most about 2018: the rise of the discerning working-class consumer.

Often when we have conversations about advertising, marketing, budgets, trends etc, they have the danger of existing within a nucleus, a microcosm of sameness. They now more and more need to include consumers because the latter are no longer happy to be passive in their consumption of the content we produce but, rather, want to be active shapers of a culture of content production.

Shapers of pop culture

Social media — and by social media I really mean “Black Twitter” — is now one of the biggest shapers of pop culture. Despite the name, I would argue that Black Twitter isn’t a race thing; it’s an attitude, a wit, a quickness, a sharpness, an intelligence, memes, lots and lots of memes that can literally decide if your campaign/advert can stay or not. (For the record, this isn’t a free pass for non-people of color to stake a claim or participation in Black Twitter.)

At almost every meeting I have before a shoot, a client will say “we don’t want any blacklash on social media”, which is code for “I am petrified of Black Twitter having me”. But it gets even more complex, because it’s not even just about how consumers respond to stuff en masse; they can even discern brand tonality. Something big happened socially (I can’t remember what exactly) and then Nando’s put out a statement in response, and people were quick say, “Nah, that’s not at the humour standard of Nando’s”, “Nando’s wouldn’t use that language,” etc. And it was true; it was done by a digital somebody trying to get in on the hype but the people said “no”.

So, here’s how this has all landed for me — how it’s gone from speculation to a proverbial coin drop, a moment in history.

“Broader African market”

At the time of writing, I’m currently finishing a beer advert and it’s for the larger African market, so the territories include Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, etc. We’re having interesting conversations in the edit suite and one of the marketing leads from the other African territories says that “the story has to be more linear and simpler and less complicated for the broader African market”.

My initial response is very sanctimonious: “Peeps, we can’t ascribe intelligence to geography. How can we possibly say that people from a specific region can’t respond to non-linear, complex, nuanced narratives? That’s very insulting to people’s intelligence.” (I’m sitting proud on my high horse now, feeling like a real man of the people).

Then the local client turns to me and says, “South African consumers are very sophisticated and advanced in how they respond to messaging in adverts… people here have been exposed to adverts for a really long time and now they are very literate in the form and demand more from a messaging point of view.”

So, as I eat my humble pie, have a slice with me, and let’s applaud our SA consumers for keeping us sharp, on our toes, honest and inventive. Because, if you don’t, Black Twitter will have you in 2019.

See also


MarkLives logo What are the industry expectations for the marketing and advertising industry in 2019? Kicking off our “Big Q” column for the year, a panel of key agency and marketing executives discusses the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and any consumer and communication trends they’ll be looking out for in the year ahead.

Lebogang Rasethaba (@LeboRasethaba) is co-founder of the multi-award-winning production company, Arcade Content. He directs ads through Egg Films; brand films, music videos and documentaries through Arcade; and is represented in the UK and US by London Alley. His work has won Creative Circle Ad of the Year; featured on sites such as Highsnobiety, i-D, Nowness and Vice; screened at TED Global 2017; and nominated as Best African Video at the All Africa Music Awards 2018, among other accolades. He has a handy fluency in Mandarin.

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One reply on “#BigQ2019: The continued rise of the discerning consumer”

  1. Awesome article Grootman. I love your take on consumer behavior through Polony. Lol ? awesome read. You should consider writing more.

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