by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki) Last month was ‘National Savings Month’ – and while it may have passed the attention of some of us who are just too busy earning a living to notice such things Sanlam took full advantage of the occasion by  plugging this into its ongoing ‘Wealthsmiths’ campaign.

The idea for this clever campaign was simple, but effective: find an average working guy, and persuade him to take his salary in R1 coins and pay for everything with hard cash. The person found by Sanlam’s advertising team at King James was a very normal, nice looking South African guy. It’s hard to find out his real name, but for the purposes of the campaign he became known as the One Rand Man. Perhaps we should just call him R1-man.

The campaign has earned considerable attention for the financial services provider, and rightly so – it’s a powerful lesson for people who have ‘lost touch’ with their money. We pay for our bills on the internet or through debit orders, we pay for our food and entertainment with plastic cards or now even cellphone apps, and we seldom actually touch the stuff. At the same time, South Africans are becoming more indebted, and—with events like the failure of African Bank—we see that it’s getting out of control.

Masses of media attention

R1-man has garnered masses of media attention, especially from the financial press. He was featured on Business Day, Personal Finance, r1 manand Finweek – who asked him to write a weekly blog. Even Huisgenoot got in on the action. This really helped push traffic to the campaign’s online movies. The YouTube site had over half a million views, according to Chief Creative Officer at King James, Alistair King.

King explains, on, that the campaign began with wanting to portray the typical person stuck in the trap of debt. The everyman (and woman) who struggles with work, life and the pressures financial well-being

“We wanted to ask them to spend a month looking at their money. What would happen if you had to look at a rand, every single day, instead of using credit cards where you’re removed from your money?” asks King.

Managing personal finances

I think it fits in very well with the agency’s other brainchild, Sanlam Wealthsmiths, which I’ve written about before: it’s a site/campaign that provides valuable insights and content on managing personal finances, rather than pushing specific products. King believes (and rightly so) that telling a story is a subtle yet powerful way of marketing your brand. King says, “To me it’s just a very delicate way of promoting something. That’s always been the challenge of advertising.”

r1 man 2The R1-man videos have minimal Sanlam branding on them – just a ‘Sanlam presents’ at the start, and then a simple @OneRandMan Twitter/Instagram tag at the end. King explains: “It’s very different to an ad that says ‘we’ve got a product for you’. We are giving people information that they’ll hopefully use for the right purpose and when they do use it, hopefully they use it with Sanlam. That’s the full circle.”

And of course, it’s a very brave, but smart way to market a brand. I say ‘brave’ because it’s something that’s never been done before, and there are certain risks when dealing with social experiments: the experiment could fail – the subject could ‘flip out’ or people around him could get annoyed. But King likens formulaic ad-making to “wallpaper” or “Voldemort”, saying: “If you are creating work that sucks the soul out of everyone who sees it, that is a risk,” adding: “The world craves newness all the time. The best way to cut through the clutter is to put something new in front of a person… that is actually the least risky thing a brand can do. So, in fact, creativity and imagination have less risk than formulas or ‘proven’ methods.”

Social media response

The videos are very well-shot, and the character of R1-man is likeable. The campaign used an aggregator system called Stackla on the dedicated site, for all the Tweets, Facebook comments, YouTube posts and Instagram pics. The social media response was interesting to see, and the exercise seems to have struck a chord with the younger crowd. Perhaps this was in part because of R1-man’s weekly vlog posts on YouTube that made for great viewing, and tracked his progress reality-TV style.

In a country where 58% of adults admit that they are not saving, it’s important that projects like this highlight that it is possible to live within your means, and that it pays in the end. While I would hate to have to pay for everything in cash, it certainly makes you think, when handing over that little piece of plastic.

Thanks and congrats to Alistair King and his team for pushing the envelope and creating an interesting and worthwhile content that shows how advertising can do good while promoting a brand. More so for making people really think about money.

Oresti PatriciosAd of the Week, published on MarkLives every Wednesday, is penned by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki), the CEO of Ornico, a Brand Intelligence® firm that focuses on media, reputation and brand research.

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