Blog Thatcher

What South African political parties need in the run up to the election is some seriously good advertising.

If there’s one thing one can say about the current South African political landscape is that it lends itself to some strong and hard hitting advertising, and I must say, I’d love to play a part in it.

Not that I’m overtly political or support any particular political party.

I’m an advertising person through and through, and if there’s one thing I really like doing, is writing and creating ads that get noticed and talked about.

Political advertising is a form of advertising that any good creative copywriter would yearn to work on, simply because one is given so much free reign ie one can produce the type of hard-hitting advertising that is often not possible with (for example) fast moving consumer goods. This can be seen in advertising produced over the years, on behalf of political parties in the UK and US.

One campaign that has always stood out for me was the advertising produced for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party in the 1980’s. Whether one liked what she and her party stood for or not, it was powerful advertising indeed-advertising that got her elected, in three consecutive elections.

The ad agency behind her party’s successes? Saatchi & Saatchi, led by two brothers from Baghdad, Charles and Maurice, who were virtually unknown when their powerful advertising campaign catapulted Margaret Thatcher into power.

The Saatchi & Saatchi agency shot to prominence with a poster that will forever live in the memory of “adlanders” the world over. It showed a dole queue snaking out from an employment office and disappearing into the distance. The headline? “Labour isn’t working”. The copy below read, “Britain’s better off with the Conservatives”. It was simple yet changed the course of politics in Britain, bringing the career of Prime Minister Jim Callaghan to an end, and ushering in the Thatcher era and 18 years of Tory Government.

Such is the power of advertising.

The Saatchi political campaigns have become the stuff of legend, studied by aspiring politicians and aspirants looking to create their own pieces of advertising history.

What this campaign did was alter how politicians viewed political election electioneering. Ad agencies were never really appointed to handle campaigns for political parties before the 1980s. Suddenly, political parties saw that powerful advertising could sway electorates in ways never before imagined and went out in search of ad agencies capable of turning out really good work.

Today, there’s nary an election devoid of advertising.

Now, I’m well aware that South Africa is not the UK or the US and that what may go there may well not work here. Those countries are first world in every respect, whilst only a small section of our electorate are first world in their thinking (the higher LSM’s, across the colour divide). The vast majority of the voting public are not. Advertising a political party in South Africa is more challenging than it might be in a first world country.

From an advertising perspective, it’s a good challenge to have though.

This South African election will be an interesting one, for as much as the ANC are expected to have an easier ride than when Jacob Zuma was at the helm, there are several issues that could cause their normally loyal voters to think twice.

Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’m not overtly political but I AM politically and economically aware, and I do a lot of reading.

The Land without Compensation issue is one that will not lie down and die, in my opinion. It’s an extremely divisive issue that will become an even bigger one as the elections draw closer.

Then there’s crime. Corruption. Racism. Power cuts. High unemployment. And an incredibly sluggish economy.

How the ANC will tackle these, or promise to tackle these, will be closely followed by the electorate. And its opposition. In particular, Julius Malema’s EFF – Musi Maimane’s DA.

The Freedom Front Plus? Well, they will be weighing in for sure – as will Patricia De Lille of the new GOOD political party, Kenneth Mosheu of the ACDP, Mosieu Lekota of COPE and the leaders of all the other South African political parties.

It will be an interesting election for sure, and all the issues mentioned here absolutely lend themselves to good strong advertising.

Typically, election advertising in Africa makes use of billboard advertising, street pole advertising, maxi pole advertising, bus shelter advertising and other forms of outdoor advertising. This, backed by radio advertising – and in the case of the larger political parties with bigger advertising budgets, TV advertising. Bulk sms will also play a role. I’m sure that this coming election in South Africa will see the same advertising media being utulised – but with a sizeable chunk of the budget given to online marketing in the form of social media.

Twitter, facebook and You tube advertising will all put their hands up, and with good reason. It goes without saying that good, strategic online marketing can do wonders if done correctly.

What I’m looking forward to seeing is either powerful and bold “in your face” advertising or more subtle “makes you think” type of advertising from the competing political parties. Both approaches could work well, but will need to be tailored to the different groupings making up an incredibly diverse South African electorate.

For sure, those ad agencies fortunate enough to have political parties as advertising clients will have their work cut out for them coming up with messaging that not only talks to this electorate, but as importantly, is understood by this electorate.

There’s fun to be had though, and for a copywriter like me, I look forward to seeing a few clever headlines playing their part! I’m envious for sure.

Gerard Kavonic is a copywriter, conceptualiser of advertising ideas and co-ordinator of marketing projects. He resides in Johannesburg and aside from his interest and involvement in Bitcoin, runs This country’s smallest ad agency, Kavonic Hone. See He has been in the South African advertising industry for a good 30 years and during this time has won a number of awards for copywriting. He works on a full agency or ad hoc project basis and also offers a consulting service. He can be contacted on +27 83 444 9888 and His skype address is gerardkavonic.

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