Observers

All in the name of World Cup fever, advertisers around the world have been given the task of selling this year's host state - South Africa, the Rainbow Nation. One of our Observers isn't very impressed with the depictions of his home country.

"The average South African child does not grow up close to a game park"

Sean Jacobs teaches international affairs at the New School in New York City. He was born and grew up in South Africa, and will shortly be on his way home for the World Cup. He runs the blog "Africa is a country".

I know these ads are tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken too seriously, but as the World Cup nears and increasingly clichéd ads appear from around the world, I can't help but get more frustrated. It's so disappointing to think that the default image of Africa is still children, jeeps and animals.

 

The Netherlands - ING bank

What you see in this ad, produced for Dutch bank ING, is a continent that remains the same. The veiled woman in the desert, the women collecting water in a stream with buckets, the Masai [tribal community] ... It's only when you get to Cape Town that you get a sense of urban Africa. It's as though there are no skyscrapers on the rest of the continent.

 

Australia - Optus Telecommunications

This one's produced by Optus Telecommunications [Australia's national team sponsors]. I think that some people might watch this ad and read from it that if you go to South Africa and play football with the locals, well - they're animals. Yes, it's an extreme reaction, but didn't the Australians think about that before they came up with this weird scenario? The fact that the little boy is white is also poor taste. Yes, we have white people in South Africa, but having the only human South African in the ad as white, while the rest are animals... Well, that could be read very badly.

 

USA - Adidas

This unofficial Adidas ad, made on spec by director Igor Martinovic, is another offender. Firstly, it was filmed on Long Island, which is pretty far from South Africa. Secondly, the ending; the ball ... It's only since a documentary that showed African kids making footballs from condoms that everyone seems to think it's the only kind of football we have in South Africa.

Now I grew up in an urban ghetto, and there was a grass pitch at school and after apartheid I played in a Saturday league. The referees were dressed in black, there was a club house. I certainly never saw a ball made from condoms.

 

Mexico - Televisa TV network

One of our bloggers, Sonja Uwimana, pointed out to me that Televisa, the TV channel that aired this ad, said that they produced it in response to marketing surveys which showed that their audience thought of one big safari when imagining Africa.

The idea that we all live in a massive gaming park is ridiculous. Most people in South Africa have to take two planes and a car to a private game park to see the animals you see in these ads. The average South African child does not grow up close to a game park ...

There was also another Spanish-language service that had to apologise for airing a World Cup skit that showed characters in Afro wigs clutching spears and dancing to faux jungle music. Honestly!

 

South Africa itself isn't much better...

It's true that South Africa itself it guilty of selling this "safari utopia" idea. That's because we have a history of white advertising, which depicted the country as somewhere full of animals and tribal people. It's an image which apartheid South Africa sold to Europe and North America. And now, that image is being sold back to modern South Africa, because many foreign companies come here to produce advertisements as production is so much cheaper.

 

All bad?

Of course they're not all bad. A good example of a positive African soccer ad is Puma's beautiful ‘Journey of Football', which is actually about football and a realistic view of Africa. If you can get around the idea of a fast-food chain selling sport, then the McDonalds' ‘Four Shadows' is quite realistic too.

The Nike ad for the World Cup is also a good one - they're focusing on football itself, which is what all the others should have done in the first place..."