Alert! Not only has dairy and bottled water company Clover appropriated John van de Ruit‘s standard sign-off line – “Spread the love” – for its latest ad campaign, it’s also appropriated the complete personage of Ferial Haffajee, editor of the Mail & Guardian, and turned her into a hawker of bottled water and a shill for her own newspaper’s advertising department.
I know this is a touch off the subject of SA Lit, but such was my surprise upon paging through the latest M&G and coming across this -
- that I couldn’t suppress the urge to amplify my general sense that the sky has, at last, started falling.
Let’s map out the transaction involved here: Ferial Haffajee is approached with an offer to appear in a Clover advert series, the purpose of which is to milk her reputation (sorry, can’t help myself) for fearlessness and journalistic rectitude to create warm, fuzzy feelings for the Clover brand and, more specifically, sell the company’s line of bottled water, Aquartz (which is the product that’s featured on Haffajee’s page at the Spread the Love website). Haffajee agrees, presumably for a fee – why would she do this for nothing? – and cash flows out of the Clover coffers. Then, after the print and broadcast adverts are made, Clover books a full page in Haffajee’s paper for the ad featuring the editor, and cash flows once again out of the Clover coffers, this time into the newspaper’s bank account, and thus indirectly into Haffajee’s.
Definition of “shill”: A house employee who pretends to be a player to attract customers. My cash-flow interpretation above being correct – I allow that I haven’t got comment from Haffajee – the slogan “Spread the love” takes on highly unfortunate connotations indeed.
Among the more serious questions raised by this move of Haffajee’s is: How will the M&G now report on the price-fixing investigation in the dairy industry, which saw Clover turning state witness after admitting that it kept surplus milk out of the market to keep prices high?
That fact bears repeating: Clover admitted to scamming South Africans by keeping the price of milk artificially high. (Read the latest coverage of the scandal, which is still developing, on iAfrica.com.) And here’s the script the company wrote for Haffajee to parrot in a TV commercial, filmed as part of the campaign:
“Truth is power is love… Clover spread the love.”
- View the complete TV advert here. (But take some anti-nausea pills first.)
We are witnessing shades of Isabel Jones here, not so? South Africans will remember Jones as the consumer campaigner who, toward the end of her career, began promoting products rather than reviewing them, profiting from her erstwhile credibility. The move garnered Jones this remark in the obituary that ran in Haffajee’s own paper:
Her credibility took a knock when she started endorsing frying pans and then a weight-loss product.
“Perhaps the whole journalism profession crossed the line when Isabel Jones started endorsing products,” suggested Kuzwayo Advertising head Muzi Kuzwayo in the Rhodes Journalism Review.
“She changed from being a ‘guardian of the consuming society’ to a cheerleader of products. She sold her credibility and tossed her objectivity for superficial lines written by copywriters. Will she ever take a case against her own clients?” he asked.
“How will she ever deal with competitors of the products she endorses?”
Added Rhodes University lecturer Douglas Mitchell, in the Mail & Guardian Online: “How could anyone who’s seen her Bauer Pro Cookware infomercial take her seriously as a journalist? I know I can’t.
“… As a consumer journalist, she’s damaged goods,” he charged.
Damaged goods is right. Clover, knowing that it can expect to take more price-fixing stick this year (the Competition Tribunal trial is still coming up), co-opts the editor of the paper most likely to give it a thrashing, and induces her to mouth nonsense to enhance its image.
What on Earth… is this?!
Denise Meadon, Clover marketing manager, has her answer down pat:
“In a competitive market place, consumers will gravitate towards the brands with which they have emotional ties… We wanted to tell our loyal consumers that we love and care about them so much that only the best tasting and most trusted quality Clover products are good enough for them. The campaign also shows a different side of the Clover brand that has never been done before, such as the cropping of the logo at the bottom of the teaser print campaign, as well as the almost surreal settings of the shots.”
- For a gushing, pro-Clover review of the advert campaign (which was directed by American artist David LaChapelle, whose cred has now also been thrown out with the surplus milk), see this story on Marketingweb.
Anyone with a snappy alternative to Ferial Haffajee’s ridiculous “Truth is power” quote, above, should do the following:
I’m signing off now – ask for me at the nearest bomb shelter, but mind the bits of sky hurtling earthward if you come over to visit.