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What on Earth… is this?!

Ferial Haffajee Poster

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 -

Ferial Haffajee Advert

- 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.”

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.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    March 22nd, 2008 @20:21 #
     
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    I am abso-fucking-lutely speechless...

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  • <a href="http://philyaa.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    March 22nd, 2008 @21:09 #
     
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    This is a scandal. We should demand an investigation into the Mail and Guardian's salary policies. The poor girl is probably starving.

    I am absolutely resisting the cheap joke offered by her surname. I won't go there - I've got too much integrity.

    And I'm sure that a lot of people already have. And if there's one thing about me, I don't do other people's material. For better or worse, I will find my own path.

    But I rely on guides. Dear Ferial, you have just been demoted.

    But perhaps... Clover's fundraiser for Choc has had such an impact on the public, it has confused the buying public because each time they reach for the yoghurt or the milk, they think of images of children recovering from cancer. Maybe Ferial fell under that spell and thought she was helping the children.

    Perhaps she had too many easter eggs? too much chocolate skewed her vision? It truly is a faux pas of note. We expected more from you, Ferial. More critical, independent thinking, more integrity.

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  • <a href="http://bentrovato.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ben Trovato</a>
    Ben Trovato
    March 24th, 2008 @10:48 #
     
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    Quite frankly, I can see no point in continuing to live.

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  • <a href="http://sveneick.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sven</a>
    Sven
    March 25th, 2008 @12:56 #
     
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    "We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."
    John Swinton, former New York Times editor, in a speech during a banquet with colleagues (c. 1880)

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  • <a href="http://www.mg.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ferial</a>
    Ferial
    April 2nd, 2008 @10:40 #
     
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    Dear Colleagues

    Pursuant to the discussion of the Clover ad I appeared in:

    I did not get paid for it and entered into no agreement. I liked the concept and I liked the company: Karen Zoid; Helen Suzman; Gcina Mhlope; Glenda Gray were my fellow travellers into David Lachapelle's surreal world.

    I've pulled out since - I did not think I was walking into an ethical minefield; it just seemed like a good campaign. I liked the idea of highlighting sisters who are not celebrities as I try to do in our pages every week and with our annual book of South African women.

    I would not like to kill Ben Travato, so I've pulled out. I looked up Philippa Yaa on Google to see how I might explain her cattiness. I couldn't find a listing, so please tell her that I believe bitchiness is the refuge of the downtrodden. I received no money for the ad and believe her jibes about my surname are in poor taste. Yaa, that's what I think.

    In a comradely spirit.

    Ferial

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    April 2nd, 2008 @11:07 #
     
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    Thanks for writing in, Ferial. Two further takes on the ad, one from The Weekender:

    http://www.businessday.co.za/weekender/article.aspx?ID=BD4A736196

    And one from Ferial herself, published before her note to BOOK SA, in the M&G:

    http://www.chico.mweb.co.za/art/2008/2008mar/080328-milking.html

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 2nd, 2008 @11:20 #
     
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    Meeow! Bring me my beer, my chips and my E-Z-Boy Recliner Rocker! My body is wracked by all sorts of politically incorrect gender stereotypes and fantasies! I have been possessed by the soul of Ben Trovato! Pity me!

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  • <a href="http://sveneick.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sven</a>
    Sven
    April 2nd, 2008 @11:48 #
     
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    Hmm. The idea of corporations using the concept of love to sell stuff still stinks. Mammon should keep his filthy claws off the one thing he clearly doesn't understand, and I for one would prefer my lessons in morality and humanism not to come from the enties that are transforming our planet into a giant, pain saturated trash compactor.

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  • <a href="http://bentrovato.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ben Trovato</a>
    Ben Trovato
    April 2nd, 2008 @14:32 #
     
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    It can't be mine, Richard. I don't have one.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 2nd, 2008 @14:46 #
     
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    Did you get a good price?

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  • <a href="http://philyaa.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    April 2nd, 2008 @20:04 #
     
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    Dear Comrade Ferial,

    You are just making it worse now. What you wrote to me won't minimize what you have done. I expected more from you. You've got a real, important job, and I admired you. Since I'm one of those obscure South African women who is hoping to appear in the pages of your newspaper one of these days, I'm quite shocked by your reaction. I had no idea that I was important enough to get a personalized insult!

    Does this mean that everything I do will be trashed in the Mail and Guardian? A part of me asks. I, like you, have crossed a frontier, one that I didn't know existed. I have done the inexcusable thing of challenging a powerful editor. But what about the other people who have sent their shocked responses to the Clover campaign? Why have you not picked on them? You have rather targetted "the downtrodden."

    Hit me on Google, I have a page on it.

    It was a cheap joke about your name, but it was more a play of words, a guess on how much you were paid for the gig. Which I'm sure was more than R500, anyway. It was in poor taste, I'll agree. I'm sorry.

    You can tell you're not a freelancer. I wouldn't pose for a rich monopoly for no money. I'm just too goddamn poor.

    I would also be very defensive and embarrassed if I were you. It's very awkward, especially in stilettoes. Just go and see a friend for tea, and let it go.

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  • Lesley
    Lesley
    April 2nd, 2008 @20:44 #
     
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    The editor was not paid a cent to endorse the corporation. Ok I am trying to dig this. She just did it because she likes the campaign? What campaign? I don't get it really. The ad sells the brand Clover - no milk or yoghurt in sight so presumably they are trying to say something about their brand experience (aaargggg - it's me taking a puke break), being one that is good for great woman, like Ferial, Mrs Suzman, Ms Grey et al. Though I only heard about those ads from the editor's response letter. Only one I've seen has the lady striding down the inner city road, a giant of an intellect, shedding her load of newspapers, sorry, no, LITTERING her newspaper all over my streets, the whole (you are right surreal) scene labelled Clover. Was there a feeling that this was art or something? It was done for the photography? Excuse me?

    The only thing worse than the decision to do this downright wrong thing was to pull out when criticised and then insist on still being right about doing it. If you think you are right why did you pull? And I want to know: Did the M&G charge full rates for the ad or did Clover's absolutely brilliant media agency negotiate a discount because the editor was also 'selling' (read littering) the M&G? Do tell.

    Not sure tea is going to solve this. Maybe we should just read it and weep.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 2nd, 2008 @20:51 #
     
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    I think we should all pick on Sven. He said "mammon." Or Rustum. He said a naughty word even though he was speechless. Or soulless Ben, who deserves to be ground to pulp under Ferial's stilettoes, for never writing more than a one-liner unless he's paid to do so.

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  • <a href="http://sveneick.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sven</a>
    Sven
    April 2nd, 2008 @23:55 #
     
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    Hey, what's wrong with Mammon? I can mix it up a bit if you like, I believe I have found an equally appropriate corporate deity in the form of Baal/Moloch.

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  • <a href="http://philyaa.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    April 3rd, 2008 @05:14 #
     
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    Wow, Ben, you should get the case of Leopards Leap! Look what you've started! and you should invite us all round to share it. Some of us really need to relax.

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    April 3rd, 2008 @09:22 #
     
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    Hey - sorry I'm late on this thread. But I googled Phillippa and got plenty of hits... Methinks Ferial misspelled her name, along with Ben Trovato's (either he's too big to mention it, or he's brewing a big comeback). Perhaps subediting wasn't a rung on her ladder to the top.

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  • ronwyn
    ronwyn
    May 18th, 2008 @19:36 #
     
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    This all makes me laugh! It really appears that some people have nothing better to do than bitch and complain. SO WHAT, she did the ad, she wasn't paid. It sounds like the people who have problems with it are jealous. Get over it, move on and manifest your own journey in life. That will make the difference.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    March 31st, 2009 @12:09 #
     
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    Now this deserves a bump for the sake of those, like me, who hadn't seen it before. A hugely entertaining dust-up provoked by our own fearless Perry White (viz. Superman).

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    March 31st, 2009 @12:39 #
     
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    You know, I tried manifesting my journey and all I got was a bunch of ectoplasm roadkill on the superhighway of wishful thinking. And now I can't get it off my tyres.

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    March 31st, 2009 @13:02 #
     
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    Sounds like you didn't spread enough love around first, Lauren. The roadkill does that if it doesn't feel rightly appreciated. John tried to tell you.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    March 31st, 2009 @13:10 #
     
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    I try, Liesl, I try. I try to stop being such a hater.

    I try to just believe.

    I TRY to spread the love.

    Wait, that does mean sleeping around, right?

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    March 31st, 2009 @13:15 #
     
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    I think "sleeping around" has something to do with different park benches that constitute a bergie's territory. Some kind of ectoplasmic marker maybe?

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    March 31st, 2009 @13:19 #
     
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    Well if that's the case, it sounds like I'm gonna be manifesting a nasty case of Hep A in the near future...

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  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    March 31st, 2009 @13:52 #
     
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    Just to make a Plebeian point here, but, why is Clover milk R2 more than any of the other brands? WHen its the same substance? To promote their sycophantic Damien Hirsch (edgy dead cow art)-like marketing campaigns, mebbe? Anyone see The Corporation? Comparing companies to psychopaths - as in no sense of responsibility, no qualms about lying, multiple personas? How can the editor of a free-thinking progressive newspaper such as the M&G let herself be so duped? One wonders what ad campaigns City Press will be running in the near future ... more money, more BEE or is it BEEE

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  • Sarah Frost
    Sarah Frost
    March 31st, 2009 @13:53 #
     
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    sorry, that was from sarahf

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 31st, 2009 @16:18 #
     
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    Wow, what a party I missed! (First thing I did was Google Phil Yaa. I got 20 pages of hits. Tried again, deliberately misspelling her name. Got 17 pages of hits.)

    Does anyone else have the feeling that they are perpetually falling down a rabbit-hole? I used to really respect Ferial until the travails of a friend who did some work for her suggested that she lashes out rather unfairly when criticised (for more evidence, see above). But this has me dazed and confused. What WAS she thinking? Gcina, Karen and co don't work for newspapers that might run the ads in which they appear...

    But I wish to thank Ben-editor not just for the sky-update, but for drawing Sven out of his lair and away from his waves (yessss! yesss!), and generating two sub-threads (between Richard and Ben T and Lauren and Liesl respectively) that have had me ROFLing helplessly. Ectoplasm roadkill? Bwahahahaha!

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