As thousands of campaigns across the world – from health, to crime, to activism – have unmistakably demonstrated, advertisements and the whole gamut of communications aimed at changing behaviours must, above all, be clever, clear and compelling. That our own department of trade and industry has chosen rather to insult the intelligence of the public with incredibly unimaginative anti-piracy ads is a blight on everyone concerned.
For a department with a half-decent appellation, it’s mind-boggling how the department of trade and industry let its latest print advert slip through.
You’ll find it on page 8 of the 12 June edition of Sunday World – ever since my run-in with the Sunday Times over its unashamed tabloidisation of its Bono-Julius Malema piece back in February, it’s the only Sunday newspaper we buy. That’s because even without Kuli Roberts’ now culled “Bitches Brew” column (us regular readers knew that her offending piece about coloureds was just another in a horror-show of bigotry and male-bashing that has played out over years), Sunday World is a read that will leave you feeling outraged and fired up for the week.
Think I’m being nasty or too highbrow? Here’s the opening paragraph of the lead story on page 2, “Intrepid TV and radio sports anchor Robert Marawa is licking his lips after soccer bosses grabbed bread out of his month because he refused to polish their shoes with his tongue”. Pretty wild, isn’t it? And believe me, there’s a whole lot more where that overblown wordsmithing comes from.
But I’m getting distracted.
What really grabbed my attention this Sunday was the dti’s print advert for the launch of its anti-piracy campaign.
At nearly two-thirds of the page, it can’t have come cheap, but, boy, does it come off as such. At the centre of the advert is a graphic of the kind a grade 7 school kid might bash together – a confused mix between a no-entry sign and a pirate’s insignia which has CDs for eyes, some kind of screen for a nose and little white squares for a mouth, either depicting a keyboard or a recording studio graphic. Quite frankly I don’t think the “designer” himself or herself even knows.
Still, the most alarming part of the advert is not the rank amateurishness of its execution, but rather in the message: “Avoid Piracy,” the copy exhorts readers. Avoid piracy? C’mon. Rob Davies and the team behind the launch of the dti’s anti-piracy campaign on 17 and 18 June can’t be serious?
For a department that is splashing a whole lot of cash and resources on this issue and is casting the campaign as part of its response to the complaints of artists (as voiced to deputy minister Tobias-Pokolo in Boksburg in September last year), this statement is the dampest of squibs. “Avoid”, with its inherent idea that you may still have a choice, hardly seems the kind of word that should carry a whole campaign aimed at educating “members of the public about the negative impact of piracy and urge them to adopt an anti-piracy attitude” as the dti’s media advisory on the event puts it.
In an economic climate where recording artists, songwriters and performers are “hungry” as rapper Slikour said at the South African Music Awards (with passion), the dti’s campaign isn’t to be dismissed easily. Davies himself made no bones about the issue in a recent speech saying, “The effects and implications of piracy are huge, as they affect the income and jobs of the artists. I call upon you to distance yourselves from these activities by refraining from buying these items and our anti-piracy campaign will not be successful if you continue buying fake CDs and DVDs.”
Noble sentiments for sure, but it would be churlish to point out that Davies’ anti-piracy campaign itself won’t have a hope of making an impact when its primary message is asking the public to “avoid piracy”? Avoid … like how? Like overweight people should avoid that supersized slab of choccie, but wolf it down anyway because it makes them just a tiny bit happy – much like a cheap CD bought on the side of the road?
Perhaps part of the problem is a state of apparent confusion in the dti over what exactly it’s doing.
At the same time as describing the launch of the anti-piracy campaign as a way to encourage an “anti-piracy attitude”, the official communication from the dti added another aim: “to educate and create awareness about the interventions contained in the existing legal framework, the Copyright Act and related matters, which can assist and empower artists”.
Quite how both of these – one aimed at music consumers, the other at its creators – are going to be achieved under the banner of the anti-piracy campaign and its confused graphic and weak message is unclear.
Maybe it’s all a distraction away from the significant failure of one of the dti’s key partners in the campaign, the department of arts and culture, to make good on the cash it splashed out on projects like buying Downtown Studios.
More than two years ago, under former minister Pallo Jordan, the idea was ambitious. “The Downtown Studios will be transformed into South Africa’s first music hub that will provide opportunities across the entire value chain of the music sector,” Jordan told reporters. “What we want to see is a state-of-the-art South African local content production hub.” Last year at the Moshito music industry conference, curious as to progress, I asked representatives of Downtown Hub which acts had recorded there, and was told the studio was still being “fitted out to world-class standards”. Artists I’ve asked about the possibility of recording there simply laugh – some bitterly.
I wanted to ask the artists appearing at this weekend’s anti-piracy launch how they felt about the campaign and, most pertinently, whether they were being paid for this particular gig. After all it’s about getting money back into their pockets.
But until now, there’s been no word of who will take to the stage at Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown on Friday and Sammy Marks Square in Pretoria on Saturday, 18 June. The Sunday World ad promised only “live music by popular artists” – usually code for no-one’s confirmed yet or Mzwakhe Mbuli’s still thinking about it. The dti’s press statement was no help either.
It’s no surprise though that no big splash is being made about the artists just days before the events. After all, even the department charged with stamping out the wholesale copying of their intellectual property is not telling people never to buy pirated music or report anyone who is selling it, but just to avoid the act if they feel so inclined. DM
Diane Coetzer is a freelance writer, who was the South African correspondent for Billboard magazine and the Contributing Music Editor of Rolling Stone South Africa for many years. She currently writes about South African music for various publications including Songlines (UK).