Studying communications at California Lutheran University has prepared me to be media literate.
I learned the dance and tricks of advertising and marketing firms in America and could withstand the wooing of brands claiming to give me everything I want with a simple swipe of a credit card. After being taught the dance, and the importance of not falling for the romance of marketed desire and greed, I have come to love my new dance partner: South African media.
1) The Mail and Guardian
The newspapers in America are slowly dying. They have resorted to writing about what sells the most print and sold their souls to the advertising companies. If they haven’t done that, their articles still don’t compare to the witty, sometimes nitty-gritty, and beautiful stories of the Mail and Guardian.
Each issue holds stories about politics, Southern African news, education, health, and a little bit of sports. My favourite is when they write about American news. Our culture seeps into the news all over the world and it is interesting how we are so much revered and sometimes laughed at by other countries and how ridiculous we can sometimes look. But overall the writing, topics, and spread of the newspaper is informational and entertaining. I spend my weekends reading through the articles and never feel like I’m wasting my time.
2) Roadside Advertising
It is common here to find people handing out flyers at robots for different businesses. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to not make eye contact and to wave away the vendors. But at the same time, I still see the flyers and newspapers. Even if I don’t buy the papers or take the flyers I’m still aware of what each of the vendors are holding. It’s a brilliant way to get advertising out to the people who can most afford it.
The upper class have cars while everyone else rides in taxis, rides bikes, or walks to work. The people who have cars are employed or have enough money. These vendors are getting paid minimal amounts of money, the employers are getting their name out, and the consumers are being flashed with deals and brands that may not be relevant to them but they are consistently exposed because of their commuter route. It’s a brilliant way to expose a brand to the audiences who most likely can afford their product.
As well as flyers, large corporations have sponsored road signs. Sometimes streets are marked by a KFC sign telling where the nearest restaurant is or Pick ‘n Pay branch. It can sometimes be helpful when I’m craving some fried chicken or when I need a few groceries, but most of all it’s brilliant advertising. Sometimes roads aren’t marked well or even at all, but with these road signs decked out not only do they help me not get lost but also help me find places to sort my cravings.
3) Radio Chatter
I’ve been listening to the radio quiet often here and I am presently surprised with how little the DJ’s talk about celebrities and how much they talk about current issues. The most I’ve heard about celebrities has been about Kim Kardashian and the recent racy pictures which the DJ’s used as an opportunity to talk about the ethics of the picture rather than Kardashian’s sex appeal. They also played a clip of Bill Cosby and his wife being interviewed by Associated Press and the alleged sexual assaults. They debated over if he did it or not, but also talked about the ethics of using the tape even though Cosby thought they were done with the interview. They also discuss politics and concerns of the post office strike, the power crisis, the water shortages in Gauteng, and even throw in humor on the morning show to brighten up the commute.
The music is a mix of American Pop and South African music. The news updates are brief, the commercials are annoying, but the music and the chatter are far from boring.
4) Banks Beat Beauty Billboards
In America advertisements for weight loss, make up, skin care, and various other vanity products run the show. Here, banks rule the billboards. Besides a few upscale clothing brands, most of the billboards and radio advertisements have been for the banks. The second most noticeable is the telecommunication companies who are vying for customers in an emerging market for cell phone data and internet. Even if people struggle to pay for a car or petrol, they most likely have a cell phone. More people have cell phones than functioning toilets. With those odds, it’s important to provide cheap but reliable service to the public to ensure that they continue to hold the business of their loyal consumers. The companies take full advantage of their markets through radio, billboard, and newspaper ads.
During my time here, it’s been fascinating to see the similarities and differences in media. I’m thankful for the ways I’m able to take advantage of great news sources and the ways I can observe different advertising strategies. But also, it’s interesting to see how advertising is shaped by the values of a country. It’s a dance between what the consumers demand through their own values, and how companies listen to the needs and push consumers to purchase their products. This dance may look different in each country, but the purpose is all the same.