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South African Ad Satirising Colonialism Banned

London, UK
Chicken Licken’s Legend of Big John ad falls foul of the country’s new regulator, writes Laura Swinton
A South African fast food ad that subverts the country’s colonial history has been banned from TV by the country’s Advertising Regulatory Board, following a complaint that the ad mocked ‘the struggles of the African people against the colonisation by the Europeans in general, and the persecution suffered at the hands of the Dutch in particular’.

The campaign for Chicken Licken, from agency Joe Public, shows a 17th century African travel to Holland to colonise Europe. The ARB has ruled that the topic of colonialism was not an appropriate subject for comedy. “The Directorate is of the view that the Respondent’s commercial trivialises an issue that is triggering and upsetting for many South African people,” reads the ruling.

In its official response to the complaint, Chicken Licken said that the intention of the ad was not to mock the ‘struggles of colonisation’. Chicken Licken told the ARB that the intention behind the spot was to ‘uplift the South African spirit’. “That is the place from which the commercial stems, to show South Africans that Chicken Licken believes this country has all the potential to conquer the world and rewrite history from an African perspective. Its tongue-in-cheek sense of humour is a tone that consumers have come to expect, but its communication’s underlying purpose is to create a sense of pride and patriotism amongst South Africans.”

Speaking when the spot launched, creative director Martin Schlumpf and director Grant De Sousa commented on the potential controversy of the campaign. They said that the idea was to subvert arrogant colonial attitudes held by Europeans who first invaded  the country. They also argued that the campaign represented a more ‘mature’ South Africa, that was ready to address and talk about its difficult history.

“Colonialism is a big and touchy subject in South Africa and this was the perfect opportunity to turn it on its head and put South Africa on top, literally. South African consumers are maturing, they want to be challenged, they want to be entertained and they want to laugh, even if it is at themselves. Having said that we know we can’t please everyone all the time, responsible risk-taking with the correct tone and humour is vital,” said Martin, talking to LBB at the time. 

Director Grant De Sousa said he was inspired by contemporary paintings of Dutch colonisers and wanted to expose the hubris and pretension of the European arrivals who exploited the locals. “To be honest it is somewhat of a hot topic. We, as a country, are doing our best to move past it all. This spot was a good opportunity to make light of just how ridiculous colonialism was as a concept. The beginning of my treatment was this painting which we had all seen in textbooks here. It was this insane depiction of these glorified Europeans, namely the Dutch, rocking up on the shores of South Africa, and “rescuing” these poor African villagers.” 

The ruling that the ad is ‘triggering’ for South Africans has been met with derision on social media, with the majority of responses on Twitter taking issue with a complaint that assumes offence on behalf of Black South Africans or celebrating the satire. However some commenters agreed with the ruling, saying that they felt the ad’s humour could be misleading.

The story has generated interest in the local media. Speaking to radio station CHAI Fm, a station that specialises in matters of interest to South Africa's Jewish community, ARB CEO Gail Schimmel likened colonialism and its impact to the Holocaust and persecution suffered by the jewish people, saying, 'There are some situations that you can never laugh at'. However the presenters pointed out that, upon being asked to critically assess the Chicken Licken ad, both black and white employees at the station had found no issue with it and that South Africans often tried to 'take back power through humour'. The issue has also been picked up by local stations 702fm (which last week singled out the ad as a 'hero') and Power.

It’s a controversial ruling for the new body which only formed at the beginning of November, to take the place of country’s Advertising Standards Authority, which went into liquidation at the end of September this year. The advertiser will be submitting an appeal.

Whatever the outcome, the ruling and surrounding controversy comes at a time when South African brands are being more vocal about race and the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.