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A Test of Character

by Mahala High Five Brigade / 13.03.2013


You’d be surprised what people will put themselves through for R30 000 bucks. Busking on a busy inner city Jozi street corner, taking a polygraph test that asks you some of the most disturbingly personal questions, and then having it photographed and video’d and stuck on the internet, while all the people you know, and a whole bunch you don’t, are encouraged to watch, vote and share!

And to witness this bizarre ritual of online marketing, we’ve been invited down to Newtown in Jozi, bright and early on a Saturday morning. You see KWV3 is a brandy with a bit of a brand issue. It’s got the pedigree of being matured for 3 long years in premium French oak barrels, but brandy in South Africa has something of an image problem. You know what I’m talking about. When you think of brandy you think of dopping oppie plaas, Rugby, 2-tone shirts, veldskoene and people who don’t really know what ‘eish’ means. And the people at KWV3 want you to associate their fine tipple with the crew at the Puma Social Club, Thesis, Pop Bottles, Maboneng and STR CRD. Nothing says bank like a whole cast of cool black inner city hipsters actively and freely choosing your product. For where they go, the mainstream is sure to follow. But how does a brand engage these flighty free-borns who are constantly cool-hunting their vintage get ups in pop-up stores and borrowing influences from the street cultures of London, Lagos, New York, Sao Paulo and Tokyo, and sharing it on their smart phones?


Well that’s what we’re here to find out. It’s been dubbed a “character test” and today’s activities will check all the boxes required of an online activation while walking the long and perilous tight rope of not coming across as just another example of lame marketing jive clamoring for attention in an already cluttered media and mental space.

First off the idea of trying to find a person with the best character is pretty unique. Character is an important but often maligned value in modern society. We’re pretty shallow like that. Looks trump substance at every turn and especially when it comes to media and marketing. Most ‘viral’ competitions tend to blend blind luck with one’s ability to motivate people (your timeline ‘friends’) to click the like button on your behalf, for the win. Having to prove yourself as a real human being of substance, instead of being targeted because you’re part of the “in-crowd” is pretty refreshing.

So how did we get here? A few month back people were encouraged to enter this competition online. They went through a process that whittled them down to 25 contestants who gathered here in front of OST in Newtown on this fine Johannesburg Saturday morning. The group gets invited down the road to the Asylum building where one by one, each is hooked up to a polygraph test and bombarded by a series of the most uncomfortable questions.


“Have you stolen anything in the last year?”
“Have you ever cheated on your partner?”
“Do you think you don’t have the character to succeed in this competition.”

An interrogation. And only those selected by the machine as being 100% honest will make it through to the final round. People basically had to admit their faults in an unrestricted show of radical honesty, in front of a whole film crew and a large audience of spectators. A process that definitely required a bit of character. And that’s how the final 5 were selected.

From there, the sequence of events picks up pace. The 5 finalists: Anthony, a big dude who works in security, Seametswe who hails from Soweto, Zinhle, a student, Spleef an artist and Franco a big middle aged white dude from Hartebeespoort; get whisked away to the corner opposite the Market Theatre for the next stage of the character test called “Heavy Metal Busking”. The band Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness or BCUC for short, are set up and jamming a catchy riff. One by one the contestants are expected to step to the mic, bust out their dance moves and incite the passing crowd to fill the hat with coins and tigers. No time for shyness or stage fright. Beads of sweat popping on foreheads. This shit is real. It’s far easier to be a spectator with a notepad than to have to run the risk of coming across as lame, corny and off-key. The music, in truth, is all kinds of horrible. And that’s no reflection on BCUC, but rather the improv talents of the contestants. Some are better than others, but in general it’s an exercise in not giving a shit what other people think and just getting it done. Eyes on the prize. Embarrassment is momentary, R30 000 should last a bit longer.

Next up, the not-so-famous-five are whisked away for a thing called “Street Royale” where they have to battle wits against a kasi gambler and sleight of hand expert, more than adept at sneaking money from the table and into his pockets. It’s really just a test of street smarts, an exercise in not being taken for a ride and being switched on and assertive enough to intervene when you’re being hoodwinked.


Lastly, the chosen 5 were taken on an “Urban Game Drive”, either in a taxi or a zippy Mini with game drive seats on the back. This was kind of weak as a character test, but kind of cute and fun at the same time. Basically it just required the contestants to identify a BEE Buffalo, Skothane Meerkat, a Sandton Cougar, a Consciousness Lioness and the Izinyoka, all played by a series of extras, dolled up for the part and planted around Mary Fitzgerald Square. Just like the polygraph, they all got 5 out of 5.

And boom, it was all over and everyone slowly drifted towards their other Saturday distractions, leaving the film crew to dump the footage and create 5 viral videos for the KWV site, which the public can watch, vote on and decide who is worthy of the R30 000 prize.


The big question is: Will 5 people in Newtown doing a bunch of random challenges shift the brand image of KWV3? Nope, but it’s a good start. And the message is pretty clear. Much like a fine brandy, a person’s character is only revealed over time. In 3 years the average person goes through a whole cycle of challenges and hopefully grows from the experience. Just like the brandy. They both essentially mature and improve over time.

Essentially the day was all about creating connections and drawing these parallels out in real life. And remember, having character is important, but it’s what you do with it that counts.

Now you decide who gets the moolah. Vote for your favourite KWV3 character here.

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