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Simba Steak Gatsby and Masala

Chips!

by Brandon Edmonds / 30.08.2010

We like our chips. Almost R2 billion of the almost R5 billion South African snack industry falls to those salty little heart-stoppers. This is certainly beer, convenience and absent health-literacy related. Quick and cheap is the real ubuntu. The commonest common denominator. But that kind of out-sized market share is a throbbing red dot on the multi-national scanner. So it’s no surprise that Pepsico, the colossus bested by Coke in the great cola wars of the 80s, bought half of Simba (for a laughable $55million) in the late 90s, through its Frito-lay subsidiary.

That initial stake has since swollen to total ownership. Smart move since well over a quarter of all crisps sold locally goes to the lion. Interestingly, most of the chips market (a massive 60%) goes to “unbranded bulk packs” sold informally on our streets. Proving the country remains at a level of consumption largely immune to the lure of advertising. It had to be chips rather than soda for Pepsi since Coke has an all-conquering partnership with SAB breweries – meaning immense local distribution chains stretching from bare-knuckle townships to glitzy suburban malls.

Acquiring Simba was part of a global Pepsico push to ‘buy dominant regional potato-crisp makers’ and included Walkers in the UK and Sabritas in Mexico. Pepsico knows we like chips. And we’ll go on liking chips until the array of sedentary home leisure options (video-games, TV, Facebook) changes from sitting still and staring to getting up and doing. No sign of that just yet. Besides, hanging out and reaching for industrially produced slivers of be-salted carbs go together. They just do. If you can’t be the thing everybody’s drinking, be the thing that makes us want to drink. Salty snacks. Pepsico now dominates the global chip market. It’s rival Coke doesn’t.

Simba Chicken Walkie-Talkie chips

We’re a pretty important salted crisp market for Pepsico – 9th biggest on the planet ahead of both China and Australia. How’s Simba doing locally? Who can say? Its books aren’t ‘open to public scrutiny’ and actual figures remain an industry mystery. What we do know is that locally 30% of children are obese – the flipside of the kind of rampant malnutrition germane to a developing economy. Chips, fairly cheap, high in fat, low in fibre, aren’t helping. Though childhood obesity isn’t on a par with Aids as a public health concern, it’s getting there. Simba obviously wants to outrun any link between snacks and poor health – the best way to do that is to seem like a national treasure. A brand committed to local values. Benignly part of the scenery. An innocent aspect of our everyday lives.

Bringing us (with the glib inevitability of a press release) to the current ‘Lekker Flavour’ campaign. Chips as ‘freedom fries’ – patriotic markers of belonging. Chips as real time cellphone snaps of localness. Chips as media made South African signifiers. Chips as chips off the old nationalist block. Nice try. Is anyone feeling it?

It’s way too slick for starters. The ‘creative team’ behind the campaign haven’t let up and allowed the dough to rise. Everything is flattened by promotional intensity. You get the impression of a closed fist battering your complacency. The TV ad campaign was deadeningly about technique over substance. There’s an affectless digital quickness to the imagery. There’s nothing local about it. It has the airless mediation of a coordinated campaign. It never for a second spills beyond the controlled boundary of ‘broadcast air-time’ into our daily social reality. It has nothing to do with us, and the more it tries to seem ‘local and lekker’ – the harder it seems to be trying, and the more off-putting it becomes. It is the branding equivalent of American tourists speaking Afrikaans and pronouncing local names. They get the gist wrong. The consonants don’t drag enough. It doesn’t sound right.

See them all here.

Trevor ‘could I be more exposed?’ Noah yabbers in a flop sweat while the civilian hoping their ‘lekker flavour’ surpasses all comers has to listen to his overblown and irrelevant take on the origins of their particular recipe. The ad makes Noah talk at the contestants rather than listen to them. Their own everyday biographies are ignored for a flurry of empty ad-speak signifying nothing. It’s symptomatic of the misjudged priorities of the campaign. And a perfect metaphor for the modus operandi of a big time snack brand puppet-mastered by a giant American multinational: talk at the consumer loudly, quickly and often enough – and they’ll obey.

Simba Vetkoek and Polony

Knowing the private corporate and pubic health backdrop behind the campaign makes it hard to take anyway. It’s bullshit. Mahala won’t be joining what Simba shamelessly calls ‘The Mzansi Flavour Movement’ anytime soon. And the flavours, which is what matters most, are largely disappointing. Even after a national competition process apparently taking over 180 000 entrants. We had an office tasting of the four finalists – and the results amounted to shared disappointment.

You’d think ‘Vetkoek & Polony’ would be perfect – that doughy give meeting savoury meatiness – but no. It’s bad. ‘Toxic pink,’ someone said. Like cardboard. Like wet chalk. Like the sky above a concentration camp. Bad. ‘Snoek & Atchar’ is a whole lot better. Tart and piquant. But no advance beyond Fruit & Chutney. Things plummet dizzyingly with ‘Walkie Talkie Chicken’. Take unwashed curtains hanging up for decades in a coastal bed & breakfast. Liquidize them along with used hay, pelican droppings, and danced on sawdust – then squirt the mess on an unsuspecting chip. Close. The winner ought to be Monray Sackanary’s ‘Masala Steak Gatsby’ – for its rounded spicy kick and good beefy undertone.

But the winner will be Simba (and Pepsico) if – on buying any of these fraudulent calibrated bags of salted fat and oil – you imagine that you’re doing anything remotely good for you (or your country). Have a naartjie instead.

Simba Snoek and Atchar

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RESPONSES (35)
  1. Cantankerous says:

    Yeah, heavily underwhelmed by the flavours. Bring back original Chicken flavour from the 70s.

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  2. Noban2 says:

    Good article

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  3. Max says:

    ‘like the sky above a concentration camp’!!!
    brandon, you are a champion of the word!!!

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  4. kid chourico says:

    What amazes and annoys me the most about this ad campaign is their dogged determination to invert the racial stereotypes that we all know lurk behind each of these ‘flavours’ – to the point of ridiculousness. So the brains behind walkie-talkie chicken is a white woman when we all know that it’s a township delicacy. Vetkoek & polony has stylish young black advocates when we all know that it’s the staple of poor whites. This has been the modus operandi of South Africa’s unimaginative and politically timid advertising industry for the last few years – when there’s any risk of a strereotype being infrerred, flip the circumstances around 180 degrees and dress it up as glitzy surrealism. Utter crap.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m not entirely why we’re getting economy lessons here at Mahala now, but anyway, to the comment above:
    thats being overly sensitive. We have a diversity of cultures and races, but you always get one racially emo kid crying ‘white guilt’ or something whenever it is discussed.

    Can we not have some interesting, and pretty gross sounding, potato crisps without it being racist? Even apparent attempts to specifically not be racist, according to your theory, are shot down by people complaining about racism. I dont get it.

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  6. kid chourico says:

    ‘mous, I think you misunderstood my comment completely. I’m saying that it’s the advertising industry being overly sensitive to racial stereotypes and then bombarding us with nonsensical imagery as a result. Savvy?

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  7. freddied says:

    tee hee”pubic health backdrop” is indeed a problem in this country…

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  8. Anonymous says:

    why does it have to have anything to do with race at all? How about some strange flavors we all instantly recognise as uniquely south african? And gross. You’re taking it to the next step. ‘Yes, it’s South African, but this one should go into that racial package, and thats all wrong too, put that flavor with this skin colour please!’ my crisps must adhere to racial stereotypes, any breaking of that mold belies subdued racist overtones from the advertisers!’

    and if race HAS to be taken into consideration, why are you giving people shit for trying to do so in a non-confrontational way?
    Why did you want to see? Some skinny boer hanging out his caravan with the family in the back, holding a sign saying, ‘I FOKKEN LOVE VETKOEK AND POLONY, I CAN AFFORD IT!’
    Or some Sangoma dished out in goats bladders and beads saying, ‘EAT THESE WALKIE TALKIES, WE’LL ROLL THE BONES AFTER!’

    You are making the stereotypes and then assigning the guilt to the corporates.
    It’s an alright ad campaign. It’s trying to include a whole breadth of cultures and turn them into a target market. It’s not being exclusive, or targeting specific races. It’s everyone equal under capitalism. A beautiful metaphor for the potential of the rainbow nation, where we all only mean as much as the rands and cents in our pockets.

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  9. brandon edmonds says:

    This is so weird. You made it about race! Nobody else. I don’t mention ‘race’ AT ALL!!! Read it again. You clearly have such a deep-seated mental setting in this regard that your pre-conceptions curate what you take in. Must be an awesome way to be – deciding what you see exclusively on your own raced terms. Unbelievable.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    not your article brendon, i’m reacting to the comments.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    KEEP UP MAN!

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  12. brandon edmonds says:

    Oh God I’m such a doos…talk about blinkered perception!

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  13. Yup, savvy... says:

    I agree with Kid Chourico – if you take something that is seen as almost “belonging” to one grooup, and then lump it with another, it just doesn’t ring true. And it’s irritating that the advertisers think we’re naive enough to buy it. I’m not saying racial stereotypes are good, but I also don’t think inverting them in this hamfisted way works either.

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  14. kid chourico says:

    Brandon, I railroaded your piece and “made it about race” and for that I make no apology. Actually, it’s about “cultural groups” and how horribly/deliberately wrong the advertisers got it when they ascribed certain characters to certain flavours, but since it is impossible to discuss cultural differentiation in South Africa without the issue of race cropping up – you get the picture.

    If ANYONE out there knows of any middle income farming woman of European cultural descent (that’s how I avoid using the word “white”) who regularly prepares a dish of chicken heads and feet for her family, then please let us and Simba know. Let’s cut the pussyfooting bullshit here and acknowledge that certain communities are almost entirely associated with certain meal types for reasons of culture and economics. To suggest differently through advertising is insulting to the intelligence of all South Africans and more so to the particular communities that actually do partake of those meals.

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  15. maxi says:

    There are a few things that bugged me about this piece (naïveté and lack of direction among them), but what got me most was that one line: “Mahala won’t be joining what Simba shamelessly calls ‘The Mzansi Flavour Movement’ anytime soon.” You the voice of the Mahala community now, BE? Be careful of ‘we’.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    The first time I ate Walkie Talkies and mompani worms was with a white afrikaans family.
    The first time I had vetkoek and polony the coloured guys from work bought me one.
    The first vetkoek I ate my mother and domestic worker of the time made together in the kitchen, Florence gave my mother an improved recipie which shes used since.

    Stereotypes: Humpf.

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  17. brandon edmonds says:

    Sounds like a way better article than this one @kidchourico. Why not send it to me: brandon@mahala.co.za? Maxi forgive the Royal We(e) – a stream I’m now aiming at your primly polished loafers!

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  18. Anonymous says:

    kid chourico so basically what you’re saying is that you skim-read the article, made an erroneous assumption and make no apology because this is all about race even if it isn’t?

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  19. Bradley Abrahams says:

    if it ain’t CRACK-A-SNACK … niggah it ain;t shit!

    CRACK-A-SNACK controls the hood! Come alive – they been doweling a SNOEK flavour for ages!

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  20. Andy says:

    that’s why we need you Bradley

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  21. Schmatthew Schmeriksen says:

    “Like the sky above a concentration camp. Bad.” This is disturbing, but brilliant. I chuckled (not without a measure of guilt.)

    I get what Kid Chourico is saying. I remember those Trellidor ads, when, without fail, they’d use a white burglar for the dramatised break-in segments. (I MEAN, C’MON!!) It feels PC and try hard. It’s affected.

    The article isn’t about race, but let’s not pussy out and pretend it’s not an implicit issue. Putting a white woman in an obviously black-culture context speaks to a racially-minded approach on the advertiser’s part from the outset. What reality did they draw that image from? It’s doubtless a contrivance.

    Nice piece though.

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  22. Phumlani says:

    go on kid chourico wit your bad self!

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  23. arnaud says:

    Really enjoyed reading this !
    The pictures remind one more of Sta Soft than the ROOOOAAAARRRRING lion of days gone by.

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  24. Kayo says:

    KREOLS!!!

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  25. Joegz says:

    Epic piece of journlizm charizmo! But im gonna be swak and utterly non-pc and say i dig the design and images on the ads. Especially the ‘snoek and atchar’, come on its got style!

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  26. Anonandonandonandon says:

    you people make me hate coming to this website so much. bunch of privilleged spoilt kids bitching about nothing. die.

    PS: those chips suck ass. much like all of you twats.

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  27. Anonandonandonandon says:

    the article was sweet.

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  28. Anonymous says:

    who is editing these images for simba?
    the design is terrible. the photos are okay but it was executed really badly. lazy designer.

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  29. Anna says:

    so none of u have had the nando peri peri chips comme on uve all been manipulated by this brand in the past , very well written article though

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  30. jolene says:

    Those flavours only belong in their original food forms, whatever cultural stereotype they’re attempting to coax coins out of – I can only imagine the food technician’s shame in having to attempt recreating them with E-number ingredients at the whim of some tasteless executive’s crack-induced inspiration… Perhaps the reason the ad campaign is executed in such a first-year design skill manner and I’d guess disconnection from anyone who might actually be a target is the ad team’s attempt at saving South Africans from the destruction of any previously held positive taste associations with the original bearers of these flavours…

    What scared me most in the article though is the amount of money spent on chips and snacks in South Africa. With the number of people here suffering from diabetes, heart disease and obesity these chips (and their ad campaigns) should come with similar warning labels to cigarette and alcohol packs…. Or imagine everyone put the money they spend on chips into a fund to feed people who were actually hungry and starving…

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  31. Morton says:

    Good article Brandon. I almost didn’t read it, since it’s preaching to a convert. Glad I did.

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  32. bob1 says:

    im amped on the polony vibes! brings out the boer in me 🙂

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  33. Also Anonymous says:

    Wow, Brendon, you seem to know a lot about salty snack. Maybe you should start your own.

    And to everyone who posted commetns about the ham-fisted way in which the advertisers chose to portray the people who came up with the flavours…well, this campaign actually used the finalists who came up with the flavours in question in each tv ad. So if there was a white woman talking about walkie talkie chicken, it’s because she came up with the flavour. Not because they were trying to reverse stereotypes, but rather because South Africans were doing that themselves.

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  34. ronel says:

    Interesting babble about the four different flavour ads. Forget politics – what I want to know – WHO WON THE BLOODY COMPETITION that ended 30.09.2010??? (Voting for the favourite flavour). When you sms, it costs, what, R2,00? All those R2’s adds up and the competition organizers walks away with far more than the competition prize of R50,000. So, at least tell us who won, FFS! Yes, I’m sad it wasn’t me – I could have done a lot with the prize money. But keep making lekker Simba chips. Love all ya all.

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  35. Anonymous says:

    When last did I see racism and potato chips in one sentence… If not my own then I will be damned to hear this ever again. How is this going to contribute to the change the industry is trying to push! tell me Ayobaness is a black stereotype and I can gracefully slap you across the face. because that is not what The whole black community stand for. With that said don’t shut out the spirit of ubuntu the ad game is tryna sell to you ignorant bystanders…

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