Johannesburg – Those who watched television in the 1990s will remember the line “it’s not inside, it’s on top”, the iconic catchphrase of a Cremora creaming powder advertisement.
South African author Khanya Mtshali uses this as the title for her newly published book, which looks at the breakthrough and enduring moments of post-apartheid advertising in her country.
“It’s been at the back of my mind that I would like to investigate television adverts that mostly took place in post-apartheid. I knew I didn’t want to do it as a thesis but I realised that my writing style is more suited to cultural commentary and criticism that you would typically find in a magazine, newspaper or online article.
“I then thought of writing a collection of essays where I try to use these adverts as a way to explore other parts of our democracy, to look at where we were socially, culturally, and that’s when I began jotting down notes here and there and so I started working properly on it in January last year,” she said.
Mtshali says consciously and subconsciously, adverts contribute to memory-making and have a cultural impact that runs deeper than is often appreciated.
It’s Not Inside, It’s On Top is a blend of memoir, critique and cultural commentary that is fresh, contemporary and informed, inducing nostalgia in a way that only a good throwback can.
“These adverts also help us see ways in which we are able to laugh at ourselves at a time where things weren’t so pleasant. If there’s one thing you can say about South Africans, regardless of race, gender, class, it is that we are able to laugh at ourselves and are able to see humour where there might not be humour. We are a country that is innovative, and one that is able to put up a mirror to look at how we navigate our problems,” she said.
She pointed out that “ads such as the Castle Lager one from the late 1980s to early ‘90s, showed an image of South Africa that hadn’t materialised on the ground”.
Mtshali went on: “On the one hand you could say this was progressive as they were showing black and white people integrating, but on the other, you could say they were advancing a dishonest and potentially whimsical idea of racial relations. So they may have helped and shaped a certain constituency in our country, and moved forward and be open to the idea of integration in this country, but on the other hand, they may have let down another constituency by being dishonest about how things were on the ground.”
On ads she thinks got it a little wrong, she said: “The Savanna (cider) adverts were witty and dry. However, we need to be cognisant of the fact that a lot of drinkers of Savanna cider are black women who are enthusiastic and the ads behind the brand haven’t necessarily marketed to that demographic which is strange because they are one of the most social media savvy brands.
“So if you want to see how far we’ve come as a country, as a people, look at the developments we’ve made in various industries, then you should pick this book up.”