We Are Advertisers, Not Politicians.

We Are Advertisers, Not Politicians.

We Are Advertisers, Not Politicians.

1222 1600 Oliver Kagwe

I originally published this blog post on 19th March 2024, but then my website factory reset itself. Just like that, without my permission. As if I am not the one who gives it life and fame. My website guy explained to me exactly what happened – he mentioned servers, backups, things – but like many of us I didn’t quite get it. So now, here we are!

The controversial billboard ad for Kleenit.

Have a close look at the above billboard ad. It has been the talk of many for a while.

There are mixed reactions to it, but the majority of them are tilting towards sentiments like ‘If their intention was to garner publicity, then they were really strategic about it’,  ‘Visibility is visibility’, ‘The fact of the matter is they got engagement because everyone even outside Kenya is talking about it’ and ‘it has already gotten into people’s subconscious, and now they will buy it’.

Everything is grounded in first principles – the basic and most important reasons for doing or believing something. Why do we advertise? To sell. Sell an idea, product or service. We try to convey value to our audiences through the words and visuals we develop – to show them how they are benefitting from what we are selling. That’s the whole point of advertising and it is quite simple.

How we sell matters. ‘Tell the truth but make it fascinating,’ advised David Ogilvy. He discouraged us from using high falutin language (as I have used here) and instead urged us to ‘Go straight to the point.’ But most importantly, he reminded us to ‘Remain true to our brand.’

Also Read: If I were in charge of marketing Brand Kenya. 

Based on these first principles which I believe in as an ad man, I conclude that this campaign by Kleenit falls short of a good ad. It may seem like a great idea because it is shiny, but it quickly falls apart when one seriously interrogates what it is grounded in. One might argue (as many have) that sex sells, and sometimes it might. But not all times and not all brands can get away with it. 

We must understand that there is a difference between advertising and politics. There is a difference between an ad man and a politician. It all lies in what you think about this statement: Any publicity is good publicity.

Bad advertising jumps on this statement to justify itself. Lazy advertisers jump on it just because they can. Brands have promises and these promises guide how they behave – how they present themselves, what they say, how they say it etc. What is the brand promise of Kleenit? What is its essence? Are sexual innuendos consistent with what the brand stands for? I believe that what people say about our brands, and why they say it, matters.

We must understand that there is a difference between advertising and politics.

My raw reaction to the billboard when I first saw it was ‘what is this?’ that came from a place of mixed feelings. So to end the confusion, I started to scrutinise it (because I had the time, but mostly because I am an ad man). I concluded that it packs a lot.

Many ideas have been squeezed into one single thing to a point I was overwhelmed! I also feel disharmony between the idea of “catching bae with a bestie” and cleaning. 
I imagine the target audience was Millennials and Gen Zers. Obviously Kenyan, living in urban areas and very attuned to urban pop culture. People who have probably heard the song Nairobi by Sauti Sol. There is much to unpack about the copy and the design work, but at the risk of writing till morning, I wish to conclude.

The point of advertising is to sell honestly. The whole point of film-making is to tell stories, drive ideas or even just to express feelings. Let us stop creating work to win awards or gain reputation amongst our peers in the industry. Let us stop clout chasing. Let us base our work upon solid principles of our brands or personal philosophies. In the confessions of an advertising man David Ogivly said, ‘Resist the temptation to write the kind of copy which wins awards. I am always gratified when I win an award, but most of the campaigns which produce results never win awards because they don’t draw attention to themselves.’