Give that man a Bells
Sean Jacobs | February 10th, 2014


There’s a commercial for Bell’s, a popular South African whisky (“Give that man a Bells”), that is currently doing the rounds on the Interwebs and has a lot of people weeping on Twitter and Facebook. The ad was released as part of Super Bowl Weekend. No there’s no Super Bowl in South Africa–it was just a marketing gimmick on the part of the creative team. The ad revolves around an elderly black man, clearly of some social standing and means (he doesn’t seem to be poor) who happens to be illiterate and learning to read so he can read his writer son’s book. And have a drink with his son.

Watch here:

The whole thing reads as contrived (middle class black man can’t read) and ridiculous (nothing new, one might say, in the world of liquor advertising), but this one attempts to elide obvious economic realities, idealizing generational upward mobility of black people in South Africa (largely a fantasy if social indicators can be trusted), while propping up other racial fantasies by including some odd racial politics (the people who teach our heartwarming protagonist or give him books are white women). All this sentimentality is trotted out in order to promote drinking. The ad will literally drive you to drink.

These kinds of ads that appeal to hopeful but completely unrealistic egalitarian fantasies are a dime a dozen in South Africa BTW.

Which brings me to another commercial that also relies on sentiment, but which I found more relatable: an ad for parastatal Telecom’s mobile service, 8ta. The ad features Jomo Somo, the Pele of 1970s South African football (let’s not debate that now) who has had a colorful life as a footballer in the 1970s and 1980s (starred at Orlando Pirates, the most storied club in the country; was a teammate of Pele and Beckenbauer at the New York Cosmos and played for the Colorado Caribous; and bought his own football club in 1980s Apartheid South Africa*). Sono also coached South Africa at the 2002 World Cup. Anyway, the ad–one that is up for an award*–reconstructs the story of Sono and his wife, Gail’s wedding day. No need to summarize. Just watch:

* After Jomo Sono came back from playing in the United States, he bought Highlands Park (the club in the video), and renamed it Jomo Cosmos. Yes, the story of Jomo Sono still needs to be told. Other contenders for best ad at the South African Sport Industry Awards this week are a bunch of less striking and more conventional ads, including one for sports channel Supersport featuring the hilarious dad of London Olympics gold medal swimmer Chad le Clos; another of those rainbow sports nation ads for beer Castle Lager; for bank ABSA; and, finally, one featuring wooden acting from members of the national rugby team.

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Sean Jacobs

Otherwise known as Hasan Wasan.

5 thoughts on “Give that man a Bells

  1. When we
    simplify history,
    normalize inequality,
    and celebrate the bare minimum,
    then we
    disrespect the struggles that got us here,
    trivialize our emancipation,
    run the risk of forgetting,
    giving opportunity to revisionists to dilute a painful past that lingers in the present.

  2. nice one, im actually embarrassed that i’ve never seen the wonderful Jomo Sono ad. I must admit i had some gripes with the Bells ad but theres other stuff that the article pointed out that i had totally missed.nice one

  3. I agree. This ad is crap. The fact that it encourages South African’s to learn is cancelled out by the fact that education and enlightenment is followed up by drinking alcohol. That is the biggest flaw. I also agree that some of the ‘white’ (cultural) nuances are completely out of place.

  4. I’m sorry, I understand your critic, but I loved that ad. I’m a writer, I was raised on a low-middle class family in Brazil and my father had very limited reading capabilities. It happens that, after he got older and his sons managed to help him, he attained a very good life standart.

    Unfortunatelly, my father passed away before my book was published, but that story was strikingly similar to mine.

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