This question, now asked in retrospect, was posed to me during a live appearance on Chantal Rutter Dros’s ANN7 news slot this past Thursday evening. The natural reaction by some sections of the South African society would be that commercial brands must show respect to the legacy of our departed global icon and his family by waiting for his funeral to pass first, and then advertise afterwards.
I thought long and hard about this during the live interview – in the few seconds that I had – and my answer was that the best time is determined by the communication idea, and the supporting execution plan that must done tastefully given the occasion and cultural issues that may be at play.
It is worth remembering that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was already a commercial brand himself – that ultimately overshadowed his own organisation, the ANC – even at the time he gave his last breadth on this earth at 20H50 on 5th of December 2013. There are Mandela paintings, books, and shirts for sale. The 46664 brand, which is directly attributed to Mandela, has under its wing a big-ticket global event property, and a retail business with high-street fashion. Thus, in some sense it can be argued that the period leading up to and during the funeral was itself a commercial event that could be leveraged by other commercial brands. The only thing that makes tata’s brand peculiar is that it belongs to flesh and blood. The old-age debate is what matters more at this time of grieving – the commercial brand or the individual?
Let me expand on my answer that it is about the idea and supporting execution plan, using an example of arguably the most successful Mandela tribute by a commercial brand, and possibly a video that broke all South African records on Youtube thus far (hoping that I can confirm this soon).
Woolworths shot a video of a flashmob at their Parkview store on 7 December 2013, featuring the popular Soweto Gospel Choir doing a rendition of Johnny Clegg’s 1987 song called Asimbonanga, as a tribute to Mandela. As I am publishing this post, this Youtube video is raking up the numbers since it was published on 9 December, and is now sitting at over 3,1 million views and a massive 18 000 likes a mere 9 days since.
The Asimbonanga flashmob Youtube video has been a unprecedented success for Woolworths too. The best video on Woolworths SA Youtube Channel until then, which was uploaded in June 2013, registered just under 70 000 views. Asimbonanga’s views are 40 times more than the last best video! This has increased Woolworths’s Youtube average views per video from 2 750 to 23 643.
It is clear to me that Woolies conceived the flashmob idea, planned it and did all the necessary ground work well before 5 December. Truth be told, signs were there from as far back as June 2013 when Madiba was readmitted to the hospital with a recurring lung infection that he was certainly nearing the end of the road of a remarkable life characterised by forgiveness and commitment to build the rainbow nation of South Africa.
Key insights coming from the Woolworths Asimbonanga flashmob video success?
Clear strategy, planning, and timely execution are key to successful brand communications. It is doubtful that the Asimbonanga flashmob would have been as successful if it was published after Sunday the 15th, the date of Madiba’s funeral.
The Woolworths Asimbonanga flashmob video received massive amounts of free publicity including on TV and radio, as proof that it got wide appeal that was mainly positive. Many other brands published tribute adverts as well, and paid media laughed all the way to the bank.
However, other brands missed the mark in their attempt to leverage the passing of Madiba. One particular example is Virgin, which was accused by social netizens of blatant advertising. The title of the article about Virgin, published by The Huffington Post on 6 December, is self-explanatory:
Sir Richard Branson Criticised After ‘Shameless’ Virgin Active Nelson Mandela Comments