Colonialism is not a “no go” area for parody in advertising – but if you want do so, you must fully portray its negative effects, says an advertising appeal tribunal which has confirmed a ban on a TV commercial by Chicken Licken which tried to humorously turn the story of Jan Van Riebeeck on its head.
The appeal was lodged by Golden Fried Chicken – owner of the Chicken Licken franchise – after the Advertising Appeals Committee rejected its first appeal against a decision by the Advertising Regulatory Board which banned the ad because it deemed it “offensive”.
The complaint against the “Big John” TV commercial – conceptualised and executed by Joe Public ad agency in Johannesburg – was brought originally by one complainant, Sandile Cele. His argument was that the reversal of the Van Riebeeck story – where an African, Big John, “colonises” Holland – “makes a mockery of the struggles of the African people against the colonisation by the Europeans in general, and the persecutions suffered at the hands of the Dutch in particular”.
The Final Appeals Committee, chaired by Judge Bernard Ngoepe, said that it was not its place to decide on what would constitute a “no go” area for parody in advertising.
But, it added: “A point has to be made that the right to use parody must be accompanied by a duty of care to ensure that its use does not cause more harm than good; for example, by being seriously offensive to a section of the society.”
In constructing a parody on any subject, one cannot “distort or misrepresent, particularly where such misrepresentation or distortion is offensive”.
It found that: “What the appellant did in its advertisement, was to leave out the negative effects of colonisation (eg the undeniable sufferings it brought) or any reference to them, thereby presenting it as something harmless. This is insensitive and offensive to those who suffered under colonisation.”
It went on: “It is unthinkable that anybody could dare parodying the Rwanda Genocide or the Holocaust (the mere denial of which is a crime in other countries such as in Germany) and leave out completely any reference to the sufferings and horrors that are an integral part thereof, or at least condemn them.”
Regarding South Africa, apartheid, the successor to colonialism, was “actually declared to be a crime against humanity by the United Nations, thereby recognising the magnitude of the horror suffered by its victims”.
“Yet the appellant’s advertisement so conspicuously fails to reflect those sufferings that anybody who has not read the South African history, would get the impression that all was well under colonialism and its aftermath.”
The Final Appeals Committee confirmed the original ruling and appeal that the “Big John” ad be immediately withdrawn and never again used in its current format.