The agency behind an advert which made use of historically inaccurate information which it presented as fact, has apologised, withdrawn the campaign, and returned the Gold Loerie award it won at last weekends’ prestigious industry “Oscars”.
TBWA Hunt Lascaris issued a statement on the sources used in “Past and Present” Campaign created for the Apartheid Museum at Gold Reef City.
“TBWA Hunt Lascaris confirms that it inadvertently took some of the sources believed to be trustworthy and used them in its recent award-winning ‘Past and Present’ campaign at face value and should have dug deeper.”
It highlights the significant risks associated with using contentious, unverified material in a social media age. The agency admits its own internal investigation showed several of the quotes it used “appear to be in question as to their true authenticity.”
The advert juxtaposes audio of racist things allegedly said by US President Donald Trump and apartheid-era prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd. Three are attributed to Trump and four to Verwoerd. Actors’ voices were used to illustrate some of the supposed quotes.
1. Verwoerd: “By now, every one of us has seen it practically that blacks cannot rule themselves.”
2. Trump: “They're bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists…”
3. Verwoerd: “Give them guns, and they they’ll kill each other. Let us all accept that the black man is a symbol of mental inferiority, laziness…”
4. Trump: “Laziness is a trait in blacks, uh it really is, I believe that.”
5. Verwoerd: “Blacks and whites need to adopt development divorced from each other…”
6. Trump: “We need to build a wall, and it has to be built quickly…”
7. Verwoerd: “That is all the word apartheid means.”
The advert makes compelling listening, and judges at the Loeries must have thought so too.
CEO of the awards, Andrew Human, says they require contenders for awards to verify that the ads submitted for consideration have been aired and have been signed off by both agency and client, in this case The Apartheid Museum. The museum is yet to comment on the furore around the advert. The museum, a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, relies on its integrity – and this sort of misstep is precisely what historical revisionists might leap upon to discredit the institution.
The agency says it acted in good faith, using publicly-available and ostensibly reliable sources. But deeper research reveals that much of the information the agency relied on is questionable, and some outright false.
Futurist Graeme Codrington is working to improve the quality of information on the internet and was among the scores of listeners to my weekday Money Show to draw attention to the fact that there were issues with the integrity of the content.
“Clip one of Verwoerd I could only link to the hoax speech attributed to PW Botha and the same goes for clip three. Clips five and six are in reality one sentence and the one that I managed to link directly to Verwoerd and that if combined reads as follows: “Blacks and whites need to adopt and develop divorced from each other, that is all that the word apartheid means”.
"Some of the phrases attributed to #Verwoerd were from a fake speech attributed to #PWBotha. It was a rewriting of his #RubiconSpeech in which they added additional words…"— 702 (@Radio702) August 23, 2018
— Graeme Codrington (TomorrowToday) https://t.co/TbVqY6vsZt #DonaldTrump #ApartheidMuseum #TheMoneyShow
The issue with the advert is that it was created for dramatic effect yet presented as fact. There was no suggestion that the ad made use of artistic licence, hyperbole or any other mechanisms to enhance the dramatic effect of the content.
The brutal reality is that both Verwoerd and Trump have provided plenty of real content that could have been used to make precisely the same point, but the agency (and, by extension, it’s client) created a narrative that undermined their own credibility. In a world where “alternative facts” are seen as passing for truth and where the manipulation of information for political gain is increasingly used to undermine debate, facts matter more than ever.
Even in advertising.
(And if you are wonder where the “sex” is referred to in the headline, there isn’t it any. Sorry to have disappointed you. It hopefully amplifies the point about the importance of the use of facts.)
Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award winning financial journalist and broadcaster.