A handpicked selection of 25 memorable African TV ads, giving you a glimpse of the witty and facetious mini-dramas that have been entertaining your neighbours across the continent.
Stimulated by the vibrancy of our emerging economies and the breakthrough of telephony and consumer goods, the cradle of mankind has over the years become the eldorado of advertising that everyone wants a piece of. This has transformed commercials into remarkable filters through which we can follow the trends and their evolution across various societies over time.
So here follows a finely handpicked selection of 25 memorable African ads for you to enjoy the continent in all its witty, multi-facetious, cultural, brainy, creative and artistic glory.
The elegance of retro-vintage
1. “Super Timor” (Ivory Coast,1986)
To start this list with a huge kick, here is a truly unforgettable commercial directed by Etienne Chatiliez in 1986 for Super Timor, the powerful insect repellent. Probably one of the best African commercials of the past three decades, several elements make this spot the perfect TV ad: The dramatic situation at the beginning, the coming of a messiah with the miracle product, the hypnotic dance, the professional yet very relaxed actors’ as well as the repetitive lyrics make it impossible to escape from the bewitching mosquito dance! The Japanese version of Super Timor provides a good minute of laughter, too.
2. “Gauloises: La cigarette de l’homme fort” (1976)
“Gauloises: The strong man’s cigarette” shows off an African Chuck Norris giving a courtesy lesson to a couple of douches who attempt to help themselves to his pack of cigarettes. Worthy of a great action movie scene, the virile gentleman closes with: “You would’ve been better off asking me one nicely!”
The Gauloises were not only the cheapest and most popular cigarettes on the market at the time, but product innovations and interesting publicity campaigns also helped make them a cult brand.
PS: I doubt this was the director’s intention but the ad also manages to remind us that reaching for cigarettes is a health risk!
3. “Ngwerewere Sadza” (Zimbabwe, 1991)
Whatever happened to ads like this? Or is that what we’ll be saying about today’s ads in 2034? This classic commercial featuring The Rusike brothers was for a popular brand of meal: Ngwerewere. Zimbabwe’s own Jackson Five are still together – three of them – leading normal Christian lives unblemished by the notoriety brought by the entertainment industry and are still asked to this day to perform Sadza during shows.
4. “Sensation Condoms” (Ethiopia, 2012)
“Contraceptive social marketing” can present quite the challenge in some of our more conservative societies. However because ignorance has killed many more people, DKT International (a family planning and anti-AIDS charity) has been taking the lead in creative measures to popularize condom use in Ethiopia. By merging the country’s diverse cultures while removing the guilt associated with sex as long as it is safe, DKT uses innovation to lightly instruct in this picturesque commercial.
5. “Trust Condoms” (Kenya, 2007)
East Africa’s most popular condom brand was given quite a boost in 2007 with this ad. The genius of the spot (directed by Lowe Scanad), in which an umbrella becomes an incongruous prop, is that it intelligently and humorously dismisses the ludicrous belief some African men have about their male parts being too large for condoms.
The commercial ends strikingly with the indication of cross-generational acceptance of the rubber culture when both young and old are left in a complete state of appreciation as they clap in unison.
6. “Does HIV Look Like Me?” (Swaziland, 2008)
Hope’s Voice International, whose “Does HIV Look Like Me?” campaigns reach out to a large number of people all around the world, took Swaziland by the horns in 2008 despite not being convinced that they would find many ambassadors. But once the word spread that the campaign would portray people living with HIV as they wanted to been seen and heard, the brave HIV Swazi soldiers jumped at the chance to help reduce the stigma, fear and discrimination still associated with the disease.
Explosion of innovation and creativity
7. “La vache qui rit” (Morocco, 2012)
“I am red, I laugh and I’ve got earrings. Who am I?” Whether you call her “La Vache Qui Rit” (as they do in France), “Die Lachende Kuh” (Germany) or “Con Bo Cuoi” (Vietnam), “The Laughing Cow” is still, 90 years later, the most energetic cow I know!
I’ve always operated under the suspicion that it’s laughing because it just smoked something really good and it can’t help but make fun of us every time we try to open the aluminum paper without spoiling the shape of the cheese. What’s your theory?
The approach is exquisite, the hospitality of the culture came to the appointment and the originality leaves you, like the cow, with a big smile on your face.
8. “Vestel” (Somalia, 2011)
Alex & Steffen at Unexpected delivered this short live-action with stunning visual effects not far off the Somali coast. Taken over by pirates, the big Vestel vessel suddenly has a new self-appointed captain who is about to get more than he bargained for. Enjoy!
9. “We are tomorrow’s Zambia” (Zambia)
On Youth Day in 2011 (12th March), President Rupiah Banda sent a message to the youth that constitutes the bulk of Zambia’s population.
I can’t help but appreciate when our various governments, albeit filled with corrupt individuals, attempt to establish communication with us in a language they think we can understand and perhaps relate to. I don’t know how effective this was in Zambia but in my country Gabon, we would certainly love to be reminded that we are part of the future – if any – our institutions pretend to be “building” for us.
10. “Etisalat Mobile Massacre: The rest is history” (Egypt, 2012)
The release of Etisalat’s fully loaded Android smartphone prompts a groundswell of old mobile phone demolitions with this exquisitely executed ad by Strategies BBDO in Egypt. Notice how most of the phones being destroyed are Nokias? The soundtrack Goodbye my love, goodbye by Demis Roussos is another subtle competitive blow at their giant rival. “The rest” is indeed history!
Humour at its finest!
11. “Kasapa Free Calls” (Ghana, 2008)
Kasapa entered the telecommunications market in 2003 as the only locally branded telecoms operator in Ghana, with 9,000 subscribers. It grew widely in popularity only to be acquired by Expresso Telecom in 2008. By far one of the most memorable ads on this list, its concept was simple, brilliant, straight to the point and absolutely hilarious. What would you be saying to a stranger for 2 hours on the phone? Plus, what a lovely husband! Many would’ve grabbed that phone and flung at the wall a long time ago.
12. “Grandma” (Egypt, 2006)
The most popular Egyptian ad on the Internet made by JWT Cairo for a ringtone download service (IVR) is a must-add to this list. The mother is roughly saying to her son: “If you spent your time studying and you stopped hanging out with your loser friends, I wouldn’t have to say these harsh words to you. Your father…” right before gangsta grandma’s phone rings to Yeah by Usher and Lil’Jon. “Yo… Wazzap?”
13. “Cargo Gin Bitters” (Ghana)
Sorry, can’t comment! I’m too busy trying to save my ribs!
14. “Thirsty? Lemon Lemon Lemon” (South Africa, 2010)
The hysterical “Lemon Lemon Lemon” commercial by CreativeLand presents two thirsty Africans in the desert desperately looking for the last drop of water. The caricature is certainly not to everyone’s taste but the ad is executed well enough not to be interpreted as racist by most viewers. Laughing at stereotypes is, I believe, the most effective way to remove their sting. They are undeniably part of our cultural heritage and pretending not to conform to any at all would essentially be denying social cohesion.
Beer culture: Cheers to life
15. “Primus Beer” (Democratic Republic of Congo, 2013)
Bralima, which produces Primus Beer, has a soul. It was the first brewing company in The Democratic Republic of Congo, and its story is being written every day by the Congolese people who have witnessed its growth and ascension since 1923. To this day, as demonstrated in the ad, there can be no talk of FUN in Kinshasa without cases of the legendary beer. The Primus beer, one of a superior quality, accompanied the Congolese people in all the strong times of its history.
16. “Les sapeurs” (Congo-Brazzaville, 2014)
Guinness has always had some of the best advertising in the world, and after that brilliant spot (by BBDO New York) featuring a basketball game between disabled men, their UK office continued the“Made of More” campaign by turning its attention to The Sapeurs, whose lifestyle can be summed up as: “In life we can not always choose what we do, but you can always choose who you are. We are the Sapeurs, the society of elegant persons of the Congo.”
As the sun dips below the horizon, these seemingly ordinary people become super-heroes whose superpower is the ability to conquer fate despite particularly challenging circumstances. Optimistic, non-vulgar, peaceful and full of personality, I invite you all to meet these men in this inspiring 5-minute documentary. Ok, so it’s not made by an African agency, but it’s still by far my favorite entry of this list!
Africa’s biggest advertisers: Telecom operators
17. “Orange Diamono” (Senegal, 2013)
Orange Senegal’s publicity spots are always simple, colorful and effective, and this melodic one is no different, earning itself the award for Best Film at the Worldwide Orange Advertising Awards 2013. To meet customers’ expectations on the abundance, the pricing and the expiration of their credit, the telephony giant has taken steps to consolidate its prepaid service called Diamono. It includes the classic Diamono services (Prepaid orange), Diamono School for students and Diamono Door Waar (For the professionals of the informal sector).
18. “Vodacom Tanzania Shuffle” (Tanzania, 2011)
This powerful TV ad for Vodacom by JWT Tanzania will make you want to join the shuffle and vibe along to the Swahili rendition of Brenda Fassi’s most popular song: Vulindlela.
19. “MTC Touch: Hugs” (Namibia, 2013)
Y&R’s 2013 feel-good ad uses the idea of a contagious hug to show how ‘giving a little goes a long way’. “I’m fascinated by the weird contrasts of urban Africa — visually and culturally — so it’s natural that it’s quite prevalent in my work,” said director Bryan Little. The love virus is the air; do you dare taking the challenge? Give a hug to the next person you meet!
20. “Mr. Money” (Madagascar, 2013)
Airtel Money introduces you to their new mascot “Mr. Money”, the dancer-seducer-performer-hero who is going to rescue you effortlessly from all your mobile money problems!
21. “Ethiopian Airlines” (Ethiopia, 2011)
Awarded The African Cargo Airline of the Year in 2011, Ethiopian flies to more destinations in Africa than any other carrier. Currently occupying the 3rd place, “Ethiopian Airlines aims to become the largest carrier in Africa by 2025.” The commercial by Zeleman Production does fair justice to this scenic land.
22. “Kenya Airways” (Kenya, 1994)
Kenya Airways has always been widely considered to be one of Africa’s leading airlines and the age of this commercial could definitely attest to that fact.
Ads that make the heart smile
23. “Mama Do Good” (Nigeria, 2010)
“Mama Do Good” is part of the Indomie campaign “Mum like no other, Noodles like no other”, and it is a well-acclaimed retreat from the traditional Indomie noodles ads that have never used Pidgin English as they always targeted “educated” families. The highlight of this ad is the enthralling made-up song: “Mama do good o, you do good / Mama do good, you do good / Mama wey good to us, you too good / She give us Indomie, you too much! / Indomie good well well, Indomie / Indomie sweet well well, Indomie” . The first time I watched this ad, I found myself clapping! Such grateful kids…
24. “Aqui Angola O Mambo E Assim” (Angola, 2009)
Official 2009 Can’s commercial in support of the Angola’s National Team and featuring singer Puto Prata.
African TV ad of the year
25. “MTN Internet: Oh the things you’ll learn” (Uganda, 2014)
Traditional storytelling meets innovative technology in this ad by MetropolitanRepublic. The MTN Uganda’s commercial is about a little girl – South African novice Mamahlape Magome – who discovers across the river a lonely egg she decides to bring home. Curiosity being the engine of knowledge, an adventure begins for her as she dips into the unknown territory of all things “duck” thanks to the Internet. MTN’s “Oh, the things you’ll learn (Gonya Zirya Ki?)” won this year’s well-deserved best commercial advert award at the Digital Impact Awards Africa, beating out Airtel’s“Mr Money”, Orange’s “Tokota”, UTL’s “Everlasting airtime” and Riham’s “Whatsup”.
Still here? Great, now you have got to keep on sharing the love and comment below with your favorite commercials that are not on this list. Cheers to originality!