Castle Lager: Why The #SmashTheLabel Social Experiment is 24 Years Late

The purpose of this piece is to ask about the role of advertising in society. What role do brands have shaping a country’s conscience or narrative? I wrote about Castle Lager, and it’s latest social experiment which was produced for Reconciliation Day, 16 December.

Interesting the direction that Castle Lager has taken; #SmashTheLabel. For a long time, Castle Lager masked and advocated for a particular label; The Rainbow Nation. 

Castle Lager had a formula for how it portrayed a utopic South Africa. We were the perfect family, the perfect country that everyone envied. We were an example to the world. The world looked to us for a template on how to mend a wounded country. 

Advertising is not just creative art that sells products and services, it has the power to influence our deep seated consciousness and how we navigate the world. “Diamonds are forever”; do you remember that line? Well, that wasn’t just a quote from musician that caught on like a veld on fire. It was a creative concept and campaign that till this day, is engrained in our mind so deeply. It is almost as if it is hereditary and we pass it onto the next generation. Today, diamonds are considered a girl’s best friend. It’s rare to find love and marriage that is not connected by a diamond ring. 

What we now perceive to be a normal way of life was influenced by advertising/marketing.

The concept of a diamond ring came to be because of how we were manipulated into believing that diamonds were of deep meaning, had value and that they were a scarce commodity.

“As soon as you walk of a jewellery store, it loses at least half of it’s value” – Everything Interesting

If Diamonds are so worthless, how did we get to place so much value onto them? Watch the two videos below (but you can watch post reading this article).

Diamonds: The Greatest Myth Ever Sold (YouTube: MEFBlog)
Why Diamonds Are Actually Worthless (YouTube: Everything Interesting)

That’s the power of advertising or marketing.

The Rainbow Nation is Forever

For the longest time, South Africa never dealt with the deep seated issues that led us to where we are today. We are hurt nation in pain. Even though we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), we never really looked each other in the eye as a nation and addressed the issues that affected us deeply.

Castle Lager, New York Ad (YouTube: Evo’s African Shuttle)

We braai’d, drank beer and watched sports together. We seemed happy. We seemed like we loved each other. As we’d gather at stadiums and work spaces, we seemed to loved each other. We got along.

In 1995, we won the rugby world Cup, 1996 we won the African Cup of Nations Final, and we managed to qualify for the FIFA world Cup. In under four (4) years, we had achieved what was unimaginable. We were the perfect country. We were the Rainbow Nation. 

You may not be conscious of this, with the “rainbow nation”, advertising played a critical role in how we perceived each other and our country. The Rainbow Nation and the idea of peace in our country were pure marketing campaigns, but you wouldn’t think of them as marketing campaign because they were under the political umbrella. Like any other brand campaign, ‘Peace in our land’ (The Rainbow Nation), had a song to it. The same way, Kwesta’s song, Spirit, was used in an advertising campaign by Telkom.

Peace in our land snippet, produced by Chicco Twala, (YouTube: Nkanyiso Masango)
Full version song by various artists, Peace In Our Land, by Chicco Twala
(YouTube: Robert Hitchings)

Castle Lager was in a prime position, perfectly positioned from a messaging and brand building point of view, ready to take advantage of the naïve euphoria that everyone was feeling. It was the beer that brought us together. A beer that all South Africans could be proud of. In their ads, everybody was represented (except for women maybe), but all races (post a successful political shift – this was perfect). Black people, white people, coloured people, Indian people. How could I forget, our national icon, the Braai. We were the perfect nation.

The Rainbow Nation Undressed

As time went by, it became evident that we had skipped a few steps as a nation. A Rainbow Nation that is not equal? The majority of the people who are black, who were marginalised didn’t feel that the concept of the Rainbow Nation was inclusive and therefore for many, over time, we became sober (pun intended) to the concept of the Rainbow Nation. Without being too political, the point I’m making is that whilst the people of the country were feeling a certain way, brands, particularly Castle Lager in this instance, were consistently perpetuating a perfect country and a perfect people. That all was okay, and that we as a people were okay. 

The rise of the conscious citizen, who is waking up to the realities that were swept under the Rainbow Nation rug, became conscious of the truth. The truth being that as a country, we were and are not okay. To admit this truth is critical to getting to a point where we are genuinely okay. All of us. 

#SmashTheLabel should have been the first Castle Lager campaign post 1994

We never dealt with the real issues back then, hence they are now re-surfacing; 24 years down the line, we are having conversations like it’s 1996. This is a clear indication that as a people, we don’t know each other, that’s why we judge each other and give each other misguided labels.

What if: instead of perpetuating a perfect picture (rainbow nation: black, white, Indian people living in harmony over a braai), what we today call the Instagram life, and dealt with the real issue, those issues being that we don’t/didn’t know each other as a nation. We literally lived apart though the Apartheid laws, which dictated that we should be segregated by race and culture. Black people, who were also segregated according to the nationalities, lived in isolation from white people. So when Democracy came, bam! In adverts, we were hugging each other at stadiums. But, we didn’t know each other! What effect did the Castle Lager work have on our psycho and consciousness as a nation?

Imagine if Castle Lager had initiated a platform where people could talk to each other. Whilst the #SmashTheLabel campaign is great, especially the Reconciliation social experiment, the impact it would have had 24 years ago would have been more powerful. 

It is not surprising that Melusi Tshabala, Founder of Melusi’s Everyday Zulu, partnered with Jo Prins to create Ubudlwelano (a monthly event were people from from different nationalities and races come together to talk to each, to conversate. At the heart of Ubudlelwane is for us to know each other better), because we don’t know each other. 

Castle Lager (almost) correcting what it perpetuated for over the past 20 years

With this new campaign/execution, #Reconciliation Social Experiment, it is almost as if it is a corrective exercise by the brand to make things right. It is almost saying; “We’ve swept the real conversation under the carpet with our ads over the years, portraying a perfect nation, now it’s time to have the conversation we should have had over 20 years ago”.

Imagine if this social experiment came first, and then the overplayed “perfect nation” scenario, where everyone is drinking beer and having a braai came afterwards. When we are a truly connected and intimate nation that deeply knew each other? 

The perfect ad that Castle Never Made

A TV commercial that showed or reflected the true South Africa was banned. How crazy is that? We were so obsessed with the concept of the Rainbow Nation that we didn’t want to confront the truth. Essentially, we have and continue to pretend to each other as a people.

Banned TV commercial by Festus Masekwameng: Banned SABC 1 Commercial, ‘Racial Perspective’

That’s the ad that Castle Lager should have made, “To bring all of us together”, but it didn’t. The fact that this ad was banned is a true indication that as a nation, we were afraid of facing the truth. We were and still are a broken nation. We need to deal with ourselves. 

What is a brand’s role in society? 

I’m glad that Castle Lager is having this conversation of reconciliation. Castle Lager with their previous “Rainbow-Nation-Perfect-Country” ads, based on what is currently happening in the country, it would seem as though they painted a false imagine of the country. This new social experiment it almost comes across as a corrective measure. With this campaign, it is almost as if they are admitting that we should have had this conversation 24 years agoH

Here is the social experiment video: Castle Lager #SmashTheLabels Reconciliation Day, South Africa

Screen grab from the video link above (Facebook: Castle Lager SA Page)
Screen grab from the video link above (Facebook: Castle Lager SA Page)
Screen grab from the video link above (Facebook: Castle Lager SA Page)

What is a brand’s role in society? 

I’m glad that Castle Lager is having this conversation of reconciliation. Castle Lager with their previous “Rainbow-Nation-Perfect-Country” ads, based on what is currently happening in the country, it would seem as though they painted a false imagine of the country. This new social experiment it almost comes across as a corrective measure. With this campaign, it is almost as if they are admitting that we should have had this conversation 24 years ago.

Imagine if Castle Lager had the land conversation 24 years ago?

Brands evolve over time – that’s why they do or don’t do certain things

Indeed, there’s a reason for any and every decision or direction that a brand takes. Castle Lager, and indeed, SAB/ABinBev are not trying to save the world, they just sell alcohol. This was particularly true back then, 24 years ago.

Brand building has shifted, and we see more and more brands being responsible with their efforts, either on the environment, with their products and or people – being socially conscious.

I believe that ABinBev is going through a transition or change of approach with the business. We’ve seen some of their brands taking social stands to impart behaviours change. We’ve seen the mentor campaign, and I actually liked the initiative. We’ve seen Carling Black Label starting to have deeper conversations around a man’s role and his place in the world, particularly addressing the issue of women and children abuse – these are not just ads, it’s events. We’ve also seen Castle Lite promise that they will no longer sexualise women in their representation of women.

Carling Black Label, having real conversations on what it means to be a man (YouTube)
Castle Lite’s Apology to Women on #InternationalWomensDay (YouTube: MarkLives)

When you look at the kind of communication ABinBev brands are engaged in, you start to see a golden thread that links back to the business strategy of being more purposeful.

Now, we see that Castle Lager is having deep and meaningful conversation.

Castle Lager | Heineken | Coca-Cola – Stealing With Pride?

Whilst I feel that the Castle Lager work is similar to that of Heineken and Coca-Cola, I believe that as a country, we definitely need to or needed to have such conversations, and therefore if we brands are getting involved in such conversations now, they should have done so earlier.

Below are pieces of work from Heineken and Coca-Cola respectively, you be the judge on the similarities of the work.

Heineken Advert – Worlds Apart (YouTube: Creativity – Cannes Lions)
Coca Cola – Labels (YouTube: samar khader)

How important are brands in the world today?

So, how important are brands in our complex world today and what is their role? Let me know your thoughts and let’s engage. I’d love to hear what you think of this piece.

It’s not easy though

Being a conscious or woke brand is not easy. We saw Pepsi try to be a voice for the minority in the United States, and what was intended to be a beautiful piece of work that was meant to throw in a brand voice, to show sensitivity to what people go through everyday and what was happening at a point i time, turned out to be the complete opposite as Pepsi was categorised as being insensitive and tone deaf, resulting in the work being canned or banned.

Whilst being a conscious brand is important, it isn’t easy though.

Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner that got banned (YouTube: Kendall & Kylie)
Why the Pepsi ad was banned (YouTube: Washington Post)


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