Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Article Note: On Nationalism and Beer in South Africa

Citation for the article:

Mager, Ann. "'One Beer, One Goal, One Nation, One Soul:' South African Breweries, Heritage, Masculinity, and Nationalism 1960-1999." Past and Present 188 (August 2005): 163-194.

I read the article via Project Muse.

African History is not an area of knowledge that I am strong at. What little I know comes from coursework in post-colonial studies in graduate school and from personal reading. However, I do try to know enough to be well informed. I previously read an article on U.S. involvement in Africa, so this seemed to go along as well. I will admit also that an article with "beer" on the title is something likely to catch my attention. As I began reading about South Africa's liquor monopolies and apartheid, and how South African Breweries (SAB, now SABMiller) was able to use the consequences of apartheid to its advantage, I found that I had some interesting reading ahead of me. The author says that the article "focuses on how beer advertising created brand identities, which influenced and responded to wider social and political changes" (165). This article then looks at advertising in terms of how advertising creates signs out of social values, which it then sells with the product, in this case beer. "Advertising then provides a structure through which goods and consumers become interchangeable, so that in place of the product--beer--it encourages the consumption of signs such as success, status or powerful male physicality" according to Mager (167). The idea behind looking at advertising this way is to gain insights on the society itself by looking at the context of the advertising as well as as the ads themselves and the times.

For SAB, advertising took off with the lifting in 1962 of a prohibition on selling European beer and liquor to African Blacks. Thus began the campaigns to create branding, brand awareness and appeal to consumers. And where did SAB learn its advertising strategies? In the good old U.S. of A. Mager writes, "the marketing managing director was sent to Harvard, where he learned how advertising could establish brand identities and generate brand recognition" (169-170). The company learned to "'talk about the beer itself;' portray sociability as the prime reason for drinking; and focus strongly on men's sporting activity" (170). It does sound awfully familiar to a casual reader like me.

It is interesting to note that the advertising was targeted to men; targeting women came later. Women initially could not be targeted due to morals and apartheid regulations. Unlike ads in the U.S., women were not shown drinking with men. By the way, I am mostly referring to White men and women. Advertising to Blacks came later. So, how did SAB overcome this issue about women? Mager provides the answer telling us that "to overcome ideological barriers and introduce the idea that female drinking was acceptable, the SAB produced a series of 'educational' advertisements whose aim was to turn social anxiety about female drinking into desire. Women beer drinkers were portrayed as companionable, intelligent and capable of female self-control" (172). All of this, and it still managed to sustain the manly male images of beer. The ads basically complemented the beer's manly image for the men drinkers. Manger explains further that "the advertisements affirmed that women's drinking was for male pleasure, took place under male control, and legitimized male drinking. Women drinkers were positioned in space that overlapped with those of men--the relaxed outdoor environment of the home, the swimming pool and the patio--reinforcing femininity as an adjuct to male sociability" (173). It must be noted that women were segregated in their own ladies' bars, so getting them out of that setting into something more respectable was part of the campaign as well.

In addition, SAB learned how to market their beers in the African townships through the shebeens (the illegal drinking spots) for Blacks. The company also had to deal with issues such as sports, which were segregated due to the apartheid rules. What emerges is an image of the nation and its historical moment through the advertising. It also reveals adaptability and ingenuity on the part of the beer company.

Once apartheid formally ended in 1994, the branding and advertising really took off, especially in soccer. However, while many ads portrayed multiculturalism, the notion of two markets, one for Whites and one for Blacks, survived. In conclusion, Mager writes that "in showing how a powerful firm seized opportunities in a period of volatile politics and unstable markets, this study adds to our understanding of the development of capitalism in South Africa" (194). This is a comprehensive article that shows not only the history of SAB but also a part of South African history as well.

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