Lessons for the DA – from Woolworths (nogal!)

The DA is in crisis. A friend of mine at the University of Cape Town tells me that joining the party’s student wing, Daso, is social suicide. And as such, its reputedly attractive members are remaining unloved and unlaid — leaving me wondering as to whether alliances (democratic or otherwise) will occur to ensure the reproduction of little Helens, Tonys and Joes in the years to come.

Few Daso members, I hear, are actually prepared to come out of the party political closet — instead, when flirting at a bar, they are forced to resort to denials so slick they’d make the president blush.

Clearly brand DA is in need of a major overhaul, a major injection of cool. Its fusty look is rather reminiscent of what Woolworths was like 10 or 15 years ago. Can you remember those dark days? When people under 30 refused to be seen dead inside a Woolworths store? Sometimes emergencies — a grandmother’s birthday, for instance — left you with no choice. You grabbed the Margaret Roberts lavender toilet freshener and made a dash for the double doors.

And of course, there was the habitual dread of “where did you get that from?”.

Fortunately snipping off the tags invariably saved an embarrassed confession during break-time at school.

Yes, the DA brand as it is today and Woolworths at the dawn of our democracy are similar things — both conveying the image of “too rich, too white, too old”.

This is distinctly at odds with the DA’s policies (which, I must add, many of its detractors haven’t a clue about). As a proponent of the Basic Income Grant, of an equal opportunity society and of broad-based organic and sustainable social transformation, it is light-years ahead of the ruling party in the field of ideas.

When I interned at the DA for three days in 2005, its parliamentary bunker was abuzz with young bright over-achievers, many of them fresh out of Ivy League colleges and Oxford.

I know you can’t quite believe that. With the DA having a poster child like Theuns Botha, I can’t blame you. After all, unreconstituted Nats in grey shoes are like, so last century (at least we wish they were) — so what the hell are they still doing on the political stage?

Back to Woolworths — which has now become one of South Africa’s sexiest brands. It exudes a sophisticated — albeit mass-market — chic. No twentysomething worth their salt buys their food anywhere else. The chain is a staple for stylish clothes, cosmetics and homeware.

People admit to having purchased something from “Woolies” with a victorious smirk — not a red face.

The core product offering has remained pretty much the same. So what changed? It was the way Woolworths projected itself that has made all the difference.

They got a logo change and smartened up their packaging. Slick newspaper inserts made yoghurt — and loaves of bread — worth salivating over. Young African designers prepped up their clothing. They pretended to care, rolling out an organic food and clothing range and donating meals to food distribution charities. They started recruiting the who’s who of South Africa to be in glossy photo-shoots and glam catalogues.

Woolworths was suddenly tuned in. In broadening their appeal to beyond blonded divorcees they evolved into a coolness that not only cemented their image as a premium brand but one that could transact with every South African.

The official opposition needs to do the same. So here are a few suggestions:

Ditch the logo. Yellow and blue = arghh!! Be bold, go black. It’s the colour that’s really in fashion at the moment (and will remain so for a long time to come).

Jumping into bed with the Nasty Party in its death throes might have won you the Western Cape in ’99 but has left you with an infestation of verkrampte cockroaches that give the party a bad name. Spray some Doom (or at least its political equivalent) for a good spring clean.

You can’t blame people for jumping to conclusions when your website is only available in English and Afrikaans. If your leader can talk the talk then so can your webmaster. For online and campaign literature, Xhosa and Zulu, and at least a smattering of Sotho and Tswana, should be a prerequisite.

People are bored of politics; an awful lot switched off years ago. Occasionally deputy ministers spice it up a little — but those moments are few and far between. So be shameless — sign up some celebrity endorsements! Having Lucas Radebe as its face did wonders for Woolies. Victor Matfield on board was a masterstroke too. And the photographs of the two having a cuddle was capturing a whole different slice of the electorate altogether — sheer marketing genius.

If you want people to sit up and actually notice what you’re saying, use interesting spokespersons. Singers, sangomas, soapie stars and sportspeople are a good start.

And, if all else fails, I hear Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s looking for a job ….


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