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WINDHOEK. This Guinness commercial came on the little screen on my treadmill at the gym the other night - it’s how I get my local pop culture these days, apparently. In a minute and a half, it gives a emotional master class on the relationship between African cities and countryside - it’s set in Nigeria but apparently works for Namibian markets too - and what people see as a real man in these changing societies. For my money, the whole thing does a better, more nuanced job of selling what African promise feels like than yesterday’s Coke ad did.

The spot, called “The Ticket,” seems to have struck a chord with Nigerians too, and its local actors and local-language versions haven’t hurt. The Nigerian Guardian gushed: “With the success story of The Ticket, there are indications that the era of shooting TV commercials meant for Nigerian market abroad will soon become a thing of the past.” The irony is that Guinness shelled out for a South African agency, which hired an Italian director at a U.K. production company, plus London-based effects people ”to help enhance the appearance of bustling city setting, removing modern elements from scenes, and adding refined smoke effects” - making the shots more African than Africa.

One of the first things this ad made me think was how commercials often simply have the motivation and depth of pockets to place their finger on the zeitgeist in the most focused, concentrated way possible. The Onion A.V. Club made the same ambivalent point about U.S. Olympic coverage last month: “What is really unfortunate is that NBC is failing in its video content where commercials are succeeding with … embarrassingly moving mini documentaries.” And hell, with some ads, I’m moved and I’m not even embarrassed.


WINDHOEK. On August 26 my guesthouse shut down, and the manager hauled everyone to a new property off on the far end of town. No more more walks to work, evidently. I’ve landed in a place that looks like Club Med, but at the same chintzy price as I was paying before, because life is hard. When I took the upper picture from my front porch today, birds were singing everywhere, and the garden left my hands scented like sage. Everything here is just kind of - lovely.

The lower picture is me on my new eight-kilometre commute, riding the secondhand bike I scrounged up, and that Coca Cola billboard is part of the new scenery I get to ponder each day. It’s part of a continental campaign that raised a lot of debate when it came out last April. The TV spot pits the feel-good promise of Africa’s current boom years - the middle class here is the fastest-growing in the world - against the mess everywhere else, and of course places Coca Cola firmly on Africa’s side:

The last line is what got to most people: ”While the world worries about the future… 1 Billion Africans are sharing a Coke.” So Coca Cola is poo-pooing Africa’s problems, or it just thinks Africans are dumb enough to care more about soda pop?

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