By Sivan Goren

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Gone are the days of solid, sturdy cars that, more than anything else, were made to get you from A to B rather than to conform to some almost unattainable combination of looks, safety and comfort. Modern cars are glossy, generic and disposable – like your typical women’s magazine – and one can pretty much be substituted for another of a similar class. In fact, even a so-called entry-level vehicle comes standard with pretty much every button, lever and Euro NCAP-endorsed, SABS-approved gadget a driver could possibly want or need. No coincidence then that car advertising has moved to a flashier, status-driven level. But my problem with all that is this: there is simply no feel anymore.

When I was growing up, all I wanted was a yellow-and-white Citi Golf – one of the three colour options available when these cars were launched. These primary-coloured, uniquely South African pocket rockets exploded onto the scene at a time when a new normal was being born. They alluded to a certain lifestyle that although was aspirational, was relatively attainable and thus engaged the minds and imagination of everyday South Africans. Even as a young girl, these cars affected me on a visceral level and I vowed that one day I would drive one. (Of course at the time I also wanted a pet unicorn, a house made out of Kit Kat and to marry Rob Lowe, but still.)

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The advertising campaign for these cars was simple yet brilliant, with its catchy line: “Red, yellow, blue – NOT green!” And although at least 30 years have gone by since, the lyrics of this entire television advert jingle are indelibly etched into my memory – obviously stored in the part of my brain reserved for retaining random jingles heard over the years, most of which will aggravatingly play on an endless rotation in my head when I have a bout of 2am insomnia (♪♫♩ Matchmaker, matchmaker, match me some paint… ♪♫♩).

A string of adverts followed from VW over the years that won awards and captured hearts because they reached right in through your chest and twanged those heartstrings like Eric Clapton playing an intense guitar solo. They appealed not just on an intellectual level but were emotionally engaging too, showcasing so effectively the link between a car and family, friends, memories – life.

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In a world obsessed with what celebs eat (or don’t eat) for breakfast and what happened on ____ (insert name of craze show of the moment on Netflix), it’s safe to say that things have changed since I was a child. Celebrities come and go faster than a Jody Scheckter round Kyalami and what was an absolute must-have yesterday is ‘like, soooooo last season’ today. There are more options than ever before and the public’s attention is fleeting and fickle at best. The adverts of yesteryear would be considered quaint and, let’s face it, probably pretty corny by today’s standards. But think about it: when last did a commercial make you feel anything other than irritation? (Luci Hirsch, anyone?) For me the answer is simple – not since I was a kid.

There is one in particular that comes to mind immediately when I think back; one that instantly fills me with nostalgia, puts a smile on my face and to this day makes my heart burst with pride for this country. It is an advert by tyre manufacturer Dunlop that depicts a dog race – but not an ordinary dog race, because in amongst a line-up of sleek greyhounds appears a most unlikely contender: one squat, grinning little Staffie. The combination of clever voice-over, emotive Chariots of Fire soundtrack and beautifully shot visuals, culminating in the stocky little pooch beating the champion racing dogs and taking a running leap into the finish line tape, made for an ad that has stood the test of time. It brought out our innate tendency to root for the underdog and proved that dogged tenacity and never-say-die attitude will get you everywhere, even when you are up against the best of the best. So, you know, good old-fashioned human values, ideals and emotions wrapped up in a simple yet ingenious campaign idea. This advert, for me, remains the perfect example of the most effective way to connect with a market – something that today’s flash-mobbing, hash-tagging agencies seem to have forgotten.

I never did get that yellow-and-white Citi Golf, but my dream and memories are kept alive every time I spot one of these tenacious local legends trundling or zooting (depending on its condition) around town. And when I’m lying awake in the middle of the night, I just smile nostalgically and sing along with the jingles playing in my head. It keeps Rob Lowe awake sometimes, but he’s used to it.

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