South Africa: impressions of OOH township advertising

By Mark Bracey

On my trips to South Africa as both a tourist and on business, I’m continually blown away by the energy, vibrancy and sheer optimism of the country and people I have been privileged to meet.

Clearly the country has, and continues to face, many challenges. On my first visit, the nation was experiencing acute water shortages resulting in water rationing, and power issues remain a big problem with load shedding (energy rationing) now pretty much part of everyday life.

How a modern DOOH media owner copes with this challenge is intriguing, but probably best left to our friends at Tractor Outdoor to explain.

Load shedding

Back in 2022, I visited one of the oldest and biggest townships in Cape Town – Langa. Established in 1923 and home to approximately 70,000 people living peacefully, most of whom belong to the Xhosa tribe. Today many other African nationalities also call the neighbourhood home, among them Zimbabweans, Somalians, Congolese and Nigerians. 

I wasn’t expecting such a rich variety of socio-economic classes ranging from families living in shacks and shared spaces, through to social housing, middle class houses and substantial homes for wealthier professionals. Everyone I met was welcoming and engaging, and I felt completely safe. 

Creativity was everywhere. I enjoyed visiting a critically acclaimed artist in their gallery, local restaurants and in particular Bridges Academy – endorsed by the likes of Ed Sheeran; a music studio and learning space offering “unemployed youth an inspiring and safe environment with access to world class technology and mentorship to help them thrive”. 

As an OOH veteran, I couldn’t help but notice the street advertising. Definitely no cutting edge digital spectaculars here, but rather quietly captivating and somewhat naive, mostly hand painted vivid murals showcasing global brands such as Coca Cola, banks and grassroots local businesses. It reminded me of early examples of outdoor advertising –  the colourful lithographic posters of Toulouse Lautrec that populated Montmartre and other wall painted signage from the turn of the 20th century. 

On the highway heading back to my swanky hotel, passing all the impressive, modern ad displays advertising 21st century brands made me wonder when and if the likes of JC Decaux will ever be seen in these communities and how this might affect the advertising landscape and way of life enjoyed by many?