12 September 2016

When Brands Reclaim Their Narrative

Why #LoveMyCarvelas Misses the Mark but is Unsurprising


Black youth have made industries out of OK brands that weren't checking for them for generations. It's a part of blackness, to make something out of nothing, to make your own symbols and darlings. My father and his brothers wore Adidas slides and Kappa suits. By the time he was working, Crockett & Jones shoes became his staples. None of those were designed with him in mind. Who would have imagined Italian leather moccasins resonating a world away  in the townships with black kids and their cool older cousins?


But it happened. Here were these black young people making a status signifier out of shoes that were not made for them. "Made in Italy" their prayer and Spitz their place of worship. But the love has been unrequited. Brands have routinely rejected black people who have shown said brands nothing but love and given them their money. Proximity to blackness has often left capitalists shook. But don't worry, they'll take your black money. They just won't relent and change the lie they're telling about themselves. The ads will keep being white.

For those wondering, black people did not find Carvela shoes (mostly moccasins) with the disturbing -- for me, the most exciting part of consumerism is acquiring, but maybe those kids were beyond. What's a bigger middle finger to the construct of capitalism that destroying opting in, only to destroy its symbolism? -- phenomenon of izikhothane. They have been a symbol in our vast references.

On the official brand twitter page the cover image features a white woman. She could be on her way to brunch after a morning at the country club. Maybe that's Carvela in Italy where it's made or in other western countries. But that's not Carvela in South Africa. The South Africans who wear them pilgrimage to holy Spitz to look at new arrivals. They get vibes from friends (is that organic "influence"?) They save, they bargain. And eventually, they have a grand unveiling where they get to show off their new pairs.

My dislike of the Love My Carvelas campaign stands even as I understand that the brand is allowed to do what it wants. I feels so much like disregard for the people who support the brand and wear Carvela shoes. The people who have put in their hard earned money into a symbol designed by people who will never view them as the legitimate consumer. With every, "wow, these middle class aesthtically pleasing POC we can stomach make this thing that has meant so much to black township culture look cool" tweet, I'm holding my breath because an anti-poor and vry specific kind of anti-blackness hashtag will soon happen. And we will soon be cackling about the wrong people who wear Carvela, the wrong way to be black, the wrong way to exist.

Student Village, who are said to have been part of selecting the influencers, messed up. The end. Spitz and Carvela South Africa messed up for failing to recognise their true customers. The brand has been aspirational enuf with "those" people wearing it. Cool does not mean Straight Out of Braam. Let's be real, these Braamfontein kids (valid as they are) are barely doing anything original or fresh.


Uploaded by Spero Mnavigare Sphamandla on the Carvela FB page.


The person I was in touch with also shared that the whole exercise was about publicising a competition the brand will be running online (http://www.spitz.co.za/) from the 22nd of September. If you have been eyeing a new pair of Carvela moccasins, this could be your chance. As I refuse to believe that any of these 12 inlfuencers went to all that effort only to receive a pair of shoes as compensation, it makes me wonder why this money wasn't spent differently. On the kids who drive that culture.

Black aspiration is not always amabhujwa. 

The biggest gag of this whole thing for me is that the people who were given the "exclusive shopping experience" went only for the the photo op. Maybe the finger snacks too. What could have been a great opportunity to connect with the customer base authentically was wasted because there's only one kind of blackness that is recognised. These kids and their cool cousins and their aunties will continue to wear Carvela and fine joy in it. 

All parties involved (especially on the brand's side) played themselves.

1 comment

  1. Every brands objective is to broaden it's marketplace and penetrate different segments of it. "Izikhothane" is a popular movement in a few townships - its regional! #LoveMyCarvella campaign was doing what every other active brand does, engage in rebranding/re-positioning itself. There is no fault in doing that.

    I am no way oblivious to your profound points but viewing this campaign from a marketing point of view is key: target audiences' change with time; buying decisions evolve with time - Carvella's intention is to evolve as well and not be left in the playground while consumers have grown up! Thus #LoveMyCarvella

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