The freedom of commercial expression is being attacked by those who have slammed the e-toll celebrity endorsement campaign, Vusi Mona, general manager of communications at the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) told Fin24 on Monday.
Activist groups the Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) accused the Gauteng Provincial Government of wasting money on the campaign, while the Opposition To Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) slammed the ads as a desperate tactic by Sanral “to emboss the failed e-toll system”.
The organisations also criticised celebrities Tbo Touch, Minnie Dlamini and Khanyi Mbau for endorsing e-tolls in the campaign.
Mona, however, responded by quoting sports promoter Gerrie Swart, who has said “celebrity endorsements have become the very foundation of many brands’ success, and the relationships between campaigns and celebrities grow ever more complex”.
Michael Wood, founder and director of business consulting company Aperio, has said a lot of African consumers, especially the emerging middle class are very aspirational.
“So if you can provide them with someone that they want to aspire to, then some kind of celebrity endorsement or recommendation can work,” explained Mona.
He emphasised that there is no prohibition on Sanral making use of celebrity endorsements.
“The fact is, like it or not, those paying are not alone. Those lauding the system are not alone. How else to explain the positive trend in e-toll income?” asked Mona.
“There are a number of South Africans who support the system, particularly following the announcement of the new dispensation which addressed what we understood to be the concerns of most motorists.”
Mona explained that the celebrity endorsers are part of a campaign to identify some of those compliant South Africans that could lend their voice in support of the revised e-tolling system.
“In choosing this approach, Sanral has simply exercised its freedom of commercial expression. This may be an unfamiliar concept in South Africa, but one well established within other jurisdictions,” he said.
“Sanral stands by the campaign, and would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of compliant Gauteng motorists for their continued support.”