Another open letter, because: open-plan offices

I work in the advertising industry. This isn’t a brag, I promise. And I’m not positing perspective, I promise. I’m just trying to put you into mine, where you may – as I did – presume our space to be filled with an eclectic bunch of all-sorts, where ideas trump ideals and the magic trumps the moron.

It doesn’t.

I promise.

As usual… the difference between ‘presuming’ and ‘assuming’ is major.


As in any line of business, it takes all sorts to mine the marvelous from the mayhem, and any organisation’s care of the all sorts is what will have the all sorts caring for the organisation. Still, some of the collected, collective will be more ‘sort of’ than ‘all sorts’ nomsayin?

Sullen. Spiritless. Slugs.

I’m sure you’ve known a few?

I have.

My most recent slug – boundlessly basic – always struck me as a few chips short of a happy meal. For the purpose of this regale, I shall refer to her as ‘Bruce Jenner’.

As far as annoying goes, I wouldn’t say Bruce was on the same level as, say, a phantom pregnancy, someone who must perform that on-off, on-off, on-off, on-off, on-off, on-off, on-off, on-off light-switch ritual before leaving the room, or Amore Vittone. Still, the slug irked me she did.

Bruce was supposed to be … *cough*… part of the team. She sat silently however, day in and day out, doing whatever it is she did in her dimension for one. Now, this would be less perplexing were our Bruce:

a)     a cat
b)     deaf
c)     not working in an open-plan office with 70+ other people
d)     in charge

But Bruce was none of these. She was however the office Grinch – although not as tall. In fact, Bruce would get into Gold Reef City for free. This will however remain forever speculative because, sadly, our Bruce is distressed by delight in all its shapes and forms, to the point that she complained – very, very quietly but bravely by email – citing the cries of her people: office space volume.

Bruce feels it is disruptive.


Normally, such bland, banality wouldn’t bother me much, but when the cornfed comes up for air – and only to complain – I gets a tickling in my temperament. You see, I was born late at night – but not late last night. I know all about bullying – first-hand, and then some. A bully’s a bully’s a bully: You don’t have to be a complete cock, or big or brash or bolshie; you might just be an under-the-radar, dissent-driving belligerent little bitch named Bruce.

How elemental that ‘normal’ was all Bruce knew, there, before… and before she met someone like me. Tricky… because with every new person that comes – or goes – the distribution of differences will be diversified. Newsflash: this is the very bloodline of the business.


I’m not sure our Bruce is entirely and solely to blame for how bad her boring became. I’d like to think she got up everyday with the best intentions to go to creative capitol with big plans to beguile and bewitch with her talents. Thing is, she got a serious case of the Debbie Downers – and she got it baaaad… And now, according to WebMD, people are sick and tired of her.

High 5


So, Bruce:

They may not have laughed loudly or listened to music in Mooibank, Miederpark or Oudedorp, ever, but you’re not in that library or that dorm-room anymore. You don’t have to live like you’re sucking on a lemon, 24/7. And if anyone told you that you should, you don’t have to listen to them because they’re not your real mom.

But given your awkwarding – me and my larking took the liberty of comprising these possible career alternatives for you:

  • Night Janitor
  • Librarian
  • Graveyard Gardener
  • Truck Driver
  • Mortician
  • Cat

I threw in a couple of options that don’t require much experience – just in case keeping new ones out of your life was a conscious decision but, for what it’s worth, I hope that was just a phase.

FYI: Nothing can change that but you.


“Nobody has milked one performance better than me…
and I’m damned proud of it.” – Bruce Jenner

© Dylan Balkind

White Supremacy

No bait. So much hate. I never got to ask you about your suffocating spate.
Neck brace. Hot face. The ambulance ride told me I’d lost the race.
I went out looking pretty. I came back looking gritty.
I wonder if the unaffected still think my harping about this is petty?

I don’t get stuck doing it often … until I see things like this.

Fourteen years ago, I watched a poet stand under a spotlight, her lips big and her head shaved – she was beautiful and brittle and she wanted answers from her people. She purred: “Give a white man a gun… and he shoots a black man. Give a black man a gun… and he shoots a black man.”

The quiet that followed boomed discernible discomfort. Everybody was embarrassed to be the colour they were for the words she wove were wild.

What is wrong with us?
Why so much chaos?
Karma’s due to hit soon with the full-speed force of a brakeless bus.

So much hate
strangling Light in its gait
Do you see an end in sight to the frenzy of this spate?

I went out looking pretty. I came back looking gritty.
I wonder if the unaffected still think my harping about this is petty?

I don’t get stuck doing it often … until I see things like this.

Screen Shot 2013-10-05 at 7.43.52 PM

Who are you? Privileged white man, son and brother –
to decide that you can and should do this to another?
I want you to have to sit and watch this with your mother,
and the father of your future fiancé and her little brother.

Your drugs are broken
love is just a token
of something you haven’t yet known, lived, felt or even spoken.
You need to start to see
that the repercussions of actions are three –
and that not yet knowing yourself is just an empty roar unspoken melee.

I insist I bring poise albeit anger to this podium,
though nervous I swear this voice I stall could fill a stadium.
It’s when you go outside of being inside your callous thoughtlessness,
that you free yourself from that terminal consortium carelessness.

No bait. So much hate.
Your drugs are broken and your love’s just a token…
I went out looking pretty. I came back looking gritty.
I wonder if the unaffected still think my harping about this is petty?


© Dylan Balkind

Advertising can be so Gay

Originally written for and published on
For engagement details, click here

It really is a fine time to be gay. The world’s getting its rainbow on more than ever despite some insistent folks who aren’t that happy about it. But, if you’re part of the Westboro Baptist Church and genuinely believe the gays to be the evil you claim, your problems are a little bigger than myself and my mincing ilk.

From Hurricane Sandy to Oscar Pistorius’ murder story, religious fanatics everywhere are blaming homosexuality for all sorts of malarkey. American Republican Michele Bachmann is having her own flap because of the abolishment of the Defence of Marriage Act; the land of the free is now the home of the gays, and what with what’s happening in Russia and the rest of Africa, we’re in the limelight now more than ever.

Commercially, this is big business and the ever-growing gay market is estimated to be worth $835 billion. Homosexuality in Advertising and Marketing is alive and well. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the agency model is gay (and now that I know this, I have to seriously question my career path), but it means that everyone is okay with it, because to legitimise this audience offers bonus opportunities for brands through an endorsement or a communication storyline.

The position these brands take (if at all) is a bold one. There’s business to be won and lost either way. The Chick-fil-A case in the States is a remarkable one that exploded because of the company’s chairman making clear his vehement opposition to the debate around marriage-equality. The backlash was enormous and business couldn’t have been good. Oh well… You win some, you lose some.

What’s more important to me are the brands willing to stand for a kinder message – and how big of a surprise some of them are: the Royal Dutch Football Association for example. Who would have thought?

There’s always the risk that someone without the chops or the know-how has a bash at it though and goes a little far. This spot for Toronto’s Gay Rugby Team has potential and then loses steam because while talking about challenging stereotypes, falls straight into one.

Still, it’s great to see that the subject matter is being covered with well-produced content. But for the relevance to resonate, I believe it’s more about the articulate subtlety in the story and how powerful this is for an audience who – in my lifetime still – will always and in some way be looking for acceptance.

I’m not here to force the issue. I wouldn’t say we need the gay version of every straight commercial out there. Noeleen going to that fancy schmancy institute to do that research for Ariel has saved us so much time, don’t put us down for a gay version of that one. And anyway, it would just be painful and very, very boring. But I am for more of the good ones. It would corroborate the work being done by shows like Glee, The New Normal and Modern Family. Shows that teach kids about how different we all are – and how cool that really is.

Advertising plays a very powerful part in the choices we make and our attitudes around them. In a country (and world) with so many closeted issues when it comes to tolerance, do you think we could help make them better?

© Dylan Balkind

Racist Advertising

Originally written for and published on
For engagement details, click here

I was too young to remember what advertising was like in South Africa in the dark ages (Apartheid). I can only assume the emerging markets were all but disregarded (why go against what was happening in other socio-economic areas of life?) and were considered a non-event when it came to buying power.

Crazy that us elitist whites chose this route when you think about it, considering they still had to live, eat, wash, clothe themselves and travel around – albeit under much duress. So the world issued sanctions which in turn led to people learning about tolerance before imbibing a little sanctity and finally getting politically correct. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to stop since – getting politically correct that is. And God is it boring or what?

I saw the Caltrate TVC this week. This is a product that is supposed to help strengthen your bones and joints so that you can shimmy shake with the best of them and never stop, year after year after year. I was stumped at the storyline and wondered if the creative team and/or client had fallen and bumped their heads.

Let me tell you how the brief went (I wasn’t there, but ’ll have a shot at it anyway): “Create communication that attracts the black buying power to calcium supplements.” So they came up with a black lady and her elderly mom kickboxing.



Before I gave in to a blinding fury at the ridiculousness of this idea, I asked a few of my black friends how much time the matriarchs in their family allocated to kickboxing in a week. Much to the surprise of the Caltrate marketing team and whatever agency they entrusted with this script, the answer was a deafening ‘none’.


Now I am no doyenne of sport, but I am sure that even a little dipstick research would have come back with a handful of better ideas for a storyline that still worked to highlight the USP of the product for an audience they were hoping to bring into the net. This kind of arrogance in marketing and advertising has long overstayed its welcome in South Africa. People are not idiots and you are not doing your brand any favours at all by patronising one audience in front of another.

This example is simply the ridiculous positing of political-correct casting onto a script a white writer wrote. Market research should have taught them how to make calcium-enriching supplements appealing to black families with sport or activities that are relevant to them. It’s a shame when something has so blatantly been written for a black audience by a white creative team who did no more work than the bare minimum. If they were more committed to their craft, they would create relevant messaging that resonates with the target audience in the right spaces at the right time.

We are the only country who uses LSM profiling – because of the dexterous tapestry of our socio economic landscape – yet so few marketing exercises use this information for their gain. My reaction to ads like this one is not a realisation I have reached because I am racist. This is fury at the racist creatives who worked on the script and who assume that the audience will buy whatever they are selling because they cast black artists.

Wake up. Think more.

Hashtag epic brand fail.

© Dylan Balkind

Can viral marketing beat the bullies?

Would you think it ok if boys threw your pencil box from the third floor balcony at school or pushed your head into a locker? Would it be ok if you were hospitalised from a beating based on your sexual orientation? Probably not. But there are horrible, angry people out there and bad things happen to good people.

So? What makes an ok day for you?

What makes an ok day for Casey Heynes is not being beaten up or duct taped to a pole. Who is Casey Heynes? Right now he is the hero of every underdog ever pushed, beaten, ridiculed or taunted. He is the Australian schoolboy who fought back at the cowardly runt who picked on him one time too many.

Because the set-up was malicious from the start, the altercation was filmed (with a different outcome expected no doubt). The video has since gone viral and can be found on YouTube, embedded within online news reports from around the world and featured in interviews with Casey Heynes himself. Here the power of viral marketing is obvious and while teachers and bullies alike are backtracking and preaching innocence and shock, the fact is, it took the explosion of this issue in this boy’s life for the bigger picture to be seen – by a MUCH bigger audience.

It has been shown that when one person has an impactful online experience, he or she will tell 12 more people. This is the dynamic that powers viral marketing. This is the dynamic that makes for fast-track superstars like Lily Allen and Justin Bieber. In this case, it is the dynamic that brought this young man some help – from around the world.

It’s staggering to read worldwide statistics on bullying and the connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in children and teenagers (according to a new review of studies from 13 countries by the Yale School of Medicine). How this happens is beyond me. We all come from something so beautiful. Still, because of this disease, organisations like the Give a Damn Campaign and the Trevor Project have been formed – with every superstar and figurehead known (including Barack Obama) getting behind them. The message to bullied, lost or suicidal kids out there? It Gets Better.

Singers like P!NK and Taylor Swift (to name just a few) are using their medium to wage war on bullies and celebrate the beauty in being different. So if you’re too school for cool, and you’re treated like a fool, you could choose to let it go… or you can go viral. It’s your channel to use. The world is online. The world is listening.

So now? What makes an ok day for you?

If there is somene out there to whom you now feel you have something to say, get in touch.

It will make your day more than ok.

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