Feed A Child: A dogged pursuit

RA’EESA PATHER ponders the PR disaster that was the Feed A Child advert.

At some point there must have been a “eureka!” moment. After deliberation, discussion and a few strong cups of coffee the ad agency team might’ve said: ”That’s it! Let’s turn the boy into a dog!”

And that’s when the ball dropped.

Feed A Child is a charity organisation that has taken on a monumental task – to end child hunger in South Africa. No mean feat.

In 2013, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries revealed that 12-million South Africans go to bed with a groaning stomach each night. In order to raise awareness of child hunger in the country, Feed A Child – with the help of ad agency Ogilvy and Mather Cape Town, last week released what is now known as “the advert”.

The ad attempts to fight child hunger, but the execution went horrible awry. In a nauseating display, a black boy was transformed into a dog.

Living in the home of a wealthy white woman, the boy is petted and fed treats. He licks her fingers while she prepares food in her kitchen, and sits on all fours at her feet when she eats, and looks up at her longingly, with puppy dog eyes, no doubt, waiting for her to feed him a morsel.

“The average domestic dog eats better than millions of children,” Feed a Child claimed at the end of its commercial, pointing out that domestic pets, in this case, dogs, receive better care than children.

The ad warned that children were being treated worse than pets, and urged viewers to snap into action by donating R10 to Feed A Child. Because dehumanising a kid is the perfect way to raise funds.

When I first saw the ad, I had just one thought: WTF? The disbelief was quickly replaced by rage.

It’s an odd thing to mentally curse a charity organisation and somewhere in all of this I felt a little guilty. They were trying to do a good thing, right?

But then I watched the ad again.

In a nation that has been psychologically pillaged by hundreds of years of colonial oppression and fervent racism, it is complete madness to have a black boy behave as a puppy-dog, whimpering and bowing before a well-off white woman.

The image brings back visions from bygone years where black people were, in fact, treated and abused like animals.

The charity obviously got it wrong. But should their racial (in)sensitivity trump their message urging South Africans to rethink their priorities?

The NGO Stop Hunger Now provides meals for hungry kids for R2.75 a meal. That’s around R77 to feed a child twice a day for two weeks. A 10kg bag of good quality dog food, which would last around two weeks, costs about R125. Which makes me wonder, naturally, what they’re feeding the kids.

That aside, can this comparison be made in the first place?

TO Molefe says that “the average dog eats how the average South African household that owns it eats: poorly”. Molefe is right. Most South Africans are poor. They also happen to be black. So, maybe the average dog living in the average household does not necessarily eat better than the average child after all?

The average South African is, after all, not a wealthy white woman.

But here, their purported ignorance is even more dangerous than hate. Their failure to realize how distasteful and insensitive the advert was, only illustrates how different our life experiences remain in this country. It is as if the advert was produced in another time, on another planet. It is a denial of the country’s history; is an indictment on our poor education system that creates black kids in advertising school who don’t know what a bantustan is, creatives with an eye for aesthetics and little common sense.
It is as if the NGO, and its ad agency pals, wants us to donate money to feed starving black children, but has been caught unaware of why there are starving black children in the country in the first place.