Monday at 05:00 am in the morning along De Villiers street, Joburg, a skeletal looking young figure pastes posters on buildings. These posters have all sorts of outlandish promises on them, mostly about how they can give a few extra inches to one’s penis.
Penis enlargement posters and leaflets are a staggeringly prevalent phenomenon on the walls of buildings. They are also an irritant for the municipality since they contravene its laws, [http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/seven-arrested-for-penis-posters-1.1478076]. In my quest to learn more about the process that goes into giving larger life to the penis, I decided to explore the enlargement industry’s informal methods of marketing, as well as remnants of the actual services themselves.
I decided to grab a leaflet which offered a discount on a ‘4 in 1 Penis Formula for 10-25cm’ as well as an ‘Erectile Dysfunction Cream’. Promising a ‘100% guarantee’ of optimum results to an array of sex related shortcomings that can be mended miraculously, the leaflet looked archetypal. It looked exactly the same as all the other flyers and posters on the walls and lampposts of Joburg. I assumed, one favoured designer has somehow been contracted to create all of them.
A quick call to the diviner known as Prof. Musa, whose consulting offices are apparently in the the CBD and Meadowlands, Soweto; revealed that I can “pay R50 for consultation and that my depression is quite clear from how I spoke”. This struck me as odd because I had not put on any worrisome tone, but according to Prof. Musa who spoke with an urgent raspy voice, “we must help each other as African in times of need” and I “should come and see him”.
This is despite the fact that I had not mentioned any of my ‘problems’. Less interested in the mythos of spiritual healing but more focused on the marketing material that is the leaflet, I ask the Prof. : “who makes these posters for you because I know a ‘certain diviner’ who also wants to get into the business”. He forcefully retorts in semi pidgin “bring your friend and I’ll give him Kaitec’s numbers. Maybe me and your friend can partner…don’t forget to come see me, I’m your help.” I was to soon find out that Kaitec’s are one of the few trusted printers and layout artists that offer conceptual solutions, design and flyer distribution to inner city healers and diviners.
Poet and Twitter satirist, Quaz Roodt [@QuazRoodt], has spent time blogging about penis enlargement adverts [https://quazism.wordpress.com/tag/penis-enlargement/]. According to Roodt, “They are a hilarious phenomenon where a litany of ailments and shortcomings are almost thought off during lunch over cow head meat somewhere in Jozi by these healers. That these doctors can supposedly heal only means one of two things : “scammer” or “genius miracle worker”. He further says, “I’m fascinated by the brazenness of the leaflets and how they’ll read : Is your vagina loose? Dr. Mama has tightening cream for you! Bam. Done. ‘Next please’”.
Extrapolating this fascination beyond Roodt’s humour, there is a degree of admiration in wider Joburg society as to how penis enlargement posters have become a “identifier and marker of space”, as street art and guerrilla marketer, Jabu Tshuma puts it. As an agent subscribing to unconventional campaigns through culture jamming, Tshuma sees the leaflets as “accidental art intrinsic to big bad Johannesburg”. More than that “they shed light to a ‘third economy’ that the mainstream often refuses to acknowledge because its too messy”. As a print and design enthusiast, Tshuma likes “the usage of basic design language and its effectiveness”. He is also “intrigued at how they spread throughout the streets like a virus over night”. In Tshuma’s knowledge the leaflets are printed “at a small home offices and multiple inner city internet cafes”
Visually, the inner city is a web of messages and brand narratives which range from mainstream billboards trying to capture (and to a degree impose) the aspiration synonymous with life after 20 years of democracy, much city media is targeted at the upwardly mobile black middle class bracket. The message on a premium vodka advert screams : ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve’. The advert masks a dilapidated building. Other messages are meant to marshal the masses as evident in the government poster ; “Texting And Driving Is For Idiots. Don’t Do It. Unless You Are Idiot”.
This message covers a building housing a well known brothel in the CBD. Interwoven into this web of communication are other small scale yet brash messages—a lot of them oozing sexual mystique. They feature an informal tone that contributes to the lore of Joburg’s facade. This advertising is mostly concerned with under– the-radar services, enticing you to Egusi soup (fish,seeds and vegetables in palm oil) sold at a Nigerian eatery, tech repairs owned by Bangladeshi shopkeeper, sneakers paddled by folks from Angola, and of course urban diviners to make your life rich with luck. These are all enterprises whose capital from the city itself, filters to their other business interests, as well as home countries, and flows unconventionally. It cannot be denied that the city’s legislative office has not by the least recognised the role of these businesses and communities that they emanate from, so why then should marketers thrust themselves into this complexity?
“I think these inner city services serve a different need - namely that of the smaller entrepreneur to attract business. In this context non-conventional advertising can be very effective”,Herman Manson,editor of Marklives which is an online advertising magazine. According to Manson, “it would be interesting to quantify the amount spent by SMMEs on marketing and advertising. I suspect it will be quite significant and plays an important role both in the formal and informal economies. It helps stimulate economic activity and brings a unique form of creativity into the city canvas.”
What ties inner city side-street adverts to their big budgeted corporate counterparts is the fact that both sell “the promise.” A leaflet endorsed by a certain Dr. Banda on how he can make you ‘five inches long’ is just as vacuous as a beer ad about on how you can be transported to a secluded island where you, lord of a manor, stand the chance to be encircled by concubines. That is if you dare to sip ‘the dream’. Joburg’s penis-enlargement leaflet terrain convincingly contributes to the urban jungle lore of the city – perhaps more than the glossy adverts.
This a part of the world where sex is overt and in abundance. New brothels pop up around every month in the city. As the silhouette of a skeletal figure,goes by unnoticed in the wee hours of the morning, he leaves behind dreamy signs of what most of us are a prey to : vanity, miracles and and the promise of a larger penis to see us through the perils of being alive.