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How Tropika’s ‘Smoooth’ Driver Secured a Licence


The team at Tropika, Joe Public, and Team Best talk to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about bringing the juice brand’s Caribbean vibes to South Africa’s youth with an unusual driving test

How Tropika’s ‘Smoooth’ Driver Secured a Licence

Taking ‘Smoooth’ to another level, juice brand Tropika shows how seamless life is when you adopt an easy-going attitude. Starting off with a nervous learner driver on a test, his luck begins to change when Tropika rolls out of a glove compartment, sitting on a bed of ice. As potholes, parking and red lights come in the way, they’re no match for the easygoing driver in the seat. 

The new campaign is a move to re-engage South African youth with the Caribbean-inspired drink and to show there’s ‘nothing smoother’ than Tropika. That means easygoing music, the brand’s signature bright palette of colours and a sense of nostalgia and good humour. Given the target audience, a driving test was a perfectly relatable scenario for the spot, accompanied by understated humour and a laid-back style. With a ‘kiff’ (Southern African slang for cool) track created by Bryan van Niekerk, the overall vibe is refreshing and relaxing.

Tropika’s marketing manager Barbara George, Team Best’s director Bryan van Niekerk, Joe Public’s ECD Francois De Villiers and producer Eduan van Jaarsveldt, all speak to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about staying ‘cool’ through the shoot.

LBB> The legend of the 'smoooth' driver is showing us how a positive, easy-going attitude makes life a lot easier. When did you first discuss this as a concept for the Tropika campaign? 

Francois & Barbara> This campaign had to happen fast! We needed to get back to our roots to make Tropika socially relevant again, especially for our youth market. On top of all the other challenges they experience, going for a driver’s test must be one of the most stressful obstacles in a young person’s life. From the start, we knew that if we could show how ‘taking a sip on the smoooth life’ can change a frown into a smile, we’d have a winner.

LBB> With what Francois describes as “off-beat storytelling, understated humour and laid-back style”, how did you bring this campaign to life? 

Francois> The campaign is all about being ‘cool’, and when you’re cool you shouldn’t be trying too hard to convince anyone of anything. A relaxed ‘Nothing smooother’ signs it off perfectly.

LBB> What is the brand’s tone of voice like and how did you replicate this in the spot? 

Francois> Fun-loving, playful, optimistic, and never taking itself too seriously – the perfect ingredients to play with and touch the hearts and minds of consumers.

LBB> The stylisation is purposeful, reflecting the South African context yet being in keeping with the brand’s island origins. Tell us a little bit about creating the aesthetic. Seeing local negatives. 

Francois, Eduan & Bryan> To replicate a Caribbean island feel we needed a place with the right texture and character. Going to Mozambique gave us that in every direction we pointed the camera. Because the brand reflects the island lifestyle; in vibrant colours, bright and sunny climate, and unique laid-back accents – it’s obvious that the spot should do the same, adding the South African icon in the Ford Cortina – brought it all back home. 

LBB> What was the casting process like and how did you land on the two protagonists as the main actors? 

Francois & Eduan> From the concept stage, we knew exactly who the characters had to be and how they should interact with each other. When the casting director, Kevin Gray, found them there was no debate.
Ebenhaezer Dibakwane, who plays Ziggy, our young driving student, was a bit of luck. He hadn’t been acting for a few years, Eduan ran into him in a coffee shop a week before the casting and invited him to the audition. 

Finding Asanda to play Wanda, the licencing officer – was such a wonderful gift. This was her first actual commercial in a lead role. She just got it. Pulling off the attitude and the balance between playful and serious perfectly. 

LBB> We have to mention the backing track, created by Bryan van Niekerk. What was the process of creating it and how did you ensure it was a seamless fit? 

Francois> We had a few strong references that headed in the right direction of cool, but when Bryan started running with it, aligning it with the vibe of the picture, there was no stopping him. A rare talent – to be blessed with a director AND a musical composer/performer, in one – nothing smooother.

LBB> The colours in the grade cleverly match the brand’s blue/green and orange juice. Can you tell us about the set, lighting and editing decisions to create this effect? 

Francois, Eduan & Bryan> From the very first Tropika pack design 39 years ago, the brand reflected the Caribbean vibe – in the name, the palm tree logo and the bright, fresh colours of sky, sea, hot sun and beach. We had this idea to create a look from the ‘70s, leaning into these strong cues and heritage. We pushed this in the grade to differentiate us from not only the competition, but also anything else in the marketplace. 

LBB> A memorable shot is the car sliding across into a space. What were the logistics of creating that? 

Francois> Simple. Drink more Tropika, and put your foot down… 

Eduan> This was a fun, but very practical and simple one. We placed car coasters (like the ones you get in vehicle showrooms to move the cars around) under each wheel and tied tow ropes to the corners and physically towed the car laterally. The ground wasn’t smooth like in a showroom though, so it was a little more complicated than that. 

LBB> What was the timescale of the project like? 

Francois & Barbara> Incredibly tight.

The turnaround from sign-off to implementation was a month (not to mention that the filming took place in a different country) which could only be achieved through consistent collaboration. Across all functions, there was efficient planning, seamless communication, skilled execution, and most importantly a motivated team that consistently remained focused and worked collaboratively on the end goal: reigniting brand love for Tropika.

LBB> If you had to describe the campaign in one word or sentence, what would it be? 

Francois> Smoooth. Demonstrating what the brand stands for, in an effortless, watchable way.

LBB> How has the audience responded to the campaign so far? 

Francois & Barbara> Incredibly positive. The main objective of this commercial was not only to drive brand equity, but to leverage the nostalgia and brand love that consumers have for the brand. We used storytelling to take the audience back to what they remember about Tropika, while cheekily playing on South Africa’s own issues. We kept ‘manufacture speak’ out of the script to ensure a simple and relatable story that consumers seem to be embracing with open arms. 

LBB> Are there any other details or moments you’d like to share with us? 

Francois> The little church we converted into the ‘Testing Station’ is, like most of that part of Mozambique, surrounded by deep sand. Even a slight shift to our key prop, the Ford Cortina, involved four-wheel drive vehicles. I’m sure when the congregation arrived on a Sunday, they stayed for a while.

LBB> What’s next for the Tropika brand? 

Francois & Barbara> South Africans need all the help they can get to put a positive spin on current challenges, and Tropika is ready for the challenge. All we can say is: “Watch this space!” 

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Joe Public, Mon, 22 May 2023 14:55:00 GMT