A recent advertising campaign for the South African Revenue Service (SARS)
demonstrates the higher purpose of tax by showing how people can benefit
from the country’s tax revenue.
The mere mention of the word “tax’ generates a host of negative connotations
because everyone resents having to submit a large chunk of their hard-earned
monthly earnings to the tax man.
With the SARS Touching Lives campaign, Marco Granelli, group executive:
Communications, SARS, wanted to show why it is important to pay tax by having
people from all over South Africa talk about how taxpayers’ money has helped
Says Granelli: “Over the past 10 years SARS has had two primary aspects to its
external communications. The first is to inform tax payers of the how, what and
when to pay tax and file their returns. Secondly, we talk about the higher
purpose of tax – why it is important to pay tax so as to underpin tax compliance
and morality and show how tax can be useful to society in general.
“Touching Lives was conceived as a way to say thank you to taxpayers and to
show how they’re making a positive difference to society in a real and emotional
As a former journalist Granelli believed that these stories could most
authentically be told by journalists, rather than through scripted ads with actors.
“In October last year I called in Odette Schwegler and Nicola De Chaud of
Backyard Productions, two award-winning journalists who produce inserts for
the acclaimed investigative show, Carte Blanche, to brief them on the Touching
Lives television and web campaigns
(www.touchinglives.co.za),’ explains Granelli.
Says Schwegler: “Marco told us that he wanted a campaign where taxpayers
could see the good their money does. Authenticity had to be key to this
campaign and our starting point was research. Together with researcher
Bronwyn Nesbitt, we spent a month identifying stories from all over South Africa.
Veteran journalists Joy Summers and Bernadette Cook also contributed to the
De Chaud points out that for every bad story about tax, there are lots of good
“We identified several stories and then, together with Marco (Granelli), looked at
the personalities in each story and whittled the stories down to six. Each story
had to be made into a three- to four-minute film for the web – a short
documentary in other words – with a one-minute cut down for television,’ she
According to Granelli, a key part of the research was in identifying suitable
stories reflective of South Africa’s diversity.
“We wanted to show that everyone in South Africa benefits from tax,’ he
In Walking Tall, Junior Mohlabi from QwaQwa in the Free State tells how he was
able to expand his start-up leather shoe factory into a fully operational factory
with a government grant.
On 18 January 2012 Liezl Potgieter and Duwayne Schwartz, the subjects of
Celebrating Life, were flood victims of the tropical storm Dando and had to be
rescued off the roof of their house in Hoedspruit by the Air Force.
Infected with HIV in 1988, Elsie Bogatswe of Vosloorus tells in her film, Positively
Alive, how she has managed to live a full and healthy life thanks to the
government-sponsored anti-retroviral (ARV) medication she receives on a regular
basis from Charlotte Maxeke Hospital since 2005.
Bridging Gaps focuses on the use of taxpayers’ money to construct a bridge
across a river between Madadeni and Newcastle, thus drastically improving
thousands of lives. Previously Madadeni residents faced the potential danger of
drowning when they tried to cross the river, which is on a flood plain.
Born on the Cape Flats, Lynette October fell into a life of drug addiction after
leaving school. A Second Chance shows how, following rehab, Lynette was
awarded a government-funded apprenticeship at the Medupi Power Station and
is now a fitter and turner.
Dreaming Big reveals how Modjadji Ramphelo received a government bursary to
study at the Tshwane University of Technology, thus becoming the first child in
Manareng Village near Tzaneen to go to university.
“The recurring question we asked in all the stories was: “If you had something
to say to taxpayers what would it be?’ says Schwegler, “and the response each
time was: “Thank you’.’
Schwegler and De Chaud contracted the equipment required for the shoot from
Time Frame Broadcast Rentals & Services, with Time Frame’s award-winning
director of photography (DOP) Mike Yelseth as DOP for the project. Yelseth was
present on three films before having to head off to Jamaica. Thereafter there
was a team of two camera operators continuing in the style he had set up.
Other operators included Dudley Saunders, Greg Shaw, Natalie Haarhof, Justus
de Jager, Thomas Pretorius and Jonathan Price.
Says Yelseth: “We shot on the Canon 5D Mark 3 and the Panasonic AF101
Camcorder, recording onto nano flash. The Panasonic was used in order to
record the audio. We shared a set of Zeiss CP2 prime lenses between both
cameras to achieve the look we wanted.’
Schwegler adds: “I can’t say enough about Mike (Yelseth), he really thinks and
films in terms of narratives, which is a rare skill. When we are working under so
much pressure, it’s just great to know that Mike “has your back’.’
One of the toughest shoots was filming Modjadji’s story.
“When we got to Tzaneen it was raining incessantly so all our interviews with
Modjadji and her grandmother had to be filmed in the rain. The name Modjadji
means rain so we decided to add a rain theme by getting her to talk about her
“Of course all the rain meant our Kombi mini-bus got stuck in the mud so we had
to push it out with the help of the locals. At one point when it was getting more
and more stuck, I envisaged the whole lot of us having to spend the night in the
Kombi, which we would all have coped with – it’s just that kind of team,’
There was a massive time issue to content with on the project, according to
Schwegler. “We were commissioned on 8 October and had to begin shooting on
the 15th. By the time we started filming, we had identified five of the six stories.
While Nicola was away shooting the first story, Bronwyn and I were locking
down the rest. And, once I was in the field, Bronwyn continued full time with
focused research and logistics while Nicola edited on Final Cut Pro at Backyard
Productions’ offices in Johannesburg. Throughout the 15 to 20-hour work days
Nicola and I multi-tasked, juggling roles and responsibilities.’
De Chaud and Granelli set up a structural style with the first story and that
became the template for all the films. Each story has a hook, an introduction into
the character and a back story. The look and feel is carried on in the print
campaign, which was photographed by TJ Lemon and written by Granelli and
“Producing the campaign was a remarkable effort,’ states Granelli. “Nicola and
Odette basically pulled off a three-minute documentary (and one-minute cut
down for broadcast) each week. All in all it was 10 weeks from brief to inception.
The campaign had to coincide with the end of tax season – November 2012.
“Odette, Nicola and their team did an awesome job. I really appreciate all the
hours they put in to produce such spectacular and beautifully put together
Granelli notes that he’s made lots of adverts during his time at SARS but none of
them has generated feedback like Touching Lives.
“Brendan Seary of the Saturday Star awarded it an Orchid for Ad of the Week.
He said the campaign really made a difference because it was authentic in that
none of the people featured were paid to give testimonials. Ornico gave the
campaign a similar honour and a number of journalists have tweeted about it.
Ferial Haffajee of City Press devoted an entire editorial in the City Press to the
“I’ve also received very positive feedback from other government departments
who are keen to do something similar. Furthermore, I’ve been blown away and
humbled by the feedback from normal people who have posted favourable
comments on the website,’ concludes Granelli.
The Touching Lives campaign began re-airing on 19 January in time for the
deadline for the submission of annual income tax returns by provisional