Transformation of advertising & marketing industry: Finding our voice: South African creativity and its relevance

12 November 2002

Based on presentation at AdFocus 2002 by
Thebe Ikalafeng - CEO: The Brand Leadership Group (Pty) Ltd
Graham Warsop - Chairman: The Jupiter Drawing Room (Pty) Ltd


The essence of this paper was presented at the Financial Mail AdFocus Conference 2002, the annual advertising conference held in May 2002. It was an unsolicited presentation by Thebe Ikalafeng, then Executive Director of Marketing at NIKE SA and his agency chairman, Graham Warsop, of The Jupiter Drawing Room. The presentation was a critical reflection on the South African Advertising Industry's product - communication - it's relevance, accessibility and distinctiveness; and to evaluate the progress, if any, the industry has made in the last 10 years.

Examples cited are those in the broadcast medium, particularly, TV because of their accessibility, motion/emotion, ease of reference and their potential reach of mass audiences, and therefore possibility of having being seen by a greater number of people.

Key Issues

Comments by several of the country's most prominent marketers/journalists, most notably, John Farqhur, editor of AdVantage and Sandile Memela also of AdVantage, capture the essence of the issues highlighted in the industry:

"The guys who direct and execute marketing campaigns in this country are far removed from the history and experiences of the majority in this country,"
Sandile Memela (AdVantage Magazine)

"The problem is that creatives are still concerned about winning international awards regardless of whether the content is comprehensible to the indigenous population of not,"
John Farqhur (AdVantage Magazine)

In essence, the industry is accused of being out of touch with the biggest consumer group, blacks, and that the creative product, the voice of the industry, reflects no insights into this group, appealing only to a small euro-centric group of consumers.

Premise #1

The South African ad industry is a world-class industry.

In the context of a global industry of over $300b, in which the USA accounts for 42%, Japan for 11%, UK for 4.5% and SA for 0.3%, SA has distinguished itself when it comes to measuring its creative product against its global peers. In the four major international advertising festivals around the world, SA is invariably in the top 10 best performing countries in the world.

Entries Country Advertising Interactive Design Total
8614 USA 40 36 19 95
533 UK 16 - - 16
578 Singapore 2 7 2 11
355 South Africa 5 2 2 9
232 Germany 3 4 2 9
202 Japan 6 2 - 8

The significance of this performance is that:

First, it gives marketers, both of South African companies and multi-national subsidiaries, the confidence that South African agencies can provide world-class advertising solutions, grounded in South African insights.

Second, it prevents SA from becoming a dumping ground for international advertising that is relevant only in the home country of it origins.

Finally, it gives the local industry the opportunity to recruit and retain good creative talent, rather than shrinking the industry or losing the talent to overseas agencies.

Premise #2

The Industry has made significant strides in ensuring that the creative product is relevant to the South Africa of post 1994.

Throughout it's time, the industry's product has always taken cue from the politics of the country.

Example #1: 80's

Advertising that utilizes different executions for different races to position the same product or service.

Among others, the Colgate Palmolive Soap, RAMA Margarine & Cremora brands utilized the same concept conceived from white insights and translated verbatim for the black market. More than being a waste of money some of the executions made grave cultural assumptions and errors.

Example #2: 90's

As South Africa entered the new democratic era, marketers began to explore a world in which television hitherto populated by almost exclusively whites, should adapt to the realities of the new dispensation.

Vodacom's Yebo Gogo and Castrol's Can of the best campaigns exemplify the body of work which celebrated diversity. Sometimes the communication made light of many white people's ignorance of the languages, cultures, etc. of blacks ... a creative license well received by all cultural groups.

Another example, that of the multi-award winning Dulux paint, leaves us in no doubt that subjects that were once taboo and illegal, such as mixed marriages, are now ripe for national television.

Other work, such as the Business Trust, MacDonalds, etc. have honed in on one or another non-racial insight of one particular race group, such as the humour of "coloureds" to communicate their products/services.

Much of this body of work, while focusing on universal human truths and of the highest globally accepted production and creative value, could only have emanated from South Africa, by South Africans.

Example #3: 2000's

Advertising is sometimes said to be a mirror or window to society ... reflecting it as it is, or as we would like it to be.

Much work is emerging now that not only celebrates diversity, but also attempts to reflect the society in which we now live.
The Handy Andy "Maids" ad, depicting black women working as domestics, although this time as "heroes" speaks to a South African reality many of us are not proud of ... black women as maids, and white women as "madams."

Alternately, if you view advertising as a window to the future, the Dulux commercial could be an idealist view of an interracial harmonious South Africa.

But all is not well.

The Landrover Freelander Himba woman print ad demonstrated that beyond race, there are still issues of gender to address. The ASA responded in a demonstrable fashion, with the punishment meted to the client valued at more than the cost of a Landrover Freelander in a retraction/apology published and advertised extensively at their own cost, and considerable embarrassment to the client and agency (which ultimately lost the account).

Outstanding Issues

Although the industry has make great strides and has demonstrated the potential to create award winning work that is grounded in South African insights, there's still much work to be done. The industry's product will keep improving if and when the industry acts on its transformation commitments.

Of concern,

  • Black ownership of the creative process. Ninety-five percent of the creative directors are still white, and male (78%).
  • Inclusion of women in key creative process. Women still make up only 17% of creative directors, and 33% of strategic planners.

But the industry has made transformation commitments w.r.t. to ownership, training and recruitment, and endorsed an integrated widely endorsed Marketing & Communications Value Statement.

Next Steps

The Creative Directors Forum, the advertising industry's influential mouth-piece and gatekeeper to the industry's talent has made the following commitments:

  • Pay half of the salary of a black junior in the first 6 months of employment in the AD industry.
  • Launch a radio campaign to "sell" the AD industry to the black market.
  • Transform the Loerie Judging Panel through annually increasing the number of judges of colour. The panel will be increased to 20 members in 2003 (5 marketers and 15 creatives, with 1/3 of the panel Black).The important issue is that each year the percentage will grow.

The Vega School of Brand Communications and CAFÉ, The
Communication & Advertising Forum for Empowerment, are launching Vega Imagination Lab in 2003, an initiative to fast-track transformation in the industry by introducing young black from disadvantaged background in the industry and promote African inspired creativity.

The Association of Marketers, aka, Marketing Federation of Southern Africa, custodian of the Loerie Award, the industry's highest creativity award introduced the Chairman's Award, selected by the chairs of Loerie, CDF and CAFÉ, to reward creative among those selected as a finalist, and is grounded in South African insights. Last year, the inaugural year of the Loerie Chairman's Award, the award was won by Metro's What Makes You Black campaign last year, and by Telkom's Molo Mhlobo Wam' this year. This is intended to be an annual industry award and to keep elevating it as the industry's biggest prize.

In Conclusion

There is no question SA has a world-class ad industry, and can compete with the best in the world in creating work that is universally recognized, as the Jupiter Drawing Room's Fiat commercial demonstrates. The commercial was conceived and produced in South Africa, and shown several international countries, including Fiat's home country, Italy. So, when a product calls for creative that is grounded in universal insights, our industry has indisputable credentials.

But to stay relevant to the emerging consumer, the industry will have to keep transforming its creative product, and strive to while remaining universally appealing, to reflect the tone and texture of South Africa, much like what countries such as Brasil have managed to do.

If not, as the baseline research by Prodigy indicates, because of management's commitment to transformation, client pressure, SETA development, etc., but for the mere fact that consumers wield the ultimate power. And the consumer is overwhelmingly black. And corporate South Africa - the marketers of South Africa - is putting increasing pressure on agencies to start creating a product that reflects the insights of its customers.

And those that have been brave to take the lead, such as Vodacom, Telkom, Radio Metro, etc., have demonstrated that where there's commitment, the industry has the capability to produce the "goods" - work that is locally relevant, globally competitive and universal.