by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Our mission to meet creatives who are young, gifted and killing it! moves on to award-winning creative director and entrepreneur, Festus Masekwameng. He’s travelled a long way from rural Limpopo via Hunt Lascaris, MotherRussia and McCann Worldgroup South Africa to MKT Media, where he’s now managing partner.
Veli Ngubane: Where did you grow up and how did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be a creative?
Festus Masekwameng: I grew up in a township called Lebowakgomo (LebCow), in Limpopo. My parents tell me only now that I’ve always been a creative but, initially, the idea of a career in advertising was a foreign concept to them, including me. I stumbled upon it much later in life, while studying to become an engineer at Wits University.
VN: How did you a) get interested in advertising b) break into the industry and land your first job?
FM: At Wits University I was involved in the campus radio (Voice of Wits), and we had a live sound unit that you could hire for parties. In those days, DJs were few and specialised, and we did gigs all over Joburg. One such gig was the AAA School’s end-of-year party in 1999. It was my first direct interaction with the industry, if there’s such a thing, as most of us until then had associated advertising agencies with modeling/casting agencies and that was it.
My curiosity led me to ask some of the patrons there about what it was they were studying to become: marketing, graphic design, copywriting, and all the other functions of the industry beyond just the models. I was hooked. It was also a great party. I spent the next month (December) doing some research of my own and bouncing some ideas around, and decided to drop out of Wits and enroll in January of 2000.
I think I was the last to be admitted into the copywriting class, along with the late Sello Duiker. My mother reluctantly helped me with registration monies (whilst threatening to disown me for giving up an Eskom bursary). I paid my first-year studies through my DJing career as a resident at clubs like Enigma in Rosebank. My final year was paid for by Hunt Lascaris, whom I lobbied to sponsor me and somehow they obliged. They also offered me my first job, where I met some great people. The rest is history.
VN: What are your specialisations/creative processes/most important tools of the trade?
FM: Always be curious, be naïve and keep an open mind. No two briefs are ever the same, so the curiosity will make you want to learn and research new stuff; the naivety helps you bring a fresh perspective. And the open mind, well, what use is a closed mind? As a writer I (used to) read a lot. It’s the only way to improve writing skills and tell stories in short format (30 secs or less). And, last, jam with other creatives so that the work gets better.
VN: What is your take on transformation in adland/creative departments?
FM: Transformation? What transformation? I think generally in this country the only industries that have truly “transformed” are politics, government and its related sub-industries like SOEs [state-owned enterprises] and the public service. The rest, especially the private sectors, don’t have real champions or complete belief in its necessity to sustain it. That said, I think there are now more women than before.
VN: Any advice to youngsters wanting to enter the industry?
FM: The sky is the limit. Grab whatever opportunities that come your way, be yourself and show a real commitment to your craft and the rewards will come. Sort of. A career in advertising is easily one of the most fun and the most fulfilling.
VN: Interesting hobbies/second jobs/bits of information that make you pop as an individual?
FM: Well, if you put it like that, I’m a real football ace and the industry’s original, top DJ. I remember the first (unofficial) Chairman’s Party at the Margate Loeries back at Johnny Rockets, organised by the inimitable Wing-Wing. I did a set for at least 12 hours straight, from around 9pm until the next morning, when that poor town was still trying to figure out what had hit them. It was mad. It was beautiful.
VN: You have served on judging panels both at home and abroad — what are the/your motivating factors for award-winning work?
FM: Originality and relevance. Judging awards is not always easy; you have to apply your mind to make sure even that a Shangaan, Chinese or Afrikaans advert is recognized, no matter your background. The best work always stands out easily and enjoys consensus because of good craftsmanship.
VN: You have won many awards — which award are you most proud of and why?
FM: I am proud of all my awards, all of them with different teams. As an intern starting out at Hunts, I won two student Loeries for the AAA School. Getting recognition is always special, but I believe those two awards got some industry heavies to take note even then, and opened the floodgates that followed every single year, leading me to serve on several industry bodies and panels, and eventually handing them out myself.
VN: Please would you list two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
FM: Just three? Well, the TV ad that relaunched SABC1 Ya Mampela while at Hunt Lascaris comes to mind as it has recently started going viral a good nine years or so later. It was called “A day in the life of my main man PF Jones”, and I worked with great talents [such as] Nicolas Pereira, Camilla Herbenstein, Gary du Toit [and] the legendary Sandy de Witt, with music by David Campos and Mapaputsi (GhettoRuff/MuthaLand Records). It was shot by Lawrence Hamburger.
The SABC TV Licence campaign that we did with my dear friend Lapeace Kakaza, Theo Fereira and Trevor Clarence was also special. One of the ads:
Some of my favourite work was actually for radio in the vernacular, which was awkwardly rare in those days but slowly led to the creation of special categories for African languages until they became standard. More than the awards, it’s the impact each effort has on the national psyche and the otherwise reluctant industry in general.
Anyway, that was then. We’re more excited about the new stuff we’re working on as MKT Media (with associate companies MotherRussia, Phoenix TV, studio214 and others).
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at the University of Cape Town and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he also currently serves as advisory board chairman. He is the chief creative officer and founding partner of one of the fastest-growing agencies in the country, AVATAR. A full-service marketing agency with digital at the core, its clients include Brand South Africa, FOX Africa, National Geographic, SAA and Chevron. Veli hails from Kosi Bay in the rural KwaMhlaba Uyalingana area of KZN. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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