by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Thabang Tipi Manyelo (@tipidang) is a natural-born storyteller. He’s been telling stories for as long as he can remember. Then he made a life-changing discovery after happening to attend a Vega School open day: “I just couldn’t believe that there was a job that allowed you to write mini stories, and get paid for it!” Two Pendorings and a Loerie later, this young and definitely gifted copywriter has been killing it!

Look no further than Jabu’s Left Testicle to find out what he’s all about.

Veli Ngubane: Where did you grow up and how did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be a creative?
Thabang Tipi Manyelo: I grew up in Polokwane, Limpopo, and you can just imagine the “creative” landscape (or lack thereof) that side. I always joke that, if you want to be a “creative” in Polokwane you have two options: be an accountant or “the disappointment of the family”. Unfortunately, my parents passed away when I was eight, and I was raised by my grandmother who fully backed my desire to go to Vega (much to the disapproval of my aunts and uncles). Looking back, I bet my gran is smiling on some: “TOLD YOU! TOLD YOU!”

VN: How did you a) get interested in advertising and b) break into the industry and land your first job?
TTP: a) I’m saddened that how I got into the industry was purely by accident. I was on a gap year, trying to figure things out, and I found myself at the Vega Open Day. I’ve always loved storytelling and “creative writing” subjects, so I just couldn’t believe that there was a job that allowed you to write mini stories, and get paid for it!

  1. b) As life goes, I couldn’t afford Vega. The money my parents had left me could either pay for three years at UJ or one year at Vega. So my gran and I came up with a crazy plan. Don’t go to UJ for three years: go to Vega for one AND WIN AN AWARD THAT YEAR (no pressure) because we thought that’s the best way to ensure a bursary for the other two years. Crazy, right? I am grateful for my gran’s bravery because I won my first Pendoring Award that year and (like we thought in our plan) all the agencies lined up. I went with Draftfcb.

VN: What are your specialisations/creative processes/most-important tools of the trade?

  • Think on your own. Think on your own for a long time. People are too quick to present “ideas”.
  • Be honest with yourself, the client, the consumer. You owe it to all three entities not to go with the conceptually bankrupt idea.
  • Present your idea! Selling an idea takes 30% idea and 70% presentation!

VN: What characteristics do you need to have to succeed in the advertising industry?
(n + 1) This is the formula. “n” is the number of times you fail a brief. (n + 1) is thus the number of times you need to try again.

VN: What is the South African advertising industry doing right and what needs to change?
TTP: The SA ad industry knows how to make iconic product-moving work. Our agencies know how to make work that answers the brief, even if it means missing out on awards. Other countries are very award-centric. What needs to change is representation. The hands that work our industry don’t reflect our consumers.

VN: You have won lots of awards; what does it take to create award-winning work?

TTP: First, give the client THE BEST ITERATION of what they think they want. Now make the ad that you want! Because, more often than not, [at] the point where what your client wants and what you want meet, you’ll find awards on awards on awards.

VN: Do you have advice for upcoming youngsters in the advertising industry?
TTP: Make the ads that YOU LIKE. That YOU WANT TO SEE ON TV. Because that’s why we hire you. For you. Not for a B-grade “Grant Sithole” or “Brett Morris” knock-off. You!

VN: What is your favourite ad campaign, past and present, and why?
TTP: My favourite past campaign is the first Cannes Lions Grand Prix South Africa has ever won. It was a print execution called “Periscope” for Lego: one Lego piece on a blank background, and the tagline simply says: “Lego — Imagine…” This is an example of communication that speaks directly to the brand but, more importantly, [to] the little kid inside that doesn’t see a blank background but sees a battleground of a war they’re about to win. And that is what advertising is about — when you put client and consumer at the centre of communication.

My favourite present campaign is the second Cannes Grand Prix SA has ever won. The “Do It With” Lucozade campaign — but only the “Teleconference” execution. This is an example of great writing meets precise execution. People think it’s not that great. People don’t think its “smart” enough. They must shut up! I think that, if that ad was presented to you and you didn’t see the simple-yet-smart insight behind it (that everyone ignored), and you said “it’s not smart enough”, you would’ve deprived the world of great communication. Luckily, you weren’t the person making the call.

VN: Interesting hobbies/second jobs/bits of information that make you pop as an individual?
TTP: Music. And ridiculous online content that makes people happy. Just search “Game of Bones”.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?

TTP: I walk. I walk and talk to myself. People [who] see me think I’m crazy. I’m thinking, “That’s Loerie Gold!”

VN: If advertising became obsolete, what would your next career field be?
TTP: Film. I’m a storyteller at heart and, if this calamitous day were to arrive, I’d find a way to keep telling stories.

VN: What has been the most-exciting project that you’ve worked on?
TTP: I won’t lie, it was a student project I did for OppiKoppi (my first award). To this day, I have never put that much of myself into any piece of work. It was raw, unrestricted and kept my heart pounding at every step of the way. I miss those “briefless” days.

VN: Do you have any new exciting projects you working on at the moment that you can share with us?
TTP: PieSlovakia&Dance. Remember that name. An entity that is about to revolutionise the online content landscape of this country. Truly South African stories strictly made for mobile. Damnit! I think I’ve said too much

VN: What do you consider the most-effective current form of advertising in SA?
TTP: Effectivity depends on the consumer’s ability to receive your message and, in our country, radio is killing it!

VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been  involved in?

Cansa Testimonials
“Jabu’s Left Testicle”

Gill Stop The Nonsense
Man Campaign

Coca-Cola Share A Feeling
Share A Coke Campaign
“Hey Nonhle”

Forgotten Anniversary
FCB Africa

Toyota Automark
JD’s dealership campaign


Veli NgubaneVeli 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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2 replies on “Young, Gifted & Killing It: Thabang Tipi Manyelo”

  1. What an engaging interview! Great to see you doing so well Tipi! Well done, and keep it up!

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