by MarkLives (@marklives) What are the expectations of South Africa’s marketing and advertising leaders for the industry in 2017? We emailed a panel of key industry executives for their take on the macro environment, budgets, changes in messaging, movement in the industry and consumer and any communication trends they’ll be looking out for. Next up is Neo Makhele of Ogilvy & Mather South Africa.

Neo Makhele

Neo MakheleNeo Makhele (@Neobll) has been group strategy director of Ogilvy & Mather South Africa since January 2014. She is also currently enrolled to complete her executive MBA through the Berlin School of Creative Leadership and graduate in 2018. Neo’s personal goal for 2017 is to generate ground-breaking work through inspiring her strategy team in Johannesburg, the theme of her thesis for her MBA.

We are living in an age where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity have become the new normal. Our consumers, brands and businesses are living in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

As I write this, on 2 November 2016, there is a joint #SaveSouthAfrica march of civil society, business, labour and religious leaders in defense of the constitution. Political leaders, businesses and the national assembly of ordinary South Africans have defined the state of South Africa’s enterprises, institutions and the constitution to be under crisis. SA has had its prospects of economic stability undermined with the unceasing attacks on the finance ministry — from #NeneGate in December 2015 through to #PravinGate debacles.

The increasing state of distrust of leadership generally and its inability to manage a crisis and engage any actionable steps have led to an upswing of uncertainty among South Africans. The UCT Unilever Institute’s latest study on Aspiration (2016) notes that SA is going through a crisis of aspiration and increasing frustration; consumer confidence is low across the top, middle and mass markets, as is business confidence. #Fallism is pervasive as trends #zumamustfall, #feesmustfall, #datamustfall etc permeate society. In the meantime, the country faces a real threat that the currency will be devalued and SA could find itself in junk status.

Then there is the drought plaguing southern Africa, with most of SA at level 3 and a strict rationing of water supply. The Department of Water and Sanitation has warned that most municipalities are below optimal levels. In the next winter season, SA will likely face water-shedding — the declining lack of natural resources in energy, water and the impact on food and transport do not bode well for us. It is certain that our societies, people, brands and businesses are living in a VUCA world.


How will brands react to this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment? Will they distance themselves or be a part of the solutions that our society needs? Will brand leaders retain their independence from societal malaise?

This may not be the case as indicated on Wednesday, 2 November 2016, at the #SaveSouthAfrica march where the CEO of Discovery, Standard Bank and Investec all took part to drive for social transformation.

With this in mind I feel that, in the next few months and years, we will be seeing brands actively displaying citizenry. Globally, multinational brands are moving from a linear economy to more-circular economic practices. It is expected the economy will be in decline and, with it, our business and consumer confidence. This could result in brands facing the great temptation to cut budgets and get overly promotional with their marketing strategy. What we have learned is that brands which resist this temptation are rewarded with brand-equity gains and positive consumer-purchasing behaviour.

In the light of the prevailing national crisis sentiment, I hope that #fallism will decline in favour of #responsibilitymustrise.

Key expectations

  1. Active brand citizenry

I think we may see brands taking an active role in resolving the looming challenges SA faces. At the forefront will be brands that not only state their purpose but actively take part in providing solutions.

There are social challenges that will arise with an increased level of volatility with social movements such as #datamustfall and #feesmustfall and the uncertainty that a severe drought brings. Brands such as Absa with its ReadytoWork programme which absorb graduates into its work stream, KFC Add Hope with its consistent goal in alleviating hunger that might be exacerbated by the drought [full disclosure: KFC is a client of Ogilvy & Mather South Africa], and refreshment brands that offer water-alleviating solutions through their business value chain.

Brands will need to show that they care in order to win #responsibilitymustrise.

  1. Brands will embrace circular-economy practices in their supply chains

As pressure builds on our depleting natural resources, brands which seek solutions that alleviate consumer suffering will become the brands that consumers turn to.

We all have been nurturing and supporting a linear economy for as long as most of us can remember, and brands have played a crucial role in making it work — they promoted the linear way of making-stuff, selling-stuff and then throwing-stuff-away. And consumers fully bought in to this model of consumption.

The circular economy means designing products so that resources are used in a cyclical way. Materials can be regenerated to constantly flow round a ‘closed loop’ system, rather than being used once and then discarded.

Brands need to move from merely being sustainable to creating cyclic practices that benefit the society and environment that they operate in — #responsibilitymustrise.

  1. How should brands react during a volatile economic climate?

Research by Trajectory suggests that consumers in a depressed market are more aware of price and less loyal (no surprises there), but still prefer brands that couple value with values. So brands should resist the temptation to drive promotion at the cost of the brand, as this is often unsustainable; instead, brands must seek consistent and long-term solutions, eg Woolworths with its value-packaged quality-foods promotion (eg R150 meals for 2).

A brand that couples value and its own values well is essential in a volatile economic environment. #responsibilitymustrise.

  1. The hope that #fallism will be mitigated by a collaborative, networked approach between civil society, public enterprises and business working together in developing creative solutions to societal problems.

In closing, as former public protector, advocate Thuli Madonsela, said, “If fees must fall, something must rise.” The #SaveSouthAfrica march that had the national assembly of ordinary citizens, prominent individuals, business leaders, religious leaders gathering together to present their declaration to insist on more-accountable leadership bodes well for collaboration and a more-positive narrative. It time for inventive influential leaders to work together to create a culture of #responsibilitymustrise.


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the ad industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of potential panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

Sign up now for the MarkLives email newsletter every Monday and Thursday, now including headlines from the company newsroom service!

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist