Young, Gifted & Killing It: Nganga Dlanga
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Inspired by his talented older brother, Khaya, Nganga Dlanga (@babydlanga) has been in the creative business for little more than 18 months, yet this young Net#work BBDO copywriter is clearly gifted and already killing it! An ad he crafted in the second month of his internship went on to win a Loeries Grand Prix and then he masterminded the remake of the 16 June 1976 iconic image of Hector Pieterson. Let’s find out what happens next.
Veli Ngubane: Where did you grow up and how did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be a creative?
Nganga Dlanga: I grew up in the Eastern Cape, eMdanstane, kwa3 aka ezigebengeni. My brother was already a successful creative so it wasn’t really a thing and my mother has always given us the freedom to do whatever we want.
VN: How did you a) get interested in advertising and b) break into the industry and land your first job?
ND: I was very young when my brother went to Cape Town to study advertising and, before then, I didn’t even know that it was a thing. Every holiday he would come back with tapes of the Cannes [Lions] winners and other awards so we would watch them together. When we used to [do so] at the time, it wasn’t because I was interested in advertising; it was simply because he was gone all year so I wanted to spend as much time with him when he was back at home. I enjoyed the ads on the tapes very much and would look forward to him coming back with more for us to watch together every time he came home for the holidays. I would say that’s when I got interested in advertising.
My brother had this book called The Far Side by Gary Larson and he says he was really impressed by how much I liked the book and the fact that I got the jokes, even though I was very young. He says that’s when he realised how creative I am and how strong my lateral thinking [is], which is a great sign of creativity.
My break into the industry involves quite a few people [who] believed in me. Xolisa Dyeshana told me about a programme that the Creative Circle was doing where they put young black people in advertising agencies for a three-month internship. I have no formal training or education in advertising but I had to write ads to show that I can think of ideas to be able to be accepted into the Creative Circle programme.
They sent me to Black River FC and Ahmed Tilly decided to give me a shot at the agency. I knew very little about how to write at the time but I fell into the hands of very great talented people [who] were willing to teach me how to be a copywriter. In my second month as an intern, I had my first ad that went on to win a Loeries Grand Prix. That was my break and my first job.
VN: What are your specialisations/creative processes/most important tools of the trade?
ND: I stay curious about everything in the world. I’m always doing a bit of research on something that I’ve just come across for the first time so that I understand it better.
VN: What is the South African advertising industry doing right and what needs to change?
ND: The industry is just too white. It is also the lack of embracing the changing world fast enough. Agencies are still operating like they did 60 years ago.
VN: What do you consider the most-effective current form of advertising in South Africa?
ND: I think it can be anything; because of the growth of social media, anything can go viral and be effective.
VN: What do you do to keep up with new trends in the advertising industry?
ND: I don’t try to keep up with trends, but by staying curious about the world around me helps me discover new ways in which I can solve problems and make the best pieces of work that I possibly can.
VN: You are the mastermind behind the remake of the 16 June 1976 iconic image of Hector Pieterson; take me back to the recreation of the iconic image.
ND: I don’t know what to tell you actually. I had a few ideas when I went into the boardroom for the review that day and all of them were just to try and see some of the positive things that have happened since 16 June 1976 to young black people. I didn’t even think it was going to be controversial at all, to be honest.
VN: You were no. 10 at last year’s official Loeries ranking list of writers; how does that feel?
ND: I just feel like I wish I had been given the opportunity do more work so that I could’ve been ranked higher.
VN: You have a successful brother in the industry, Khaya Dlanga; what has he taught you about the industry and life?
ND: He is the one person I’m always crying to when this industry life frustrates me and that happens a lot. He has never given up on me and I’ve given everyone in my life a lot of reasons to give up on me in the past. He still teaches me a lot about life and the industry; he is the first person I call when I need advice about anything and everything.
VN: What is your favourite ad campaign, past and present, and why?
ND: Bud Light presents Real Men of Genius. I just think it was brilliant and funny. I love laughing.
VN: If advertising became obsolete, what would your next career field be?
ND: I’m not sure but it would definitely have to pay better than advertising.
VN: Do you have any new exciting projects you working on at the moment that you can share with us?
VN: Any advice to youngsters wanting to enter the industry?
ND: Are you sure you want to do this? LOL
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.