by MarkLives (@marklives) The marketing and advertising industries are transforming. So why are so many black professionals disgruntled with the rate of progress? And is the quality of most of the work specifically directed at a black audiences still sub-par? We emailed a panel of key industry executives for their take. This week it’s the turn of Sbu Sitole of The Odd Number.

Sibusiso “Sbu” Sitole

Sbu SitoleSibusiso Sitole has 13 years of experience in the advertising industry and is co-founder and executive creative director of The Odd Number. Since opening shop in 2015, the agency has attracted clients such as BBC Entertainment, Brand South Africa and Heineken International (working on Sol Beer),  and has won Gold and Bronze Loeries, a Gold Pendoring, the Umpheta Pendoring award and a Creative Circle Ad of the Month. The Odd Number is currently ranked at no. 15 in the South African Creative Circle rankings, coming in as the no. 1 black-owned and -managed advertising agency in South Africa. It was also joint runner-up for One to Watch in South Africa in 2017 , as well as the joint One to Watch in Jozi in 2017, in our MarkLives Agency Leaders’ Most Admired poll for 2016.

I think the reason we’re still grappling with questions like these after so many years is that the concept of transformation hasn’t been embraced by our industry. We’re an industry that doesn’t want to be told what to do, or even how to do it. We have our own ideas about the future of advertising in South Africa. So, while we’re transforming as an industry, we’re often doing it for the wrong reasons — because government has made it a mandate. Our focus as advertising and marketing businesses is how to get our BEE scoring as close to level 1 as possible, instead of understanding why transformation is important.

Cultural relevance

Brands succeed when they break through in culture, and branding is a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance. What is culture? Simply put, it’s the customs and social behavior of a particular society. The best way to break through South African culture is to have a deep understanding of it from various perspectives. We need to embrace the society we live in, understand its people, and find meaningful and effective ways of communicating with them. Therein lies the true value of transformation.

We have very few black advertising professionals in senior positions at advertising agencies. In creative, I can’t think of many creative directors and ECDs in the country’s top agencies. For some young black professionals, it becomes difficult to see yourself occupying leadership positions but, more importantly, it’s even harder to feel like the leadership at your agency understands you. For instance, a great vernacular script may not be as hard-hitting when you translate it to your CD, because the insight is difficult to explain.

This is why black advertising professionals are disgruntled. Because they don’t want to be the black face in the meeting; they’d rather be heard and make a meaningful contribution. They don’t want to only be given the ‘black’ briefs; they want to be amazing creative people across segments. They don’t want to sit in a pitch so that their agency looks more transformed; they want to be a valuable team player. Much like white advertising professionals, they want to be the best at what they do!

Trust and nurture

So, instead of hiring us to change a scorecard, agencies need to trust and nurture us. They must nurture our insights, our ideas, and allow us the opportunity to connect with a culture that many of us know so well. That’s when breakthrough will happen; that’s when the work aimed at black audiences will be braver, more insightful and a whole lot more meaningful.

What compounds the whole issue is that, instead of taking risks to create powerful, memetic work, we’re relying more and more on data and programmatic marketing. As if repeatedly showing a ‘vanilla’ marketing message to a targeted audience will breakthrough eventually. Yes, there’s value in analytics and data, but there’s power in taking creative risks and working with the black people in the building to help mold cultural nuance. This will move the work aimed at a black audience from subpar to powerful.

Transformation, in its truest form, will keep black advertising professionals inspired; it will keep the advertising agency’s thinking diverse; it will create braver work that breaks through the current clutter; and, ultimately, it will help grow a larger much-needed pool of black advertising professionals for our industry.

The marketing and advertising industries are transforming, albeit slowly.

See also


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.

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