Young, Gifted & Killing It: Nobantu Sibeko
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Nobantu Sibeko wanted to be an actress but, as she says, “I stumbled into advertising.” Backed by her fearless determination, this gifted young woman is now killing it! as one of the few black female art directors in South Africa. “As women, we need to start unapologetically taking up space and demanding our worth,” the FCB art director tells us. “The time to be scared of asking for things we know we deserve has come to an end.”
Veli Ngubane: Tell me more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Nobantu Sibeko: I was born and raised in Benoni. I still live there; it keeps me grounded. I wanted to be an actress but the only lucrative career options at that time were acting on Generations or being a Simunye presenter. I did speech and drama, was always involved in school plays. Basically — the performing arts, whether I was in front or behind the camera — was what I knew I would do.
VN: How has where you grew up and how you were raised shaped your view of South Africa, Africa and the world?
NS: I always tell people that I stay in Benoni but I live in Johannesburg. Wattville is a small township and the families have lived there for generations. So it’s a very close-knit community. Nothing happens without everyone knowing or having an opinion about it. That sense of community and closeness is what makes us stand out in a world where it’s every man for himself.
VN: How did you a) get interested in advertising and b) break into the industry and land your first job?
NS: Advertising was meant to be my backup plan. It was meant to be something that paid the bills while I pursued my true love (acting). Fast-forward a few years and I’m still here. I actually stumbled upon advertising. I was cleaning out all my school stuff after my final matric exams when I came across an ad for AAA School of Advertising in a school newspaper called FREE 4 All. The ad posed various questions about the industry but the one that jumped out at me was: “Do you want to be the mastermind behind major international campaigns and call all the shots?” Also, the good folks at New Horizons made it look glamourous. So, I took the leap.
My big break was the day The Jupiter Drawing Room Joburg came looking for art directors to work on [its] EDCON account. I spent the first four years of my career there.
VN: How would you explain your typical day to someone who doesn’t know what an art director at an ad agency does?
NS: Clichéd as it may be, there is no typical day in advertising. I actually wish there was more time in a day just to get through everything. As an art director, I’m responsible for the visual execution of the idea, from inception right through to the final product. My day starts by pressing my snooze button 10 times. Then I spend half the time coming up with excuses for my traffic manager as to why I’m late. Then, as soon as I walk into the office, it’s briefings, brainstorms, lunch plans that I can’t commit to, scrolling TLs, liking pictures to maintain friendships, more meetings, chasing deadline, shoots… all in a day’s work.
VN: What is your view on transformation in the advertising industry?
NS: What can I say that hasn’t already been said by my fellow creatives, especially on this platform? We talk about it a lot but that’s where it ends. It needs to be put into action. We need to have more programmes that actively empower people and equip them to fill leadership roles. It’s not just about hiring black talent anymore; it’s about helping them grow and creating opportunities for them to become more than just seat-fillers and “urban terminology” dictionaries. People need to ask themselves what they’re personally doing to help the industry transform. FCB Joburg has a newly founded graduate programme for young creatives that I’m involved in as a mentor. It’s a small step in the right direction of making a difference.
VN: What is the South African advertising and marketing industry doing right and what needs to change?
NS: What we are doing right is telling more of our own stories and we are getting the international recognition for it. More importantly, the quality of work has improved — especially in the radio space. Now, we need to add the same level of craft and storytelling in the digital and integrated space.
VN: How do you perceive yourself as a woman leader in the creative industry?
NS: I kick ass. And I do it in my heels and red lips. I’m one of the few black female art directors in the industry and I give my fellow male colleagues a run for their money. I work for a company that has made it [its] global mandate to have more women in leadership roles so I plan to definitely fulfil that role. I think, as woman, we need to start unapologetically taking up space and demanding our worth. The time to be scared of asking for things we know we deserve has come to an end.
VN: What is it like to work as a female in a male-dominated industry and how do you think the industry may attract more female creatives?
NS: As much as it has been challenging, it has also been my secret super power. When it comes to the consumer, most of the buying decision-makers are female. In order to attract more female creatives, we need to look after the ones who are currently in the industry. Invest in their growth and empower them so that they can be an example for future generations.
VN: What do you like most about your job? What is most challenging?
NS: The most challenging has got to be a fully functional adult and to be consistently creative at the same time, lol. No, seriously, in a time where everyone with a Canon and Instagram account is a creative, staying relevant and interesting is a revolutionary act. Having to come up with creative solutions has been made more challenging; people are bombarded and fatigued, and breaking through is a constant battle. I like that I work on a variety of brands and I have these platforms upon which to play at my disposal.
VN: What has been a highlight in your career?
NS: Surprisingly, it hasn’t been the awards I’ve won so far but rather it would have to be the time when I was out with some friends and I overhead (not eavesdropping) a group of guys using a line from our “W not M” Wimpy ad. It’s motivating when the [person] in the street starts making memes and appreciating your work.
VN: Where and when do you have your best ideas?
NS: When I’m actually not thinking about work and usually when I’m talking complete nonsense with people. (Public Service Announcement: be nice to creatives, or you’ll end up being the butt of their 30-second jokes).
VN: As a creative, how influenced are you by current trends?
NS: Advertising and trends work hand in hand. Your work should be setting trends and changing behaviour. I think it’s very important to know what’s happening in the world around you and to put your unique spin on things so that you can produce work that is socially relevant and makes an impact.
VN: Everyone needs time out. What creative projects do you do on your own time?
NS: I take time out very seriously. Advertising is very stressful. We are constantly working under pressure so it’s good to sometimes switch off , watch Netflix and chill. So, on the rare occasion that I do have time off, I spend catching up with my family and friends.
VN: What has been the most-exciting project that you’ve worked on?
NS: That would have to be the project that I’m currently working on for South African Tourism, which I’ll be shooting later this month. Without giving away too much, it’s the first time that we’ll be telling our story from a South African perspective. #TeamPenAndPencil on Instagram for a sneak preview.
VN: This June will be 41 years since the youth of 1976 fought against apartheid; what would you say is the struggle of this generation’s youth?
NS: I think unemployment and the various factors contributing to it are definitely our biggest struggles. There needs to be more effort in supporting SMMEs and building a culture of entrepreneurship.
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
“W not M” Wimpy. I mean…
Lexus Multi Terrain “Directions” which I co-wrote with my copywriter, Khanyi Mpumlwana.
Colgate Plax Cannes Radio campaign
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.