Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anywayJohn Wayne.

by Herman Manson (@marklives) When Wayne Naidoo stepped from corporate back into adland to launch his venture, Duke, back in early 2015, he had no idea his business would lose its founding client four months after his wife Nino quit as head of traffic at Woolworths’ inhouse agency to join him at the fledgling ad agency. Naidoo was making his first hires; things were looking up and he was confident about Duke’s prospects. Then came that call that kicked him in the teeth and nearly killed off his startup.

Duke CIChanged direction

Naidoo — named after the actor John Wayne, whose nickname was Duke (his father was a huge fan) — had been chief marketing officer and then business development executive of financial services company, AFB. When he left, the company contracted its marketing efforts to Duke. But it shortly changed direction, and its marketing requirements fell away — as in, potentially, Naidoo’s house and car and private school for the kids.

Faced with disaster, he started calling up his network. He had run agency Lowe + Partners South Africa for many years; he’d bet he had enough contacts and goodwill to tie them over. But it was not the case — he suddenly found himself very much alone.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, he jokes. It’s why we act. “When you start a new agency, all the years of experience, awards and titles lose their significance and suddenly cash flow becomes of the utmost importance,” he says. “Also, all that industry experience doesn’t mean that business comes knocking on your door; you have to start from scratch, and get out and find the work. You don’t have the security or guaranteed salary of a corporate. Now it’s 100% up to you to make it work and that involves a huge amount of slog work — it’s certainly not glamorous and very often not fun at all.”

Back to the drawing board

Going back to the drawing board, the husband and wife team, who had also been joined by Wayne’s brother Michael shortly before the business went south (he also stuck it out with the rest of the family team), figured that, if they could save their business, they could save other businesses. And so was born the agency’s secret weapon: its Brains Trust. There are some problems agency people can’t solve. You need business people. With experience in that particular market or niche. To give perspective, insight, advice on what has been tried, what’s worked, and what’s failed (and why).

Here Naidoo’s extensive network finally came into play. A former chair of YPO (Young Presidents Organisation), he had access to a wealth of business contacts and experience in virtually any field of business. He tapped this resource to bring relevant senior industry experience to his clients, giving them a de facto war room to take on the competition.

As the business once again started to grow, Naidoo brought on board Steve Miller to assist on strategy. The latter owns the acclaimed Garagista craft brewery and has a wealth of marketing experience, having spent seven years with Unilever and 10 years as Ogilvy & Mather’s strategic planning director. He has also been group marketing director of National Brands, VP group marketing at Tiger Brands and global innovations director of SABMiller plc in London.

Brains Trust

“The success of the Brains Trust is in part because it’s a non-threatening environment that doesn’t form part of business as usual, where people feel comfortable sharing ideas, no matter how outlandish or off-the-wall because they have nothing to lose,” says Naidoo. “Then, the fact that we employ the services of senior industry executives with extensive experience and unrivalled entrepreneurial thought means that we can tap into a fresh perspective, but one that is also completely relevant. The Brains Trust means that the solutions we provide our clients are credible and backed by tremendous expertise.

“The Brains Trust has also forced us as an agency to walk the talk internally. We employ the same way of thinking inside the agency as we would for our clients. This way of doing things makes you realise that you don’t know everything and you need to be willing to try a new way of thinking and doing things.”

Mike Beukes, who’d had stints at Saatchi & Saatchi, Fallon, ENGINE, IDEO, MetropolitanRepublic, LBi and JWT London, joined as ECD. Finally, Joanne von Malitz came on board as business unit director, joining from The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town) and with past experience at TBWA London, JWT Cape Town and Saatchi & Saatchi Cape Town. Today, the client list includes Truworths, AB InBev, RCS, Cheapflights, YPO, The Bureaux, Debt Busters, The Heart and Stroke Foundation, the SAB Foundation, Garagista (obviously) and Moonlighting Films.

Three pillars

Duke builds its business solutions on three pillars:

  1. understand (current realities)
  2. envision (possibilities) and
  3. align (plans and executions).

Understand encompasses objectives, a research review, a global scan and market segmentation. Envisage takes in brand positioning, value proposition, consumer promise, the brand name, brand architecture, positioning and research. Finally, align encompasses internal launch strategy, consumer marketing strategy, agency briefs and additional research.

According to Naidoo, the agency aims to become a sizeable yet sustainable agency that creates relevant, impactful and effective solutions for its clients.

Case studies

supplied by Duke



To create a campaign which celebrates Truworths’ 100th birthday.


Fashion is not about what came before, but rather what’s still to come.

The idea

We are 100 | 001

What Duke did

We have created a campaign that literally turns the 100 on its head and makes a statement about this being the first year of its next 100 years.The purpose is to create a framework with which the Truworths internal agency can work and easily develop work within the campaign, while staying true to the year’s big idea.


Campaign ongoing.



BrieGaragista Bat Pissf

To create notoriety for Bat Piss, Garagista’s light American lager.


Talking rubbish, having a laugh and oneupmanship dominates our audience’s drinking occasions.

The idea

The dark, light beer.

What Duke did

Duke turned the campaign into the cult game of Would You Rather. Each execution sees drinking Bat Piss being (bizarrely) the option you’d far prefer, even if the other option started off well.

The agency only had R8 000 media budget, so it opted to make as much noise as it could in a single day and used it all in just 24 hours, with a giant social media game of Would You Rather with anyone who would interact and play. This ranged from a group of loyal Bat Piss fans all the way up to the likes to Ozzy Osbourne and Paige Nick.


In 24 hours, 112 000 impressions were garnered on social channels, even though following across Facebook and Twitter was only a mere 3 000. Following the campaign, Bat Piss store listings increased by 12.5%, which included some of South Africa’s highest profile accounts — a significant achievement for a small craft brewery. For a mere R50k total budget, 125% ROI was created with a campaign which only ran for a single day.




We’re in a time when debt is increasingly crippling the lives of South Africans. Our job was to make them aware of a way out and, in doing so, establish DebtBusters as the authority on debt consolidation.


People living with debt feel like they’re living with an unstoppable, invisible disease, which marks them in ways others can’t see.

The idea

Don’t let debt leave its mark.

What Duke did

The agency created a TV, print and social advertising campaign, aimed at generating awareness in a hard-hitting way to spur people into action. It comes to life through a financial statement mutating across the main character’s body.


The campaign showed a marked increase in success for DebtBusters, with a year-on-year 57% increase in conversions over the same period. Client has kept ROI figures confidential, but has confirmed that leads increased by 33% year-on-year over the same period.A phenomenal success for Duke was that the print started generating calls before it had even run. The agency eventually tracked the calls back to the magazine’s printers.


Herman Manson 2017Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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