Young, Gifted & Killing It: Mbuso Ndlovu
by Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) Someone who’s led creative at a Vietnam agency, clocked up international awards from Cannes to Clios to Epicas and even sung solo for the pope, Mbuso Ndlovu (@NdlovuMbuso) has strong opinions about influencers, transformation and freelance life. Read more about him in this interview.
Veli Ngubane: Tell us more about yourself: where did you grow up and what did you want to be when you were growing up?
Mbuso Ndlovu: I spent a fair amount of my childhood in the Zululand Empangeni/Richards Bay area, until we had to move to Northern Natal, where we lived in a farm being a young ‘Farmer Brown’.
VN: Please explain what you actually do and what an average day looks like for you?
MN: The best way to answer this question is that I’m a creative curator. My day-to-day entails finding creative solutions for brands and clients through different use of media to communicate a specific point. I’d like to believe that what we do essentially shapes and influences culture.
VN: What is your philosophy in life that influences your creative work?
MN: The creative director job is hard. It really is. When you get your team all involved going in the same direction, that’s when you make great work. Trust your dope!
VN: What advice would you give someone in a 9-to-5 job in an agency who is considering leaving their job to freelance full time?
MN: If your work mode only applies between 9–5, then you are in the wrong business. I also think the term freelance is outdated. Rather consider people like myself brand/agency consultants.
VN: What are your views on why the industry is slow to transform?
MN: Transformation in our industry has been slow because, all these years, we have been applying this thing I like to call ‘one black at a time’. That there can only be one of you sitting in management, or in a senior position and, as soon as you try to bring in new talent, the reaction has always been, “But wait, why are you bringing others? We chose you.”
VN: When and why did you decide to be an independent?
MN: There’s a lot of average work that is out there, focused on the wrong insights, and at times you find yourself doing work you might not necessary believe in. You are also able to choose the work/projects that speak to you.
VN: Tell us more about your experience working in Vietnam?
MN: Vietnam was a great experience where I had the privilege of leading a very dynamic team of individuals from different parts of the world, which is already a win on its own. There’s something very exciting about being in a new country where you know nothing about [its] culture and way of doing things. Unlearning some of the things you thought you knew about [Vietnamese] culture and starting at the beginning by adapting to the [Vietnamese] way of doing things. That was one the hardest things I had to do, but I had lots of fun while doing it.
VN: What advice can you give to people wanting to get into the creative industry?
MN: You gotta have the love for it, as what we do might seem easy but a great amount of thinking, creating and crafting goes into it. That’s what sets you apart from being just a mediocre creative or a dope creative.
VN: What do you like most about your work? What is most challenging?
MN: I like the fact that we can sit and influence culture by being involved in the different stages of the creative process. I like the point where the idea has been created and it’s time to put everything together and the crafting begins.
VN: What is your favourite ad campaign, past and present, and why?
MN: My favourite piece of work that has come out recently has to be the Kanye West new Yeezy line launch. An integrated campaign that, in my view, has been the only campaign that has used influencers really well, in what I actually think was a genius piece of work. A very good use of medium by simply understanding your consumer and their behaviour. Up until that point, that whole influencer thing has been rubbish. And, also, let’s stop thinking that consumers can’t see through the bullshit.
VN: What has been a highlight in your career?
MN: I think I have been lucky to have a few highlights in my career from the time I was awarded Young Creative of the Year in 2010, winning big awards around the world, leading creative for a global agency in Asia and, the most recent one, working with Orlando Pirates capturing and documenting the history of the club over the 80 years through every legend that has ever played for the club.
VN: What are the key trends to look out for in 2018 from an ad industry perspective?
MN: I think the advertising charter being implemented is going to shake things up in the industry, given that we can hope to see great transformation in work being more authentic. We can also hope that, unlike previously, this is more than just a cosmetic change and the black faces won’t just be executing their white counterparts’ agenda. The role of black creatives in leadership has become even more important because we have to make sure that the right amount, and quality, of black creatives comes through and stays in the industry.
VN: Tell us something about yourself not generally known.
MN: I was a soloist for the KZN Youth Choir/Orchestra and have travelled the world performing alongside the Drakensberg Boy Choir in countries like Austria, Netherlands, Czech Republic. Even performed for the pope!
VN: Please would you supply two or three pieces of work you have been involved in?
Veli Ngubane (@TheNduna) entered the world of advertising with a passion after completing his BSocSci (law, politics and economics) at UCT and a post-graduate marketing diploma at Red & Yellow, where he’s currently advisory board chairman. He also sits on the IAB’s Transformation & Education Council, is a DMA board member and has judged the Loeries, Apex and AdFocus awards. He is CCO and founding partner of the largest black-owned and -managed full-service agencies in the country, AVATAR. He is also co-founder of M&N Brands, which is building an African network of agencies to rival the global giants. In his monthly column “Young, Gifted & Killing It”, he profiles award-winning, kick-ass black creative talent in South Africa.
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