Advertising & culture — it’s Africa’s time to inform our work
by Masego Motsogi (@masegom) In a world that talks about living at the speed of culture, isn’t perhaps worth the time to consider who’s determining the speed? As one of the industries which have such a great influence on the spreading of pop-culture through far-reaching media, are we making a difference — or are we simply regurgitating old American references and passing them off as something fresh and edgy?
Cannes Lions has come and gone. Many have won while others have gone back to their various bases to source new ideas in the hope of winning accolades at next year’s festival of advertising. What’s struck me over the years, though, is that a lot of the top-award winning work tends to be that which is rooted in focused and well-informed societal observations.
What I also know and see is that generally, as an industry in South Africa, our creative output is informed by great brands that operate internationally. I’ve sat in many creative studios where teams will use references resulting in what feels like watered-down versions of original concepts from other parts of the world. What is of interest, and possibly something we need to start paying attention to, is the lack of deep thought we afford our product ie creative output. (I highlight creative but, of course, the process is informed by many role players along the way, right up until the end.)
One way of looking at all of this is that the world is merging fast and, with the proliferation of the internet, ideas come from anywhere across the globe. But I also can’t help and think of other popular culture contributors, such as musicians and filmmakers, and how they seem to have a handle on keeping close to their culture and share that with relative ease with the rest of the world, compared to how we do in our industry.
Perhaps it’s time we did some introspection. With concepts such as purpose-led communication and brands, future-fit companies and culturally led communication, are we as an industry not just trying to assimilate to seem to be in the know by continually borrowing ideas from other parts of the world? Are we so looking for validation from the world that we don’t see the richness we carry, that we’d rather play back to the world what it feeds us? Have we just become lazy observers of ourselves and we’ve relegated it to the rest of the world to talk to us about ourselves? Or do we simply not know who we are as a people, as a nation — that defining ourselves and experiences through others have become our norm?
It was absolutely fascinating watching musician Sjava, following his BET Award win in Los Angeles— unapologetic about being the Zulu man that he is, demonstrated through the outfit he wore and his acceptance speech in his mother tongue.
The response to these gestures has been phenomenally positive, with many people wanting more of it. It reads as if South Africans are longing for indigenous content, both for themselves and to share with the world. I certainly feel that we have richness to share and we ought to take pride in that and ensure that, as an industry, we also learn from the rest of the art world — we must be intentional about telling our unique stories through a South African lens.
Thinking back to my early days in the industry, the work carried a certain texture — that rainbow nation with a tinge of conviviality. On either side of that were other pieces of work that told interesting stories about who we are — the SABC 1 Ya Mampela and Metro FM What Makes You Black projects come to mind, remaining very memorable and a reflection of a time we have come through.
Has the divide become so big that it shows, even in our lightest moments? Is this perhaps an opportunity for our industry to help in the outward definition of who we are as a people? Perhaps there isn’t one particular stance we subscribe to as a nation, but there are subcultures who do inform who we are, whose backstories are worth telling, to potentially get us to some form of confluence.
Wouldn’t this make us richer? Wouldn’t it give our work an edge, work that has an unmistakable South African stamp on it that may be shared with pride, both at home and across the globe? I certainly think it’d be a worthy exercise to look within in order to be able to tell better stories. I believe that, largely, this is our purpose as an industry.
Masego Motsogi (@masegom) is the recently appointed managing director of Grid Worldwide; previously, she was MD of Ninety9cents (99c) Johannesburg. Her career in advertising and marketing spans over 15 years, having worked at Ogilvy & Mather, The Jupiter Drawing Room, South African Breweries and FCB Africa before joining 99c. She has a degree in community and health psychology and a higher diploma in integrated marketing communications.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!