#AgencyFocus: The Unit — from clubbing to brandland
by Sabrina Forbes. South Africa’s entertainment-based collective, The Unit — founded by well-known DJ and club-owner, Shaun Duvet — has become an important player in the South African branded-entertainment category.
The Unit is made up of lead agency, Anything Goes, specialising in branded entertainment, with Salute (event solutions), Amplicon (public relations), Bella Bookings (artist and model staffing), Souk, Gold Bar and Coco (Cape Town nightlife), Ultra and Corona Sunset (festivals), and Bridges for Music (local music NGO). Together, the business collection works as a “connected hub of entertainment agencies never before seen in South Africa — a collective engineered to deliver spectacular events to the youth market,” says Kate Thompson-Duwe, Amplicon group managing director. “Their combined track record speaks for itself.”
Each agency in The Unit has its own leadership team and financials, with Duvet calling a catchup meeting at least once a week to find out where everyone is and what’s going on. As businesses, they run independently but, when they come together, that’s the real magic happens. “The Unit basically offers a broad approach to everything eventing, with each agency having the best interests of group at heart in everything they do,” he says.
Duvet began DJing at 15 years old and, by the time he moved to Cape Town almost 16 years ago and opened his first venture, The Bang Bang Club, he remembers that branded entertainment didn’t really exist in the local market and was only just beginning globally. So, in 2007, he partnered with Olmeca Tequila and began to develop concepts that would ultimately set the brand up to become synonymous with electronic dance music (EDM) and remain the “DJ’s tequila”. The Unit still has a very close relationship with the brand today.
Managing and running The Bang Bang Club unknowingly created the organic structuring of the first of The Unit’s agencies, Anything Goes. Duvet often wore two hats, that of club owner/manager and marketer, dealing with alcohol brands and their specific marketing requirements or campaigns.
What started small has grown into an agency group that owns the franchise rights of Ultra in Africa, one of the biggest EDM festival brands in the world. South Africa was the third marketing globally to launch an arm of Ultra, with The Unit front and centre in its planning and execution.
In 2012, dance music exploded and, being in the industry, Duvet was at the forefront of this genre that has continued to expand year-on-year. David Guetta and The Black Eyed Peas are just two examples of dance catalysts that have shaken up the world stage. Up until then, all the events that Duvet had managed, such as bringing Fatboy Slim to play at The Bang Bang Club, were done with a collection of unofficial partners. This early combination of marketing, PR, event, and talent management strengths is what served as the inspiration for The Unit.
The Unit’s first massive show was with deadmau5. After two years of negotiation, in 2012, the agency delivered its first massive three-city, 30 000-people show, presented by Olmeca, of course. This led to future shows with hugely popular acts such as Hardwell, Skrillex, Tiesto, Afrojack, Alesso, and Nicky Romero.
A festival like Corona Sunsets demonstrates how each agency within The Unit pulls together. “All these businesses work in tandem with one another; everything just feeds into each other,” says Duvet. In this case, Anything Goes works with lead creative agency, King James, on the festival’s promotion and artist bookings; Salute manages all production and logistics; Bella Bookings manages artists and staff on the day; and each venue in The Unit gets involved with hosting pre-parties to deliver on building up the hype. It’s the perfect example of how the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
An untapped market for The Unit is the corporate events space, one which Duvet and the leadership team in each of the separate agencies are looking into. A recent corporate win for the group is the launch of the new smokeless, heated tobacco unit, IQOS, from Philip Morris International. The agency group will work together to produce and execute the launch along with lead brand agency, Leo Burnett.
Two more group projects are the upcoming summer 2018 Corona Chasing Sunsets and The Music is King. For the former, key beaches from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town will become Corona-branded sunset festivals with international DJs. “The Unit, in terms of a collective, will manage and produce the shows,” says Duvet. On 15 December 2018, The Unit will also partner with Soulistic Music and Universal Music to deliver the latter show for up to 20 000 people, with Black Coffee as headline DJ. “Branded entertainment is very much exactly what it is that we do,” says Duvet.
Brands like Samsung and Standard Bank are currently sponsors of Ultra South Africa. Both don’t typically come to mind when you think of dance music but they’re ahead of the curve enough to understand that there’s a captive audience at their fingertips. The way each event The Unit produces gives brands data metrics down to the individual, where they were, what they drink, how long they are there. We’re talking 60 000 18–25-year-olds at a single event. That’s a lot of data.
To stay ahead of the curve and local competitors, the team constantly watches and takes note of what artists around the world are doing and what trends are coming from other music festivals in terms of branded entertainment and stage design.
Branded entertainment potential
From the beginning, Duvet saw the potential for branded entertainment and now works with some of South Africa’s biggest brands to bring them to life: “We know how to produce, market, and manage a festival. Bringing a brand to life is a space we really play in the most.”
|theunit.group • Ramify
Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced and published writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.
“#AgencyFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on ad agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
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