by Herman Manson (@marklives) Felix Kessel (@felixak) — former Leo Burnett South Africa CEO/CCO and OwenKessel co-founder — has rejoined the ad agency world as the new creative lead at Liquid, WPP’s agency for Distell. Kessel might be best-known for VodacomYebo Gogo” campaign during the late ’90s, as well as later work on McDonald’s, Amstel and MTN.

WPP logo and Liquid logoFran Luckin, who’s been leading the creative side of Liquid, steps back into her primary role as chief creative officer of Grey Africa but will continue to collaborate with Kessel on Liquid’s creative output. Liquid, a bespoke agency, was created last year to service Savanna, Hunter’s, Amarula, Viceroy, Bain’s, Scottish Leader and Hunter’s Edge, as well as a number of Distell-owned Kenyan brands.

Host of factors

According to Kessel a host of factors played a part in his return to the agency world. In the past he’s bemoaned the lack of a uniquely South African creative narrative, and came to realise he wasn’t playing an active part in driving such an initiative. He was, he says, sitting outside looking in, and he felt this had to change.

Enter Distell — a major South African-owned liquor company with global ambitions and a host of strong SA-born brands. Here he can truly have an opportunity to drive a uniquely local creative voice and give meaning on a global stage. He believes a set of shared principles, values and beliefs can define SA’s character, and also its creative voice.

Creative vision

The team he has joined (now 40+ strong), says Kessel, buys into his creative vision; they’re also people he’s always wanted to work with and who want to work together to get stuff done.

“This opportunity, to guide some of SA’s most-wonderful and -powerful brands and tell quintessential, positive SA stories is, of course, a great responsibility but also one that I relish getting stuck into,” he says in the media statement announcing his appointment. “Guiding my team through the transforming landscape of communication while keeping our market engrossed with relevant, insight-based creative work, all with the aim of creating work that not only stands out but shapes our combined culture positively, is something that drives me personally.”

Without a real sense of identity — “rainbow nation” doesn’t cut it any longer — “the themes that emerge as SA creative narratives are insular, tactical and unfortunately a little trivial; we default to product, price and explanation littered with a bit of social commentary. It’s functional but not nearly meaningful enough.

“What we are missing is the pivot, the lever that can move the country emotionally positively. I would argue that, until you have a clear picture of who we want to be as a nation, you can’t project that positive image into the world, and you let the negative ones define you — issues of privilege, gender, race, religion, ancestry, wealth, poverty and a host of other negative labels start becoming our narrative and our identity. That is something I, for one, hope to avoid.” — Felix Kessel, #BigQNarratives: What is our South African creative narrative?

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

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