by MarkLives (@marklives) Is adland embracing an African narrative? Are South African advertising agencies and brands embracing an authentically African narrative and aesthetic or do they continue to imitate American and European work? What can agencies, and brands, do to shift the paradigm towards embracing a unique creative identity that speaks to our African roots? Next in our panel to tackle this question is M&C Saatchi Abel‘s Nomaswazi Phumo.
Nomaswazi Phumo (@NomaswaziPhumo) is an insight-driven strategist at M&C Saatchi Abel Johannesburg who enjoys analysing complex consumer environments and is passionate about challenging the current African narrative.
Is adland championing African creativity?
I’ve asked myself this question many times over the past five years and my answer has changed of late.
Previously, as an industry, we weren’t doing a great job at championing African creativity, if much at all. We took what was being said about Africa, accepted those view points and just went along with it. What this ultimately manifested as is a misrepresentation of the continent, its people and their capabilities. However, a new dawn is upon us, and I truly do believe we’re starting to make strides in changing the creative African narrative as an industry.
The notion of imitating America and Europe isn’t as attractive as it was a couple of years ago. There’s a deep love and pride for our continent and a great desire to put it on the map creatively. Africa has a creative voice, and there’s a determination to have it heard.
Beyond South Africa
First things first, we need to cross borders. It’s important to understand the African landscape and come to the realisation that South Africa is just a portion of it. There is a total of 54 countries in Africa, but not even half of those countries are represented when it comes to creative communication.
The expectation that countries outside of the African borders must know and say more about us needs to stop. Creatively, we communicate to Africa as a city, not even a country. There’s a certain narrative we push which ‘heroes’ certain parts of Africa and almost starts framing them as “the face” of the continent.
There are many moments in which we become our own enemy. No place in the world is as rich and textured as our continent. Before everything else, we must believe and understand this.
In its simplest form, our role as a creative collective is to break perceptions, both in how we see ourselves as a people and in how the rest of the world sees us. These need to be challenged. It’s not so much about highlighting the pain points but rather identifying them and solving them for the greater good of society.
As the incredible Thebe Ikalafeng, brand-builder extraordinaire, puts it, “African design has always been authentic because we have been needs-driven, and that’s the way design should be. Design must solve business and society’s problems.”
The biggest predicament we find ourselves in is having to add African nuances to existing global brands/entities. It’s not only difficult but limiting, and we don’t nearly address it often as we should. However, the silver lining is that this puts us in a beautiful position to start creating our own brands — brands and entities that we have creative licence over.
There is truly something special in conceptualising a brand, getting to build it and play with it and, ultimately, seeing it to launch and bettering the lives of people in society. We have all these untapped resources, minds and talents which we must start use to create creative solutions in Africa for Africans. Also, previous disadvantages when it comes to access and avenues are no longer there or, at least, there are fewer now than ever before. We have plenty of knowledge and tools at our disposable, definitely fewer barriers than we had in the past.
As the old proverb says, “charity begins at home”. We must defend our own interests; the onus is on us.
Amidst it all, this is truly an exciting time to be young, creative and African. There’s so much to celebrate. We’re aware of the untapped creative potential we have and we’re also actively working towards changing the narrative. The world is finally taking heed. Across all creative categories, we’re being well-represented:
- Our art: what Nelson Makamo did with TIME magazine is incredible,
- Our fashion: Thebe Magugu winning the LVMH Prize for young designers,
- Our literature: Yaa Gyasi for telling Authentic African stories,
- Our music: Tiwa Savage and Mr Eazi (among many others) gracing the latest Lion King soundtrack
- Our creative: Melusi Mhlungu working on a great Superbowl ad which went viral
It’s the realisation of the gift and power we possess as a creative collective that will allow us and is allowing us to own our place on the world stage.
Hello, world, scoot over — we’re African, we’re creative and we’ve arrived.
- #BigQNarratives: It’s time for the new kids on the block — Sibu Mabena
- #BigQNarratives: SA adland can’t champion what it doesn’t understand — Veli Ngubane
- #BigQNarratives: An African narrative — is there such a thing? — Michelle Beh
- #BigQNarratives: What is our South African creative narrative? — Felix Kessel
Launched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.