by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Cuma Pantshwa and Zama Nkosi-Mabuye, the power duo behind female-focused marketing agency, Asante Blush (IG: @asante.blush), chat about the why, what and how of their work. Their agency was launched in Johannesburg on Women’s Day in 2019.

Asante Blush logoNote: This interview was conducted prior to the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic being declared as such. The following comment has been added, as requested.
Cuma Pantshwa: The crisis has changed how we view the world and how it works. Now is the time to apply creative thinking and imagine new possibilities under such dire circumstances. Consumer behaviour, media consumption and spending habits have changed, and this means our industry, like many others, will take a big knock — but this time also presents itself as a time to keep abreast of the shifts happening around us. We have the opportunity to stay connected, deepen our understanding and reimagine what the next chapter could look like. Done correctly, this time could be the preparation we all need so that we’re fully loaded for the new wave and possibly a new type of consumer. We will have to create new narratives for new realities. There is a stillness that is fertile ground for new strategies and creativity.

Zama Nkosi-Mabuye: Do we have our anxieties about what the next chapter looks like? It would be disingenuous to say no, but we are determined to keep at it through the lockdown, post the lockdown and beyond. We believe empathy, kindness and ubuntu will be central to overcoming this time of uncertainty. This will have to infiltrate into our workspaces and into the type of work we all produce. This has always been a goal of ours, but this situation has amplified that need.

Q5: You describe Asante Blush as “female-focused” — what does this mean in day-to-day operations? Could you unpack it for us?
ZNM: Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases (source: Yankelovich Monitor and Greenfield Online) and we strive to work with brands and organisations that are genuinely aligned with the needs and desires of these women, without ignoring men. Those who understand that, when you cater to women, not only are the women empowered but so is the ecosystem that they power. We are here to help them speak the language of the women they serve and join the conversations shaping women’s realities. All while making a real and meaningful impact …

CP: We are happiest when crafting personalised, authentic marketing and communication solutions [that speak to the]  different audiences that make up the South African market.

According to Kantar’s analysis of advertising creativity and media effectiveness, 91% of marketers think they are succeeding at portraying women as positive role models in adverts, but almost half (45%) of audiences think women are still being portrayed inappropriately. [Cheryl Hunter]

Our work also speaks to addressing this and beyond. This is why we exist. Not only do we help brands and organisations reach women meaningfully but we go further and ensure they elevate women’s voices and that women are portrayed respectfully and in a positive manner. At Asante Blush, we empower marketers to speak to their female consumers in a manner that resonates with them.

Oh, and about our name? Asante [uh-san-tei] is a Swahili word meaning “thank you”; Blush [bluhsh], a colour typically associated with femininity, intuition, insight and nurturing. Together, they root us in gratitude and femininity: the key to unlocking magic and splendour for the greater good of those we serve.

Q5: What are the agency’s goals for 2020?
CP: We know that gaining client trust is a big part of carving out a successful agency, and this year we want to start proving ourselves to our clients and putting out work that will make our presence felt. We are working on growing our client base with brands and organisations that challenge the status quo and want to change the way we see the world and interact with it. In 2020, we aim to conduct a large national study with a nationally representative sample of women in order to segment the market using aspirations and lifestyle as opposed to age, race or LSM. Too many marketers use demographic variables as a segmenting tool, but we believe that women across demographics have similar aspirations and lifestyles, and that this should rather be used as a segmentation tool, especially in the female market. We also, of course, have a revenue target that we’re working hard to exceed!

Q5: How can agencies ensure they are reaching their target audiences? What data, insights and strategies do you use to make sure your clients’ messages reach women?
ZNM: It starts with ensuring that your boardrooms are mixed and diverse, from strategy all the way through to creative and execution. It is fundamental to understand our target audiences and their needs when it comes to any particular category. Once the understanding is done, it’s about creating messaging that is authentic, brilliant and respectful that will resonate. The days of treating people as homogeneous groups with no nuance are thankfully over. Consumers are more discerning, which means as agencies we have to dig deeper to create solutions and campaigns that actually resonate.

CP: At Asante Blush, research is one of our key pillars for this very reason. We believe you have a better chance at great ROI if you are speaking with a deeper level of insight. We immerse ourselves in the target market and understand them using various research methodologies such as quantitative surveys, individual interviews, focus groups, ethnography and social media listening. We gather data from various sources in all we do, because data, just like women, are multifaceted and, in order to build a big picture, we have to look at various sources.

We also have a great and diverse community that we call the ABCs (Asante Blush Collective), which is made up of the consumer landscape (both men and women groups). They help to probe and vet some of the solutions and creative campaigns we offer our clients to aid in landing the messages and products we are selling most effectively and creatively.

Q5: From a gender perspective, how has the media and advertising landscape changed since you started your career in it?
CP: We have both worked in agencies and organisations that were very progressive in terms of representation of women. There has been some change, but nowhere near enough. There is more representation of different types of women in the media we consume, and there is a shift in the type of messaging that women are receiving. The blatant, sexist stereotypes and limiting messages are on the decline.

ZNM: There are also more women in the rooms where decisions are made, so that affects the output that the public is exposed to in a positive manner. There is a wider variety of voices, and we hope that is something that grows because it can only benefit the advertising, marketing and media landscape and by extension, and most importantly, the consumer landscape, too.

Q5: How long will it take to see more-balanced representation of black female executives in adland? And how will we get there?
CP: There is movement on this front, with brands like Unilever proudly announcing achieving their target of a 50/50 gender balance in managerial roles by 2020, and the work that the Unstereotype Alliance is doing globally. Locally, we should strive to close the gender gap and that is one of the reasons we started Asante Blush. The progress is there, with trailblazers playing a huge role in shifting things, women like Nunu Ntshingila, Mathe Okaba, Makosha Maja- Rasethaba, and the younger generation, the founders of Think Creative AfricaMukondi Ralushayi Kgomo and Nkgabiseng Motau — taking [their places]!

ZNM: Seek to understand so you can be understood — this applies very much in adland; often decision-makers do not understand female realities. If we start by changing this in the boardrooms and elevating the young females in the industry, agencies will thrive. Women in the industry also need to consciously be lifting others as they rise.


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diverse fields.

Sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including headlines and become a MarkLives Member, too, to ensure continued coverage.

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist