by Herman Manson (@MarkLives) TBWA\ South Africa has merged its HDI Youth Consultancy — just shy of its 24th anniversary — with Yellowwood, its 23-year-old marketing insights and strategy business. While the agencies combined officially as of 1 June 2020, the integration process will last through the rest of June 2020. The consolidated entity, whose branding is still to be decided, is headed by Refilwe Maluleke, Yellowwood MD.

Planned pre-covid

According to Luca Gallarelli, TBWA\SA GCEO, the move was planned pre-covid-19, and forms part of a larger internal reconfiguration of and broader alignment within the group, but admits the pandemic sped up the decision to merge the businesses. He says the group is interrogating its own configuration as it strives for greater efficiencies and greater collaboration within its ranks.

HDI Youth and Yellowwood employ 18 people each. Retrenchments are expected, Maluleke confirms, but the full extent of this isn’t yet known. Bongani Chinkanda, the former CEO of HDI Youth, has already left the business.

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Key area of investment

The youth market is a key area of investment for the group, says Gallarelli, and the merger should be seen as a doubling down on investment in the sector, rather than as it walking away from it. Yellowwood provides deep strategic thinking within the group and will take over data-rich HDI properties, such as consumer-behaviour survey, Sunday Times Gen Next, and the Junior Board of Directors panel.

The merger will create an opportunity for more-compelling insights on the youth market, says Maluleke, and strategies that are more robust and meaningful. She intends to take the best of HDI, including people, tools and platforms, and integrate these fully into Yellowwood’s research and strategy expertise.

HDI’s definition as a business, based as it was around youth insights and fulfillment, has become dated, says Gallarelli, especially at a time when activations and experiential are struggling due to the global pandemic and restrictions on the gathering of people, and the closing of campuses. Its real value now lies in youth insights and this is what the group believes will fit into and strengthen Yellowwood’s offering. Clients are reacting positively to the move, he says.

Offer smart solutions

According to Maluleke, Yellowwood hopes to offer smart solutions to what future activations and platforms of engagement for the youth market might look like. Physical activations and events, the stereotypical forums of engagement with the youth market, will finally be strategically assessed, she says. When required, TBWA\SA has its own activations unit that may be used to execute strategies.

In terms of existing properties, Gen Next’s field research was conducted pre-lockdown, and Yellowwood intends on finding insights and trends in the data collected, rather than only brand names which youngsters consider to be cool. She aims to augment and contextualise research results to a much-greater extent than in the past.

Maluleke promises youth insight that deliver commercial value to brands, noting that it’s incredible that Absa could walk away from its PSL sponsorship, probably because nobody could make a commercial case for levering its value, when clearly soccer is a massive point of passion in the lives of many youths.

She notes that brands will face real challenges in terms of how they plan to navigate the market over next two-to-three years, especially with so many unknowns, including how the pandemic will affect consumer behaviour over the medium and long term. It will require strategic ability not all organisations have available in-house, opening the door for Yellowwood.

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One reply on “EXCLUSIVE: TBWA merges Yellowwood, HDI Youth”

  1. Hello Herman.
    I agree with the statement that the youth insight is really helpful to some brands. The understanding young generation, their culture and values can allow a lot of brands make a big profit. I feel that Maluleke sticks to the right policy. Also, it is truly significant to have the strategic ability to navigate a market and do not lower the standards, staying successful.

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