The “simple’ life of advertising


M&CSaatchi Abel, the advertising agency well known for its tagline: “Brutal
Simplicity of Thought’ has just turned five years old in South Africa. It is one of a
new breed of agencies looking beyond advertising campaigns to providing business
solutions for clients.

In fact, says chief executive partner and founder, Mike Abel, they don’t do a lot of
advertising campaigns for their clients.

Of course much of the actual creative advertising they do, also does win the big
creative awards, ranking M&CSaatchi Abel as one of South Africa’s leading agencies,
both in terms of clients and creative awards.

When Abel returned from a stint overseas to set up his new agency back home in
South Africa, he was concerned at the disconnect between what advertising
agencies were offering and what business consultants were offering.
“Our agency model is based more on an “Accenture’ model, it is more of a
partnership model… solving client problems,’ Abel says.

It is a global trend now, but in South Africa five years ago, Abel was ahead of the
curve. And it has paid off for them. “The South African advertising industry thought
we wouldn’t last. They thought that South Africa didn’t need another advertising

Maybe South Africa didn’t need another advertising agency, but that is where Abel
and his partners were innovative: they targeted mature brands which needed a new
phase of growth and smart solutions to challenge the market, not just clever

The agency has grown from 13 people in Cape Town and Johannesburg to 184. Their
client list includes Deloitte, Lays, Nedbank, Heineken, Hollard, Rimmel, Flight
Centre, Mweb, Pepsi, the DA, and so on. Its partner network, M&C Saatchi is also
the fastest growing independent agency network with 22 offices in 18 countries.

“Clients don’t always need an advertising strategy. We persuaded to
buy Mr Delivery and that was transformative to their business (Takealot and also recently merged). We look at “how we are most useful to our
clients’. We don’t do a lot of advertising for our clients actually,’ Abel explains.
Their offering to clients does include advertising, as well as shopper marketing,
digital, content, social, activation, CRM, design and strategy. Ex-Jupiter and FCB
managing director, Jerry Mpufane, was appointed group managing director Gauteng
to expand business there; and Jason Cumming joined in February as managing
director of the Africa business to kick-start the agency’s somewhat stalled push into
the continent.

Abel defines success as being “the agency that the best clients want to work with
and the best talent fights to work at,’ he tells Screen Africa.

“An agency’s success is best measured by its client’s brands performance in the
market with resultant organic growth for the agency. The ultimate measure of an
agency’s success, is the growth of client brands and bottom line results.
Unfortunately the industry’s success measure is predominantly awards – whilst the
client’s success measure is retention and growth.’

Abel believes that agencies need to focus more on a value model – as in the value
you are adding to your clients – than just on volume: “Do remarkable work, work
that changes society, that gets people talking, that changes category convention,
that shifts brands and how they are positioned and consumed.’

He says that advertising agencies that want to be truly useful, need to look at the
full spectrum of marketing tools available to them, not just at ads or pure
communication as the solution.

In the beautifully designed, glossy hard cover book produced by the agency to
celebrate its past five years, Abel is understandably proud of their achievements,
given that the rest of the industry thought they were “crazy’ and predicted failure.

“From day one we adopted a different business model – a single-minded business
focus to grow our clients’ top-line and market share measurably through a
federation of entrepreneurs, delivering brilliant and imaginative work, irrespective
of channel. We are in every sense a full service marketing company that by
definition would also be really good at creating ads – given communication is
generally a major component of effective marketing. But our starting point is
marketing solutions versus ads – and that is a fundamental shift,’ he explains.

Global recognition and countless local and global creative awards have followed on
from their most high profile campaign to date: the launch of the Street Store
campaign for The Haven Night Shelter for the homeless in Cape Town – a free pop-
up clothing store for the homeless in the street, stocked by donations cleaned,
tagged and displayed with dignity. The Street Store has become a global
movement, with Street Stores popping up in cities all around the world to clothe the
homeless. For more:

As for the next five years, Abel wants to be talked about – and acknowledged
locally and internationally as a leading communications agency providing innovative
marketing, advertising and business solutions to clients predominantly in sub-
Saharan Africa.

Louise Marsland (@louise_marsland) is an editor, journalist and columnist in the
media and marketing communications industry in South Africa, who has been
writing about the industry for over two decades as a former editor of publications:
AdVantage, Marketing Mix and She currently writes extensively
about industry trends and consumer insight. Her website is


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