Sharon Keith on what it takes to be a “Rainbow Maker’


“I know, let’s make a rainbow!’

Most people we know would shake their heads and roll their eyes. However good
we might be, or even think we are, we know that we cannot control the weather.
But there was one person who took the suggestion seriously, and the result is the
now world famous Cannes-award winning “Rainbow’ campaign for Coca-Cola
Southern Africa.

Sharon Keith, marketing director of Coca-Cola Southern Africa, is the third person
to be recognised as a Champion of Creativity by the Creative Circle this year; a
status awarded to marketers who walk the creative talk, supporting creativity not
only with their words but also through the campaigns that they push through bosses
and boards, and unbendable budgets.

Keith has spent most of her marketing career in the drinks business, working with
brands from Lipton and Frisco, to Fanta and Fresca, before she graduated to Bells,
J&B, Captain Morgan, Smirnoff Vodka, Guinness and Baileys. And then back to

She might feel uncomfortable being called the ‘Rainbow Maker’, especially when she
is the first person to give the credit to the creative team at FCB, but the reality is
that without her support, the campaign would never have seen the light of day.
Every creative team understands the importance of working with a client who not
only appreciates creative thought, but also acknowledges that creativity isn’t linear,
and it often requires many iterations and do-overs and re-thinks to arrive at a
workable solution.

“Our education system tends to train us to come up with “the right answer’, which is
the answer that everyone expects. Creativity, however, is unexpected by definition.
It requires people to think differently to how they have been trained, and taught. As
such, it is often incredibly difficult to support. It goes against the grain, against
everything we “know’,’ says Keith.

Therein, perhaps, lies the first step in what is takes to be a “Rainbow Maker’.

Understanding. Acknowledgement.

Keith explains, “I understand that creativity is messy. But I also believe that creativity is
fundamental to business success. If you’re not reinventing yourself and your brands
every single day, you’re sliding backwards. And reinvention requires creativity, it
requires thought that goes against the grain that surprises consumers who have –
quite literally – seen and heard it all before.’

In the 80s, while working at Unilever Lipton Foods, Keith engineered a promotion
with Arnold Geerdts and the SABC for Frisco, which saw the breakfast show crew
knocking on doors of unsuspecting consumers in the early morning to quiz them
about Frisco, to stand the chance of winning the keys to a luxury Gypsy caravan!

“It was early reality TV – getting past dogs and security systems was an exercise in
creativity all on its own!’

“We received so many entries – via the postal service, this was a long time ago! –
that they filled an entire room. We could quite literally dive into them!’ she recalls.

Which brings us to the second step.

Courage. Conviction.

“It requires enormous courage and conviction to think differently, especially when
you know that you might not hit a home run every time,’ says Keith.

At this point, it is virtually impossible to not picture Larry, the Fresca brand
ambassador. Remember “Nuffin tastes like Fresca!’ It must have taken some
cahones to push that idea through the ranks, a black guy with a British accent, to
advertise a completely unknown brand into the South African market…

Keith recently heard a radio interview with Hakeem Kae-Kazim, who played Larry,
and he commented that he still can’t escape the Larry persona, despite his
subsequent Hollywood success – that is how South Africans remember him!
“To be fair, I can’t take the credit for this campaign, as I inherited and finessed it
rather than originated the idea. But it was a brave idea, especially for its time, and
in this place,’ says Keith.

Of course, it also takes courage to use an existing idea, especially in an industry
that has a tendency to frown upon anything that isn’t original!

The recent “Share a Coke’ campaign, for example, was picked up by Keith and her
team from Australia. FCB gave the idea a fun spin with its hugely popular “Bobby’
spots, and the rest is history – the campaign has since been exported to over 90
countries around the world, and barely a day goes by without the team receiving a
request for the ads!

“Sometimes you have to get past the “not invented here’ barrier, and instead apply
the lens of “what could we do with this?’’ says Keith.

It goes without saying that this kind of courage is becoming increasingly important
in the global village that we call home.

“The most successful creative people I know don’t always hit a home run, though.
They are just nimble enough – and brave enough – to regroup when it isn’t working
and start again,’ says Keith.

In 2009, for example, when Keith headed up marketing for Baileys Irish Cream in
Dublin and developed Baileys with a hint of flavour, her team developed a striking
print and outdoor campaign called “Listen to your lips’. But, sadly, she explains, the
TV didn’t live up to the print, so they changed direction. That happens. A lot.
“I think we need to reward people for courage – because it isn’t easy to think
different!’ she exclaims.

Relevance. Resonance. Reason.

That said, Keith is not advocating thinking differently just for the sake of thinking

“If we are talking about successful creativity, we can’t afford to do think differently
just for the sake of it. It has to be insight-driven and actionable. It has to address a
business problem, or take advantage of a business opportunity, or it won’t see the
light of day,’ Keith warns.

Take the work she did on Captain Morgan Spiced Gold, with the Soweto Beach
Parties, which saw the brand bring in 100 tons of sand, palm trees, volleyball nets,
yachts, big bands, beach buggies, and even bikini girls – in so doing not only
attracting crowds of 20 000 plus for weekends of revelry, but also firmly lodging
Captain Morgan Spiced Gold in the hearts and minds of LSM B consumers, who were
largely drinking green bottle premium beers at the time and tended to view rum as
a “downmarket’ drink. It also endeared the brand with the taverners of Soweto, who
gained their own “beach bars’ during the campaign period, as well as VIP passes for
their special customers.

And her contribution to the Bells brand in terms of linking “extra special times with
extra special Scotch’, ultimately culminated in the “Give that man a Bells’ campaign,
which securely established the brand as the number one Scotch whiskey in South

Purpose. Passion.

But for Keith, it is immediately apparent that “purpose’ is two-pronged, and the
work of which she is often most proud tends to link a brand not only with a
commercial purpose, but also a social purpose.

“In 2013, we launched the Coca-Cola “Crazy for Good’ campaign, which encouraged
and showcased South Africans from all walks of life indulging in Random Acts of
Kindness, from teaching homeless children to surf, to leaving spare change in
vending machines, or even just giving a random stranger a hug. It was all about
sharing and spreading happiness, at a time when we seemed to need it most.’

The campaign was so successful that it sparked two other movements:
“Swings for Good’, which started out as a challenge to Coca-Cola’s agencies to hang
swings in their neighbourhoods to increase the fun quotient around us, but
culminated in a movement that has been adopted internationally and has seen
people from around the world contribute towards grassing underprivileged soccer
fields around the country.

The other was “Cola-Cola Rock Corps’, which encourages teens to donate their time
to community projects in their neighbourhoods, and rewards them with “money can’t
buy’ tickets to an exclusive once-in-a-lifetime concert starring international artists.

Last, but certainly not least, there is one thing that almost all of Keith’s work has in

Out of the box

“Creativity is not, nor should it ever be, relegated to a box. And by that, I mean The
Box. The TV,’ says Keith. “Creativity is about an idea, not a TVC. Today, especially
with the massive explosion in media opportunities, where virtually every surface
(even the air around us!) has the potential to become a space for communication, a
good creative thought must be able to live beyond the box, and out of the

A Rainbow for the Rainbow Nation, which celebrated 20 years of democracy in
South Africa, is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of this final step.

But there is also another Box, one that boxes us as either “creative’ or “not creative’,
and Keith’s final word is about not boxing ourselves.

“There’s a quote on the wall in the lobby of the headquarters of Coca-Cola in
Atlanta from Robert Woodruff that reads: “There is no limit to what a man can
achieve, so long as he doesn’t care who gets the credit.’

“I subscribe to that belief (in a non-sexist way of course!), because just as we
acknowledge that creativity is not limited to The Box, we also need to acknowledge
that creative thoughts are not limited to the box in which we place so-called
“creative’ people. We are all capable of thinking creatively, and our best work will
emerge when we forget who is the agency and who is the client. When we roll up
our sleeves and get stuck in the mess together.’


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