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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 Bizcommunity.com. She currently writes extensively about industry trends and consumer insight.

How brands can self-medicate during this pandemic


In a market where there is only uncertainty, and where many industries have already collapsed, as businesses face ruin and scared consumers are hiding out in their homes – how do you market anything to anyone?

Firstly, there is an end in sight: look at China emerging to a semblance of normality in some areas in March, albeit with temperature checks all over, three months after the pandemic took hold in that country and mass lockdowns started in February. Yes, we have already been told that this pandemic may be with us for two years, as treatment protocols are refined and a vaccine possibly developed, but – in about six months’ time, after our winter – South Africans will have an economy to rebuild, as will most of the rest of the world.

That is what we all need to start planning for now. Even in the face of total shutdowns, we all have skills and careers that we have invested in. We now need to reengineer them and look at how to do things differently. In any crisis situation, be it war or this unprecedented lockdown of our global society and economies, innovation thrives. We have to be creative to work remotely; to start new businesses if our current ones fail; to look at how to take our unique skills or hobbies or passion-projects and turn them into businesses.

South African futurist and future of work consultant at TomorrowToday, Graeme Codrington, has been releasing a series of videos on his YouTube channel to counsel business leaders on what to do next – this after his globetrotting career speaking at events and to companies for 11 out of 12 months each year was abruptly curtailed by travel restrictions. We all have to start thinking differently and more virtually, using online tools to connect and work and be more effective, he says.

Influential American site Politico also surveyed 34 leaders and thinkers across society, technology, the economy, health and politics, to find out how the world will be changed by this pandemic. It is a long but excellent read and will spark ideas as to how we will need to do things differently and how we will all be changed by remote-working and self-isolating for months, while trying to keep our work going. The main take-away from the article: “Coronavirus will change the world permanently. A crisis on this scale can reorder society in dramatic ways, for better or worse.” It is not only our ways of working that will change, but society in general. This needs to be taken into account in future business decisions.

Purpose over profit

However, before that, we need to support our immediate communities: our families, friends, customers and clients. Purpose over profit – that is how we have to go forward. All the futurists say plan and prepare. Accept there will be massive personal and business losses financially, which are unquantifiable at this stage, and so prepare for the worst-case scenario and plan what to do when society returns to a semblance of normality. What do people need now? Where do consumers need support now?

A young filmmaker in Italy, for example, had people share their stories from quarantine with him about what they would have done differently before the pandemic – his short docudrama has gone viral. There are many such projects that filmmakers and film editors could take on from their homes, for example. It may not be enough to pay the bills in the short-term, but may ensure a future in the long-term. Now is the time for empathy, supporting others and passion projects.

Global advertising agency Ogilvy has prepared a communications plan for its clients and partner agencies worldwide and shared it globally to aid other brands. Called COVID-19: How to Communicate in Turbulent Times, the agency advises: “Using your expertise or brand capital to help during a crisis is not about commercial advantage or profit. It is about doing the right thing for society and showing a company’s true values and citizenship.”

Summing up the main findings in the report, Scott Kronick, Ogilvy’s regional lead of PR and influence in the Asia-Pacific region, says that this challenging time for broader society is also a challenging time for marketers and communicators as they have to go into full-scale crisis communications mode. There is no normal right now.

This is Ogilvy’s advice, as outlined by Kronick: “First, it’s crucial that communicators make sure they are dealing with accurate information. Times of crisis can be confusing and frightening, resulting in an amplification of speculation, conspiracy theories, obfuscation and censorship. Communicators must ensure that they are dealing with facts and not fiction, real information and not rumour.

“Second, it’s crucial to have an understanding of the ultimate goals of the communications being delivered. This is not a time to try to market or sell, but rather it is a time to reinforce the values that define leading organisations. What can be done given the various objectives we are working to address? It all comes to down communicating effectively.

“And last, communicators need to properly place the ongoing crisis and issue in a greater context. What does it mean for globalisation, economic growth and more—and how does that play out as the world works to get through the crisis together?”

Survival strategies

AdWeek reports that agencies will be forced to address technology shortcomings during this time and advises brands that cause-related marketing may work better than any other kind, as consumers need to feel supported. A growth in ecommerce is also expected, as all transaction systems move online and retailers beef up their online shops. I believe many small businesses will also upgrade to shop windows on social media and ecommerce platforms and online marketplaces will thrive.

While companies grapple with everything required to allow workers to work remotely, brands and retailers are also having to cope with massive drops in revenue as retailers close the world over and foot traffic all but disappears across much of the retail sector. What brands have to remember is that consumers will develop new habits over this period: people will shop online, order groceries online and order prepared food online in their communities (restaurants have to evolve in this direction)  – and get all their entertainment online, from gaming to movies. Safe delivery will be key, of course, but as more consumers get comfortable with shopping and ordering online, these consumer habits will still be there after this is all past and a massive technological leap-frog will have taken place in retailing, meaning brands will have to do things differently going forward.

Reports AdWeek: “Industry watchers also suggest that if a brand hadn’t devoted major resources to ecommerce in the past, now is the time to do it. While many analysts have said ecommerce cannot replace all lost foot traffic (especially if consumers hit by curtailed or lost incomes have less money for shopping), it’s also true that in the wake of the coronavirus, over 46% of consumers are more likely to buy clothing online, and nearly 65% are more likely to head to the internet to buy personal care products, according to recent data from Red Points.”

The one comforting thought, as South Africa stares down the barrel of this pandemic, is that after two months of lockdown, China is slowly getting back to normal. We have to hold on to that and plan for the disruption that will face all business sectors this year.

The link to the Ogilvy full paper for free download is: https://www.ogilvy.com/uploads/O200316_Paper_COVID(1).pdf.

The gamechangers of the next decade


Standing at the beginning of a new year in a new decade is exciting. This new decade, in particular, will herald in an important time for our continent, as countries scramble to meet the global United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; and the real work on implementing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) starts.

AfCFTA is a real gamechanger for Africa, as it will create the largest trading block in the world once trade barriers fall, boosting internal trade on the continent, which will lead to economic prosperity in many regions and an infrastructure boom and job creation – sorely needed for the continent with the biggest and youngest population in the world.

What this means for every industry, including the creative industries, is that opportunities to do business within Africa will increase because investment will increase. It won’t be easy or without major challenges, but to anyone launching or growing a business in South Africa’s depressed economy, Africa presents another opportunity for growth – particularly since, in 2018, seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa! (South Africa and Nigeria weren’t on that list – everyone is still waiting for us to grow into our potential!).

I believe this decade will signal that it is Africa’s time and an ‘Africa Rising’ presents unique opportunity beyond our borders for every industry. The impact of AfCFTA and its potential should feature in all long-term business plans of all industry in South Africa going forward. That is my most important trend for this decade and this year.

The other massive gamechanger, globally, for this coming decade, is Generation Z. Apart from the fact that we can finally stop talking about Millennials, this next generation of youth have the onerous task of saving our planet. They will also, like the generation that heralded in massive social change in the 1960s across the world, have one of the biggest impacts on our consumption patterns. They are also going to be the most vocal in calling out everyone – from politicians to companies to brands – if they are corrupt in anyway and do not behave in a transparent and authentic way.

Think Gen Z, think Greta

Going forward, into industry specific trends for the creative industries, Generation Z and their consumption habits will probably be one of the biggest gamechangers since social media revolutionised the last decade which was dominated by the focus on Millennials. Generation Z is a surprising generation and their poster child is Greta Thunberg.

Also called the iGen or Centennials, this generation of youngsters was born between 1996 and 2010, following on from the Millennials. They have been immersed in our digital society, growing up with the internet and on social media. The oldest of them are now just finishing their tertiary education and entering the workforce.

This generation will very much likely have as much impact as the 60s generation, whose marches were for peace at the beginning of the Cold War. Except their platform is climate change and they will have to save our planet from mass extinction.

So how will brands, marketers and advertising creatives market to this generation? What can you sell a generation that is starting to reject conspicuous consumption and anything that raises their carbon footprint?

Global thinktank, McKinsey, says the one characteristic that defines this generation, is “truth”. Generation Z avoid labels, preferring to express themselves individually. They believe in standing up for causes they believe in; and believe dialogue and negotiation is the way to resolve conflicts, not war.

“They make decisions and relate to institutions in a highly analytical and pragmatic way,” reports McKinsey, calling them the “True Gen”. This is in contrast to the Millennials, called the “Me” generation, which focuses more on itself. Remember, it was this generation that invented the ubiquitous selfie!

McKinsey advises brands and business to think about how they deliver value to this consumer and make sure they practice what they preach when addressing marketing challenges, work ethics, environmental issues and impact on the planet.

Time is not on your side: within just five years, this generation will be leaving school and becoming students that will agitate for change or they will be joining their peers in the workplace and creating change – from within or as consumers.

This quote from McKinsey is striking: “Companies should be attuned to three implications for this generation: consumption as access rather than possession, consumption as an expression of individual identity, and consumption as a matter of ethical concern. Coupled with technological advances, this generational shift is transforming the consumer landscape in a way that cuts across all socioeconomic brackets and extends beyond Gen Z, permeating the whole demographic pyramid.”

Don’t think for one moment that we are immune down here in Africa, either: Africa, including South Africa, has the single biggest youth demographic in the world. This decade to come is one of the most important in history – change is coming, there is no doubt, for our way of work and how brands are consumed – in fact, the entire marketing eco-system will be impacted.

Personally, I have hope for Generation Z, that they can save us from our worst excesses. They are searching for authenticity and embrace greater freedom of expression, while they are more tolerant and accepting.

There are three types of consumer behaviour that Gen Z display that will profoundly affect brands:

  • Sharing economy: Gen Z does not believe in ownership. For them, consumption means access to products and services, not necessarily ownership. They value services that connect them, as services they use, rather than products that they own (like car-riding services, video streaming and subscriptions). McKinsey advises that companies need to rethink their value-creation models and look at leveraging “more direct relationships” with consumers, as well as alternative and new distribution channels.
  • The cult of the individual: This generation want more personalised products; they do not want to look like everyone else. And here is where they will pay for it. Interestingly, they also don’t want brands which classify them by gender, as male or female. So, dump the pink and blue, male vs female thinking. For some brands this will be a stretch. The other significant consumption trend is that this generation sees no “line” between online and offline shopping. They want to be able to access products they want to buy or use 24/7, anywhere.
  • Purpose-driven marketing: More than any other generation before them, this generation expects marketers to believe in something and “take a stand” with their brands. It makes sense too. Brands have worked so hard in the past two decades to appear ‘human’ – with human characteristics and emotions – to consumers that they now have a generation of consumer that does not make a distinction between individual causes and corporate causes and corporate ethics. Ownership, ethical behaviour, giving back to the community, taking a stance on causes that matter, having an articulated purpose – these are all things expected of brands and organisations, as well as anyone Gen Z connects with. How’s this for a scary stat: 80 percent of Generation Z surveyed by McKinsey indicated that they refuse to buy goods from companies involved in scandals.

I love this generation; I think they will make the world a better place. And we could sure use some of that after these past few difficult years in our own country’s history as well as the shenanigans going on elsewhere in the world. They bring as hope. And that is what we want trends to do: provide hope for the future so we can take that next step, launch that new business, plan for a future. Happy 2020!

Building a digital video economy in Africa


This is a big year for video: online video is expected to overtake broadcast television. It is estimated that video will comprise 80% of all internet activity by the end of 2020. Over 500 hours of video is uploaded every minute – much of it via YouTube, according to the latest statistics from Cisco.

The above stats, as well as the video economy in Africa at large, were discussed over two days at Africa’s largest technology, media and telecommunications event, AfricaCom 2019. Now in its 22nd year, the event takes over the entire Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), both CTICC 1 and the newly-built CTICC 2, every November in Cape Town. Video Exchange Africa is one of over 20 streams and co-located conferences that also take place there each year.

Factors influencing the broadcast television and content market across the continent include the increase in connectivity, internet streaming and smartphone penetration due to costs coming down, creating new opportunities for both broadcasters, content producers and consumers themselves. The cost of data and infrastructure challenges are still huge barriers to the opportunity that the video economy presents, and – as a result – the telecommunications providers are becoming more important as partners in the content eco-system across Africa.

This year, Video Exchange Africa gathered influential speakers from Africa and across the globe to discuss and debate the opportunities that Africa’s transition to digital presents, exploring commercial models required to monetise content across an increasingly digital Africa;, as well as the progress and implications of online and digital terrestrial television (DTT).

The relevance of the video economy for Africa is that videos uploaded to the internet give everyone a voice, enabling even those in rural centres to broadcast themselves to the world; and it enables more content producers to reach more consumers as penetration grows and the cost of devices comes down.

In a panel on establishing a digital video economy in Africa, introduced by George Twumasi, CEO of ABN Holdings and moderated by Mansour Mansour, YouTube product partnerships – MEA at Google, interesting discussions took place with Dayo Olopade, content partnerships at YouTube; Martin Njoroge, Android platform partnership, Africa, Google; and Gideon Munene Karimi, senior product manager, Safaricom.

The panellists pointed out that it was not just about the scale of the opportunity or the growth of their platforms or others, but the fact that platforms like YouTube offer meaningful opportunities for users in Africa.

The South African series Supa Strikas was mentioned as an example by speakers. It started out as a comic in the Sunday papers, and now has its own YouTube channel and a million subscribers on the platform, employs 20 people and produces independent, educational media content to audiences all over the world. The series has also been picked up by Warner Media for its kids programming schedules.

YouTube is focussing on increasing local content in Africa. The most common use is in the ‘How To’ market, the most popular being educational information, including learning languages, learning digital skills, or learning to fix something. Users are also taking successful global formats and making them local.


Njoroge pointed out that, in Africa, less than 10% of internet users were consuming video, compared to the developed market, where 70% of internet consumption was on video. “The opportunity exists to grow this base in Africa and those front and centre of growing this opportunity are the telcos. It’s the telcos that need to get this economy up and running.”

Karimi said the opportunities were threefold:

  1. Penetration of smartphones: only 30% of African consumers have smartphones, although there is a high penetration of 2G devices. This is obviously linked to cost and a major discussion point at AfricaCom this year was the increasing affordability of smartphones in Africa, as well as the opportunity for Africa’s own home-grown smartphone models.
  2. Internet literacy is a concern for Karimi, who said skills need to be taught to enable access.
  3. Cost of access: the high cost of data, of course, came under the spotlight again at AfricaCom, as it does at every digital conference in Africa, as it remains a major stumbling block for those with low incomes.

Added Njoroge: “Our mission has been to bring the internet to everyone. We want to bring affordable smartphones to users. So how do we make sure the first-time smartphone user experience, as regards functionality, is high? How do we build partnerships that work? How do we target audiences and bring in an affordable device?”

He urged the telecos to take a leading role in all of these matters.


Olopade said she saw enormous opportunity to up-skill and grow the ecosystem in Africa for African content. “With our YouTube Creative Economy tutorials, we are teaching people how to optimise for YouTube. YouTube is helping to create employable skills and we already have real-life case studies from Africa.”

She said in the context of artisanship in Africa, there were certain skills that could not be taught in a book and finding ways to teach skills online was a big opportunity in Africa. “Our content partners include individual bloggers, who are already providing beauty tutorials in Zulu to huge content partners like Multichoice.”

Olopade said consumer behaviour had changed: “People are not always meeting in front of the TV at certain times. There is a huge opportunity for content online. With device affordability and greater connections, the greater the opportunity for content creators. It may be hard to get into your local media, but YouTube is free.

“To optimise content and be discovered and grow their audience, we help users think through monetisation strategies. We always try to deliver real value to our partners. We are trying to add value by showing ads on that content and from our sales infrastructure. We are strategising to meet the needs of individual partners and help these businesses future-proof themselves for what is coming,” she outlined, referring to the massive opportunity that exists in Africa when that 10% currently consuming video online grows to match the 70% in more developed nations.

Karimi pointed out that Safaricom has been running campaigns to encourage the uptake of video consumption online, with the most successful to date being the recent #Kipchoge campaign to encourage Eliud Kipchoge to keep running in his successful attempt to break the two-hour marathon record. Over 4.5 million people watched him run on a free data special comprising a YouTube bundle on the day of the race from 8am to 4pm, allowing customers to stream the entire race at no cost.

The fact is, in Africa, the smartphone is the point of entry to online content consumption and content needed to reflect that and partnerships in the future need to reflect that. The opportunity exists for the telco operators to start building the infrastructure and create the socio-economic benefit for people looking to build their businesses/personal brands and advertise their services online, said Njoroge.

A significant point to note, Olopade added, was that totally new content formats were being pioneered in online video. “The ‘unboxing’ videos, the ‘reaction’ videos, make-up tutorials did not exist a decade ago. Now we are seeing African content creators take that content and localise it. There are huge opportunities.”


WarnerMedia fielded a strong presence at AfricaCom, and, interviewed on the side lines, Julien Borde – WarnerMedia’s director of channels for France, French-speaking territories, Africa and Israel – indicated that Africa was very important, particularly in developing local content to resonate with local audiences across the continent for their channels.

WarnerMedia is well-known through its consumer brands such as HBO, Warner Bros., TNT, CNN, DC Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Adult Swim and others. Turner, a WarnerMedia company, has been present in Africa for more than 20 years, operating six channels across the continent in 56 English, French and Portuguese-speaking countries, which include CNN International, Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Boing, as well as TNT and Adult Swim, WarnerMedia’s brand dedicated to millennials.

“We are focussed on finding good ideas from around the globe. We find new talents, incubate them, and take those stories to people from all around the globe. We broadcast a layer of local content in each territory. The key thing for kids and the audience, in general, is to find themselves on the screen. That helps us to create links with local audiences. There is a big opportunity to produce local content in Africa that is relatable.”

“The one-way relationship with our viewers is over. We need to change the way we market ourselves. The future of TV is mobile, and we must take advantage of the multi-screen experience, offering our content where and when our consumers want it,” concluded Guillaume Coffin, vice president and head of commercial and business development, WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks France, Africa and Israel.

Demand for media tech will drive advertising investment across Africa


The demand for media investment on the continent of Africa is being driven by an empowered media consumer demanding access to communication, social media, entertainment content, streaming services and mobile commerce.

Group M, in collaboration with In On Africa, released the first Africa Media Index (AMI) report in June to assist global brands and global agencies with investment on the continent, as – despite the abundant opportunities that exist in Africa – it has not yet attracted “significant advertising investments.”

Africa is a continent with the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world, as those of us who live here know all about. We’re proud of the fact that seven out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa and that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), ratified in May, has the potential to create the largest trading block in the world and transform the continent.

The Africa Media Index has focused on specific categories to provide information to global clients in: Economy and Business, Media Landscape, Media Consumers, Technology and Governance and Legislation, across 14 key sub-Saharan African countries. This is the first report of its kind, and subsequent reports will cover more of the African continent in time, Group M South Africa reported.

The countries included in the report are: South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia and Mozambique.

According to the report summary, “the African media landscape is a whirlwind of change and activity, and its power can be harnessed by knowledgeable investors and advertisers/” The report describes how mobile phone access, which gives communications access to millions of people and a voice to the voiceless through social media, has opened up societies and influenced governance change like never before seen.

The impact on the media sector, where television and streaming services – including entertainment, sports, news and music – are flourishing, has been profound and there is growth in every sector, including print: “Enabled by the latest technology, investors can meet consumer needs and advertisers can tap into consumer desires,” the report states.

Key insights

  1. Economy and Business: Service sectors dominate most countries’ economies, with the media a key contributor. The internet has created an explosion in financial services opportunities, enabling the previously-unbanked to access financial services such as loans via mobile commerce.
  2. Media Landscape: Mobile devices are responsible for connecting the continent to the internet, as the massive rollout and uptake of smartphones has opened up digital media and a myriad additional services and opportunities for the African consumer. The report states that traditional media lost customers to digital media, but also found new opportunities to repackage content. Broadcast media still dominates, as television is the preferred method of entertainment. Radio remains the most popular medium overall, as it is unaffected by data issues or power outages, which affect other channels to varying degrees on a country-to-country basis.
  3. Media Consumers: Interestingly, the growth in digital media corresponds with continuing efforts by the countries to increase literacy. Affordability, however, is what drives consumer media choices, and data prices determine internet usage in the main. But of course, with the growth of Africa’s aspirant middle-class and technologically-savvy youth, media use is increasing rapidly, particularly as data prices come down or free access is granted in public spaces and malls.
  4. Technology: There is a rapid move to have digital TV replace analogue television and satellite TV services are also now widely available in the 14 territories surveyed. 3G penetration is expanding and 4G coverage has been introduced. Poor electricity connectivity and power outages are constraining media growth, however. Only South African and Ghana have more than three-quarters of their populations connected to electricity. All the countries do, however, have energy plans in place to boost local electricity supply.
  5. Governance & Legislation: There are two positive factors which are growth indicators for the media industry across the continent – the fact that information technology is seen as key to economic development and economic prosperity; and that government reform in some media sectors is creating more opportunities for media investors.

A key point from the report states that: “Africa’s middle class is growing in all countries, and with it, more media consumers. As they become more self-empowered online, the consumers are demanding from their governments better economies to obtain, among other things, more media. Access to media devices has prompted Africans to also demand a wider array of services.”

The AMI report states that Africa’s mobile phone revolution is leading the expansion of media technology on the continent: “Television’s technological transformation from analogue to digital broadcasting is ending, and flat screens and satellite TV dishes are now common. Digital radio requires no additional technology than the computers and smartphones used to access all internet. Coupled with new delivery systems – Amazon is scheduled to begin deliveries using drones in South Africa in 2021 – e-commerce services will expand as the African middle class grows. African technology consumers have the same desire as tech buyers everywhere – to have the latest smartphone models, apps and better broadband through 4G.”

These are the market opportunities identified in the media technology sector:

  • 3G data coverage exists in over half of the country in all countries surveyed, from 53% in Zambia to 98% in South Africa
  • Internet speeds are improving as fibre optic and submarine cable systems expand, with Ghana achieving Africa’s highest speed at 26.82 Mbps
  • Urban populations, where tech consumers are concentrated, are growing in all surveyed countries, led by South Africa, which is now 63% urban.
  • Growing economies are producing more middle-class income earners, who are the primary force behind demand for media technology

Of course, there are market challenges to be aware of:

  • Electricity supplies remain inadequate in all surveyed countries, with power blackouts disturbing even the most advanced nation, South Africa
  • Only three countries have achieved half-coverage of 4G for its population, namely Botswana, Ghana and South Africa
  • The number of servers to facilitate internet vary hugely, from 1.49 in Ethiopia per million people to 12,114.29 per million in South Africa
  • Affordability drives technology sales and, because of the number of low-income buyers, counterfeit technology is a problem in the market

One of the most important points that the research identifies is that the media consumer is the new “king” of the African economy, as the demand for digital media has not been from governments, but from ordinary Africans who find their mobile phones invaluable and regard data as a necessity to access satellite TV and social services such as Facebook.

“Media consumers are powerful additions to the economic performance of countries’ retail and service sectors, and foreign media consumers – in the form of tourists and business people – have ensured good connectivity in places like Tanzania’s game reserves and Zambia’s copper belt. Investors in Africa’s media industries can be assured that African media consumers are the same as media consumers everywhere, perpetually craving better media services.

“While the technological trend is definitely towards mobile devices, there remains a preference for traditional technology when the viewing experience is enhanced by the presence of others – movies seen in theatres and sports and entertainments seen on home or bar TVs. Technological advances in home entertainment systems and cinemas will be welcomed,” the AMI report concludes.

Adman Matthew Bull launches SoloUnion in SA


Can you sell your ideas only? That’s what advertising agencies say they do, but South African advertising doyen Matthew Bull – now based in New York – is adamant that ideas are the most important thing he is selling. He has launched his agency SoloUnion in South Africa, with the message: “The heads without the overheads.”

Bull founded SoloUnion in 2017 in New York. A member of AB-INBEV North American Marketing Council, this is what he had to say after the South African launch in March: “I’m incredibly excited and proud to partner with two of South Africa’s greatest advertising talents, Gillian Rightford and Rob McLennan, in forming SoloUnion SA. Gillian, Rob and I were partners at Lowe Bull when we were a dominant creative force in the world and we intend to bring that same flair and ambition to our new venture.

“We have lined up some wonderful talent as members of the company and are already working with a couple of the country’s premier brands. We’re in competition with ideas, not agencies, and our ultimate goal is to get our industry back to focusing on the reason we exist – great ideas. Finally, I personally, am so proud to be involved again in my home country’s industry. I owe much of what I have professionally to it, and I understand my duty to the country and the country’s talent.”

The loss of talent at the top of the advertising industry is a global challenge, not just a South African one, and the SoloUnion concept allows for talent, which has enormous value, to be applied to create value for brands and business. It is an agency that charges for ideas, not hours, and does not implement the strategy it crafts for a brand, explains Rightford, whose consultancy Adtherapy, is a strategic lead for SoloUnion in South Africa.

As Bull says, “I feel that I spent the last ten years before SoloUnion making ads for clients; now I’m genuinely part of delivering solutions to them – big ideas that embrace the over-arching vision of the company or brands. On top of that, clients treat us differently – I feel a greater sense of partnership, a greater sense of trust than I have for a while. I think this is primarily because it’s all about the work, not about the relationship.”

The clients they believe may find this agency approach valuable are in-house agencies; consultancies; C-Suite executives that have big juicy problems to solve; agency or client teams that are struggling to crack an idea; and clients who have brands that desperately need to rediscover their soul and their purpose, and communicate it in a contemporary, relevant way.

Screen Africa spoke to these advertising legends on the power of ideas:

How do you ‘only’ sell ideas? How do you market yourselves differently?

Many agencies claim to sell ideas but in fact they sell the output of ideas. They sell TV, radio or print ads, banners, adwords, promotional materials, or activations. They will come up with an idea, and they will sell that, but the vast portion of their resources, and therefore their costs or fees, will be used to execute the idea. The challenge to many clients is that if the idea is not as strong as it could be in the beginning, it obviously sets up difficulties in the executional phase. We aim to provide the idea – giving them the platform from which to launch their executional output with their existing resources. In terms of marketing differently – the one area is “idea only”, but the other area is the level of expertise. You will have noticed a lot of discussion in the industry about the “crisis of youth.” We are a highly experienced, awarded group of talent – and the big thing is – you only pay for us when you use us. There are no retainers, there are no massive overheads. In a project SoloUnion did for a global client, only 11% of the fee was used for strategy and creative. Our model means you get 100% and only when you need it. The most pertinent point is we don’t sell the servicing of the idea, but the idea itself. Therefore, we put all our energy and focus into delivering what all clients go to agencies for: ideas.

Is this an entirely new business model – a game-changer for the industry?

It’s a game-changer. There will be, going forward, several iterations of our businesses model, but the principle is the most important thing – hopefully it will be part of a new wave of companies that focus on the product they produce, on creating work that sells, rather than selling their work. The creative agency model will probably remain as it is, but it is in deep trouble. Michael Farmer’s book, Madison Avenue Manslaughter, shows that as fees have come down, delivery timings have become shorter, workload volume has gone up. The bigger problem is the value equation. We strongly believe, as most good agencies do, that the power of a big idea is worth its weight in gold, and it can have a lasting effect on a brand’s success. What we do know is that it is plugging a gap in the industry which is a source of frustration for both marketers and agencies. The writing is on the wall. Various permutations of re-modelling the way communicators do business are popping up all over the world. The traditional advertising/communications agency model is flawed, and marketers and agencies alike know this. It is inevitable that the game plan will change.

So, how do you ‘sell’ an idea to a client? How do you get their buy-in?

What SoloUnion has found in the practical application of the model in the US and Europe, is that we get much more intimately involved with the overall ambitions of the business. We are fortunate in that we only have to concentrate on one thing – creating big strategic and creative solutions for the client’s business problem. All of the partners in our business are highly experienced and awarded creatives and strategists. That, in its own way, separates us from the relationships and expectations clients have from and with their agencies. They are not expecting us to solve the myriad other complexities that are expected from an agency, which creates a different relationship.

What constitutes a brilliant ‘idea’ to you?

It’s no different from time immemorial, really. All new ideas are influenced by other ideas that surround us at any particular time or place, but they are always a ‘new’ or fresh interpretation of these influences. And hence people find that compelling and interesting. No one likes a rerun as much as an original. Creativity is all about one thing – creating desire. So, if an idea creates desire for a brand or product, then that counts as brilliant to me. As for the old fresh vs stale argument, take a look at the Adidas Originals ad – everything new has its origins/inspiration in something old. Brilliant is also in the sweet-spot where brand insight and human insight meet.

How does one actually measure the ‘value’ of a thought or an idea?

This is the hard part. It’s impossible to ‘cost’ it, but you can place a value on it. We will charge what we think is fair value. But you measure the value by the effect it has on the top line of a business. As simple as that. We know we deliver the goods for our clients, we know what it takes to get great talent to work with us, and we know the margin we want. The question is more like, “How does one measure the value of talent?” People should expect to pay more (and do) for work from talented people because they provide the most compelling solutions.

Africa needs superheroes for its own stories


The 2019 Design Indaba was a joyous celebration of how sustainable design can create meaningful change in the world and solve real-world problems at their source. Changing how the rest of the world views Africa was, again, a strong narrative from the storytellers present at the event: the filmmakers and Afrofuturists.

A key theme was how to get Africans around the continent to view themselves as people of joy, creativity, imagination – and as deserving of heroes. Africa’s story has, for far too long, only been one of pain and suffering; and while those stories need to be told, it is also important to balance that aspect with joy, said award-winning Kenyan filmmaker, Wanuri Kahiu.

Kahiu is one of a new generation of African storytellers who are changing the narrative about the continent. She specifically co-founded Afrobubblegum, a media company that “supports, creates and commissions fun, fierce and frivolous African art.”

Creative director and artist, Kordae Jatafa Henry, along with Kahiu, both owned the stage at #DesignIndaba2019, held at the Artscape in Cape Town between 27 February and 1 March 2019, when they talked about breaking the boundaries of traditional filmmaking and envisioned an Afrofuturist Africa.

Henry, who identifies as Jamaican-British-American, grew up immersed in the counter-culture and today explores the ideas that infiltrate technology and culture in his music-films, which are described as “a remix of Afrofuturism and cyberpunk aesthetics.” His background is actually in architecture, as well as film, but he collaborates with artists across multiple industries. He intends to give Africa’s past, present and future a “new lens” through which to view and interpret itself.

In his film, Earth Mother, Sky Father: 2030, Henry offers up an Afrofuturistic utopia in this experimental work that presents a different narrative – one where Africa’s mineral wealth remains on the continent and is used to aid its own people and is treasured as part of their culture. He tells the story though a mix of interpretive dance and Afrocentric visuals.

Kahiu, in turn, believes strongly that we need hope and frivolity in Africa – and when she refused to change the “hopeful ending” to her film Rafiki (about same-sex relationships) to one of “remorse”, it was banned in Kenya. She has gone to the courts to overturn that ban.

She believes Africans need to see themselves as people of radical hope, as this is the legacy of their history and rich culture. Her latest film, Pumzi, is a sci-fi which advocates for nature, and while Kahiu was creating the film, she thought it would be an incredibly powerful story to tell of Africans as guardians of nature, with African women at the forefront of this battle.

Kahiu was named a TED Fellow in 2017 and a World Economic Forum Cultural Leader in 2018. She has written and directed six films to date. In 2008, she completed her first feature film, From A Whisper, based on real-life events surrounding the twin bombings of US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. The film was honoured at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, including winning the Best Director and Best Picture prizes, and it also picked up the Golden Dhow Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival as well as Best Film at the Kalasha Awards (presented by the Kenya Film Commission). Shortly after, she completed a documentary about the life of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, entitled For Our Land (2009), for M-Net’s Great Africans series.

Her short science fiction film, the original version of Pumzi (2009), was partially funded by Focus Features, the Goethe-Institut and the Changa Moto Fund in Kenya, and screened at Sundance in 2010. Pumzi won Best Short at the Cannes Independent Film Festival in May 2010, and took Silver at the Carthage Film Festival in 2010.

Fierce and fun

Kahiu spoke at length before the Design Indaba this year about changing the storytelling narrative in Africa to include joyful and hopeful stories. “Rafiki was really just an ode to love. I really wanted to tell a love story because, growing up, I had never seen images of us as Africans in love. Europeans were falling in love, Americans were falling in love, everyone else was falling in love, but Africans were not. I really wanted to add our experiences as Africans] of being in love, to cinema.

“I started to investigate stories from Africa about joy, because I believe that joy and hope are part of our culture, that joy is part of our tradition and part of who we are.”

As she looked at modern Africa and even further back, into the myths of the past, she realised that there were more stories of joy in African culture, than of remorse.

Her motivation in making films that have a hopeful and joyful message is to ensure that audience members view people of colour in their own neighbourhoods as people of “joyful radiance.” It is what drives her continuous study of African mythology, which also contains wondrous tales of African mermaids and dragons.

“To be able to glorify the ideas of these mythical beasts in Africa, prove more than the ideas of Africa’s suffering and pain, but rather the ideas of our exuberance and creativity,” Kahiu said.

Investigating myths

Both Kahiu and Henry spoke about the importance of myths in Africa in pointing to a different history of the continent, as well as a reimagined future. They believe past legends and myths can help remind Africans that they have a future more joyous than the recent past, where stories have been more painful and desperate than hopeful.

Black Panther cannot be the only example [of a story that celebrates African superheroes]. There are stories of joy to be told [in Africa] and they need to be told by us,” Kahiu reiterated.

Henry questions the lens we use to imagine tomorrow. He believes we should all be incorporating rituals and culture as essential parts of storytelling in the future. He told a story of how his father brought home old technology and transformed it into sculptures.

“My father created meaning in the things he was making.” This is the crux of what he believes: that we need to look beyond the functionality of our new technological world and investigate the purpose of that technology.

He explained that early on he realised that our modern devices have a deeper meaning. For example, most people are unaware of how these devices are manufactured, a process which often brings suffering to those who mine the essential minerals used in much of today’s technology – with much of these resources coming from Africa.

“I’m interested in the invisible. I want to figure out how to bring those stories to life. What if we could tell a new story of faith and hope of the technology of tomorrow?”

This is the essential theme of Henry’s futuristic film, Earth Mother, Sky Father: 2030, where he imagines that a future Africa will have control of its own wealth and a new energy, guided by spirits will watch over the land.

Like Kahiu, Henry is also using science fiction, Afrofuturism and black cinema to present “black bodies in future spaces” and to reimagine Africans as superheroes.

“Vision is only an idea until we can build futures that can evolve,” he concluded.

Using storytelling to regenerate a healthy world


A group of woman filmmakers and creatives are trying to find a new way of working, not just in the industry, but also in terms of how problems are solved, in order to promote sustainable projects that use all their creative skills to make a difference in society.

Mycelium is a cooperative venture, legally constituted and formed by seven South African women working in film, production, design, media, television and research, which is aimed at shifting perspectives and regenerating the world. The founding members are Jemima Spring, Kia Johnson, Lara Taylor, Helena Kingwill, Natalie Nolte, Stef Swanepoel and Jacqueline van Meygaarden. They want to take storytelling to another level to produce communication for a sustainable world, while building an alternative media creation hub and becoming “a collaborative force for change.”

Mycelium’s core messaging is to “produce compelling content and experiences that shift people’s minds”, based on collaborative and participatory values.

“We aim to use the power of many, combined with our innate passion for the world around us and its balance – which needs to be realigned – through media, using it as a tool to create awareness and in essence ‘teach’ others how to get back to basics through sustainable living,” explained Kia Johnson, television presenter. “I have for the longest time needed a platform whereby I could spread the word of our current environmental crisis, through not only being a face on TV, but taking a more hands-on approach in order to show others what needs to be done to get to our ultimate goal, which is a balance in nature.”

They want to make films and tell stories and host events about social regeneration. They seek to help in telling the stories of people changing the world, so they will inspire change in others – all the while creating a better way of working.

These are lofty ideals, but founder Jemima Spring, filmmaker, is firmly of the belief that the world needs to change, and that those in the creative industries can lead the charge.

“My background is in film and broadcast television. I’ve been doing this for 25 years with a growing understand that things in the world are not okay as regards the environment and social cohesion. There must be a different way of doing things. In the stress of adulthood, we often forget our creative part and where the stories come from that can heal the world.

“Some of our industries have a very toxic culture and as a bunch of amazing women who all help each other and share resources, we are still at the mercy of big corporates and financial systems. We needed a structure to support ourselves, but with less hierarchy, training for young people and a collaborative, enterprising way of working.

“Our purpose is to change the narrative around how the world can be, using whatever means we can. Many of us are filmmakers, some are in music, there are writers and a puppeteer. We will grow and include more diversity, we may not always only be women, we are looking for people with the same headspace and who are really flexible,” said Spring.


Johnson said she hopes to create awareness and make a huge impact that changes the world for the better. “The industry is cut-throat and dominated by men. Through this co-op, I have already found the ‘sistahood’ most of us speak of achieving in our daily lives as women. This initiative and work environment shows us that this is possible and that because we are many versus one problem, we can overcome some of the obstacles we face through assisting each other.”

The power of the collective has astounded Taylor, filmmaker and anthropologist. “The potential of seven vs one has launched me into new avenues that I may never have discovered alone. The sharing of both challenges and ideas is hugely beneficial and the combining of skills to work together on a greater project, while still having the freedom to continue my personal projects, is the future of work.”

Taylor is busy exploring short film on mobile, producing web series and webisodes to create a positive environmental and social message. “I hope to use the increasing popularity of short film and documentaries to reach a wider audience. Mycelium, with the combined forces of strong and intelligent women, is giving me the support and reflection necessary to evolve.”

Along with another founding member, Natalie Nolte, Taylor is also running training in mobile video shooting and editing. Training and mentoring the next generation of young filmmakers forms an important part of Mycelium’s values.


“The collective want to produce film and aligned projects that create awareness and inspire people to change their habits,” reiterated Taylor. Spring recounted how she was inspired by the conversations on social media during Cape Town’s drought – how people quickly moved from panic over Day Zero and the city running out of water, to sharing their experiences with grey water systems, water-saving tips, compost toilets,and other innovative ways to deal with the crisis. These were necessary conversations that would not have taken place without an immediate crisis, but demonstrated the innate human condition to solve problems with creativity and innovation when challenged.

Johnson says that Mycelium’s members hope to be a part of something bigger than themselves. “We want to create a unity among us as filmmakers. There are many limitations that we face on a daily basis, in the freelancer lifestyle that we lead, or the difficulty with access to doors opening for various projects. Through this collab, I have already seen how our ‘many versus one’ attitude has shifted our focus and enabled us to have better access to so many different aspects of the film industry.”

Spring concluded: “It is very clear to me that we have to create a better future. I’ve been on this path for a while. A new story is rising and we all need to step up and play a role, create a healthy and safe space for each other and future generations. It is early days, but I’m very positive and hopeful.”


Nine advertising and marketing trends for 2019


You can’t research any trend any longer without finding the word “digital” in it. It’s a given that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has impacted every facet of society, work and business. The only question remaining is: How prepared are you and your business to compete?

These are the top trends for 2019 in marketing and advertising, shaped to a large extent by the digital trends reconfiguring the world of content and entertainment.

  1. Omni-channel Marketing Strategy

Providing a seamless, integrated customer experience across all channels, from brick-and-mortar stores to advertising and social media engagement, to purchasing online via a desktop or via mobile, to delivery…

Globally, according to AdWeek, 62% of all companies either already implement, or plan to implement, an omni-channel marketing strategy – and 70% agree that omni-channel strategies are critical to their success.

  1. Outstream Video

A heads up to publishers and advertising agencies – there’s a new video ad format that will allow publishers to drive additional revenue streams and, what’s more, won’t annoy your users as much as those campaigns that brands run before or during video playback (without any revenue accruing to the content producers).

According to Instapage.com, Outstream video is a new type of ad format that allows publishers to show video ads outside of actual video players – in text line breaks, for example, or in the corners of the webpage. Publishers can also now monetise video ads, and advertisers can ensure their videos actually get watched.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

What artificial intelligence will do for marketing is give us smarter marketing automation.

According to Voy Media, as marketing becomes more data-driven, marketers need intelligent systems to help them make sense of the data accrued in real-time and allow them to act immediately on the results. Examples include “customer profiling, using chatbots and advanced performance tracking for ad campaigns.”

  1. Content Marketing

Forbes reports that 30% of all internet users will be using ad blockers by 2019. This doesn’t mean the death of advertising online, it just means that formats like content marketing and influencer marketing will receive more revenue. Consumers want value, and advertising that works will be advertising that offers value to the consumer. Video content will, of course, increase, as is obvious from all the trend reports: Cisco reports that 80% of global internet traffic will be video content in 2019.

Instagram TV, meanwhile, is a new channel for marketers to explore vertical video, as Instagram reaches over 1 billion users. YouTube is still holding its own, with over 1.9 billion users every month watching over a billion hours of video each day.

  1. Video Content and Native Marketing

The rise of video content in our visual-dominated world has been documented in all our trend reports over the past couple of years, but what is evolving is video advertising. Capitalising on the principles of native marketing, this trend creates content that provides entertainment and fulfils the viewer’s need for content that adds value, while – at the same time – advertising a product or service through brand-building.

The advice Voy Media gives to marketers is to start working with influencers and independent video creators to come up with great content, while making sure your digital platforms are optimised for video on all devices. This will ensure that your video content can be integrated throughout your marketing and advertising strategies in 2019.

  1. Augmented Reality Advertising

We’ve mentioned AR as a trend before, and it will only increase in use as more brands begin using augmented reality technology in clever advertising campaigns that essentially “add digital properties to physical objects” (Source: Voy Media).

Marketers like these kinds of campaigns as they provide multi-channel interaction, fitting in well with an omni-marketing strategy. Consumers like these campaigns as they provide a similar experience to that of video games, where the user becomes part of the narrative.

  1. Voice Search

Most digital trend blogs are focusing on voice activation as a top trend for 2019. The stat everyone is quoting is that, by 2020, half of all searches on Google will be conducted by voice. According to Juniper Research, the number of American homes with a smart speaker will increase from 13% to 55% by 2022.

AI is also influencing the rise of voice searches as it increasingly becomes a valuable tool on smart devices to find information. This means that marketers and advertisers now need to ensure that their content is optimised for voice searches. “Marketers need to research what questions buyers are asking and provide content in formats that are easy for voice search technologies to deliver,” reports Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing.

  1. Social MediaAd Spend

Marketing Week reports that most ad spend will shift from Facebook to Instagram. Facebook’s news feed has irritated users as well as advertisers, and Instagram’s Stories function is looking like a more attractive proposition, particularly in terms of “creative innovation” and user engagement. Brands invested 212% more into Stories in 2018 than the previous year, and this trend is predicted to become even more pronounced through 2019.

  1. Brand Purpose

The Gillette ad released in January which targets toxic masculinity is the latest in a series of high-profile brands taking a stand against social ills. The term ‘brand purpose’ has been bandied about for several years now as a way for brands to prove their social responsibility credentials and the value they add to customers.

But, beyond this, taking a political or social stand against a controversial topic has become a way for brands to stand against injustice or give voice to a cause. Marketing Week says that, in a world where consumer trust in brands is dropping, the risk of not taking a stand is greater than taking one (even when the issue is divisive).

Quality content isn’t free


Content isn’t free. It costs money to produce quality content and producers have to be paid. Consumers may want a freemium model, but will be prepared to pay those who bring quality content to them.

This was the view of a panel on ‘Next Generation Pay-TV Services in Africa’ at the annual mega-conference and expo, AfricaCom, held in Cape Town at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) on 13 to 15 November, 2018.

AfricaCom focuses each year on the digital ecosystem in Africa, and this year attracted 14 000 people to its 16 conference tracks under the AfricaCom banner. The television broadcast stream was this year renamed the Africa Video Forum and hosted discussions on the content market in Africa, revenue models and the growth of the pay-TV market and free-to-air (FTA) channels on the continent.

Most discussions centred around revenue models and updates on digital migration – but, as always, content and the type of content featured heavily, with emphasis on the move to local content and creating opportunities for local content productions.

Most of the global broadcasters are beginning to invest in local content and create local content opportunities for producers, and the consensus was that this would continue, although a focus on mobile content would disrupt the market.

On another panel, ‘Ensuring that quality content is getting commissioned in Africa’, Elias Schulze – co-founder of Kana TV, the first free-to-air channel in Ethiopia – made the point that stories matter, and that stories are universal.

Before Kana TV started investing in local content, all content bought in was dubbed into local languages, and Kana was, in fact, the very first channel to do professional dubbing in Ethiopia.

“We thought the entry-point was clearly the stories everyone was watching, even where they didn’t understand the language, hence the dubbing.

“So right now, we are building in more original content and investing in the people we hired, and those people are now working on original shows.”

The problem, as always, is funding that local content in a market like Ethiopia, where the television advertising market is only $20 million. So while the demand is there for quality produced local content, the funding is not.

“In Ethiopia there is no funding from the state, so we have to be very clever and deliver content that works.”

Funding models

The advice given to independent producers by Duncan Irvine, founder and CEO of Rapid Blue, was to diversify as much as possible into revenue streams from multiple sources. “As a production company, the one thing that has helped solidify us as a business producing long-form television for local broadcasters and ride the rollercoaster of the state of our local broadcasters (in South Africa), was to diversify.

“We are best known for big television shows and we fund those in different ways. We actively pursue brands and media agencies in terms of getting the communication strategies of brands before they start implementing, so we bring them opportunities, and thereby get ahead of the spend.

“Even in South Africa, let alone other African markets, this advertising pot isn’t growing exponentially – we are all fighting for the same dollar.”

This is how Irvine has diversified his business into a “basket approach”, with investment and revenues coming in from multiple sources:

  • Producing long form: commissions, originals, ad funded, scripted or non-scripted.
  • Short film: digital first, design.
  • Building production hubs for international broadcasters to film in South Africa: all dollar-based revenue.

He also warned that no production was ever funded in only one way. “The financing models we run and use are varied to facilitate the productions we do. We source funding from brands; through DTI funding and tax rebates for scripted productions; presales funding from distributors internationally; from some broadcasters, though not many, which are open to a structured finance deal; and a shared component from a telco operator – we are now also creating content for telco providers.”

Irvine also urged production companies to work on several projects at once, as it always takes longer to fund a production and get it off the ground than you think. In his view, any production business should be running five to six productions at any given time.


During a panel discussion on ‘Can content producers think differently in terms of how they produce content?’, Siraaj Cassiem, producer and director at Circle 7 Media, said writers and producers also needed to focus on non-scripted content. “In a room full of content creators, everyone wants to make a movie.”

He urged people in the industry to collaborate, to learn from each other. “Our industry consists of many genres, there is a place for everyone, collaborate with others producing different content.”

Cassiem was concerned about legacy issues. “Everything has always been focused on linear television. With video on demand (VOD) and the production of VOD, the linear television business model is being disrupted. Our world is also disrupted as content producers and we haven’t come to terms with that yet. How do we play a role in this new environment? This is the struggle we have to deal with. It is an exciting time.”

One of his biggest frustrations remains the fact that people don’t appreciate that VOD allows a more flexible structure and provides detailed analytics. “As content producers for linear TV, we are still getting to grips with the concept of analytics. It is so important.”

Dantagos Jimmy-Melani, the founder and managing director of Ndapunikwa Investments Management (Namibia), said that content needed to be tailor-made for funders, especially with teaching content or promotional content that focuses on financial literacy or the social responsibility sector.

“I’ve worked with corporates in the financial services sector and they want to fund specific types of content,” he said. “In a smaller market, where there isn’t that much funding available for smaller projects, our priorities are somewhat different.”

Irvine also encouraged producers to create the type of ecosystem that allows people to be independent and to work for broadcasters in a free-flowing system.

Cassiem also emphasised that mobile broadcasting would become more and more important, and that content producers all needed to get comfortable with both producing for mobile and producing with mobile.

“Go out and produce your content: get a team together, make a hit. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. Even those of us who have worked on big productions and some of the biggest TV reality shows are starting at the bottom again when it comes to producing mobile content. I’m starting at the bottom with VOD. Now, I don’t have that network. Everyone around me is uncomfortable with VOD.”

The future of branding is personal

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Did you know that the average employee has 10 times more followers on social media than the average company? Technology has disrupted brand advertising and companies need to realise that the personal brand of an individual is as important as the company brand that individual represents.

At a UCT Graduate School of Business public lecture in Cape Town recently, Dr Talaya Waller, a personal branding specialist based in Washington, USA, and Solly Moeng, one of South Africa’s leading reputational management practitioners, spoke about managing personal and corporate brands in the wake of global and local business scandals.

Dr Waller, the CEO of Waller & Company, also pointed out that 92 per cent of consumers trust a recommendation from an individual when they get a personal recommendation, over brand advertising: “Marketing shifted from a functional value to an emotional value in the 50s, when companies sought to add value to their goods above those of their competitors.

“Today a brand is no longer built in a silo. Today your brand is managed by consumers, the people in your company. And those employees are your company culture. The future of branding is personal.”

So how much do you spend on branding your company, versus how much you spend on keeping your employees as happy brand ambassadors?


Dr Waller pointed out that a good CEO can attract people to the company, attract investors, bolster brand image. “People don’t expect you to be perfect, but if you lie or manipulate the truth, people lose respect in you. Perception is reality. Personal reputation can cause damage to the company.”

Every organisation has to invest in the people in that organisation if they want to grow their brand. “Consumers don’t really trust CEOs anymore. They trust employees and they trust the experts,” Dr Waller emphasised.

Experts believe that the average millennial will have 10 – 15 jobs in their lifetime, given the speed of change and the fact that people are expected to live longer and be more active longer.

“You can’t brand yourself according to your job title. You always need room for traits like experience, good work ethic and reliability. But we must all try to be our authentic selves. We need to differentiate ourselves, whether it is as a product, service or person.

“If you are trying to be a leader, stand out, be noticed, be different.” Dr Waller also emphasised how important it was for organisations to be diverse, to represent internally, the external audience they were talking to.

Moeng, MD, DonValley Reputation Managers, also reminded the audience that leaders need to empower employees to speak.

“Brand identity is what you want to be known for; and brand image is what you are known for. Every brand struggles with that gap. Always make an effort and do your brand health check in your market and internally. You need to interrogate whether your message is being received as you want it to be.”


In order to grow your business, you need to put yourself out there as a brand: teach, lead, be authentic, embrace your authenticity, be empowering, fearless. It is not about being perfect. It is about accepting all those things you are, Dr Waller reiterated.

“Your tribe is out there. They are just waiting for you. Your time is now.”

In a marketplace where your job may become obsolete and you will have to reinvent yourself, possibly more than once in the job market, it comes down to being as “human as possible” in your banding efforts.

“It sounds cliché, but you will be surprised at how often in your day… when you are truly trying to connect to another human being, that you have to be vulnerable. People want to get to know you. You have to talk about the things people don’t want to talk about. People are going through the same things. That is why we have to bring it into the organisation. That is the future,” Dr Waller explained.

Dr Waller impressed on the audience that personal branding was a destination, not a journey, that had to be managed. “In this age of social media, people will come out with the truth anyway. Tell your story first.”


Moeng said there was a time when we used to speak about South Africa being “exceptional”. That time is gone, he said.

“Brand leadership is very important. Whether you are head of a family, a corporation or a country, you have to have values. Be consistent. You can’t change your values from one country to the next, wherever you are doing business…

“At the dawn of our democracy, we came up with a new set of values enshrined in our constitution and a Bill of Rights. This was the country we were going to be. But we have failed over the last 10 years. South Africa failed its own values.”

Moeng stressed that sometimes, leadership can be a lonely place. But he emphasised that South Africans should demand the truth from their leaders, political and business.

Communications and reputation management was, however, routinely underestimated in companies, only prioritised when a problem arises. “Reputational managers are not like the fire brigade. They need to sit where the decisions are made in the company.”

“Ford Kuga failed. For almost two years they said almost nothing. They listened to the insurers (never accept responsibility); and they listened to the lawyers (no comment). And that is what Ford Kuga did for two years, despite the conversations on social media.

“Sometimes you don’t have to win in court; you need to win in the heart. Maybe Ford had no one to say to them: ‘Come on guys, call the family’. Brands need to reach out.”

The problem was often that brands were removed from the reality of what their customers were thinking, Moeng said.

“Companies need to know what is happening. The statement you issue today in response to something could hurt you, depending on what is happening in your environment. If you don’t trawl the environment, you don’t know what is happening.”


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