By Safaraaz Sindhi, Creative Group Head at Ogilvy Cape Town
Before I started in advertising I was just a kid from a tiny, little town in the West Rand of Johannesburg called Azaadville. Where I come from the only music you could get your hands on was rap music and the only movies you’d ever watch were the skop skiet en donner action movies tonight on e. (You read that in his voice, right?) Where I come from you grow up to become a doctor or a lawyer if you’re lucky, if you’re unlucky you run your dad’s motorcar spares shop and if you’re really, really just shit out of luck, you’d get a job at the Oriental Plaza. For me, that was life.
So, when I walked into my first ad agency in 2010, in a predominantly white male industry, it wasn’t the colour of the skin of the people I worked with that intimidated me, it was their knowledge of popular culture. My gut reaction was, yikes! Am I going to make it? And no, not just because I was a few shades darker than everyone else – it was more because I wasn’t prepared – I wasn’t equipped to write witty ads that made references to cult films that everyone else’s award-winning ads did. You want to hear a secret? Before I started out in advertising I didn’t even know who Wes Anderson was. I’d never heard a song by the Beatles and I honestly cared very little about Chuck Palahniuk. I didn’t know it back then but my lack of knowledge on these subjects is what would give me my edge in the industry. You see, I could have gone out and read a bunch of books, listened to some music and spent my weekends watching their movies, but I soon figured that I didn’t need to do that to tell stories. I figured, that to tell stories in the ads I made I didn’t need to know everything they knew, I just needed to know everything they didn’t. My different view of the world allowed me to bring fresher insights into my work, it allowed me to solve problems differently, be more relevant and most importantly I could speak to the markets I advertised to in a language they could understand, because in most cases, I was the market.
We live in a diverse country – we have eleven different languages and we’re the proverbial cultural melting pot of the continent – yet all of our advertising looks, sounds and feels the same. We’ve got to ask ourselves, why is this happening? We have so many of our own stories to tell, so much of our own cultural richness to expose but instead we create work that resembles advertising from different continents to such an extent that international award shows could never tell us apart. We need to create an identity that represents our diversity. And if for nothing else, therein lies the reason for transformation.
And transformation isn’t just about bringing black talent or female talent into our agencies, it’s so much more than that. It’s about teaching them how to harness their own knowledge and their own personal experiences into great advertising, and when agencies realise the power in doing that for their brands, perhaps one day a TV ad written in vernacular will win a Grand Prix at Cannes.