The Changing World of Advertising

ST_logoWritten by our very own Chris Gotz for the Sunday Times

Over the past three years a South African marketing campaign has managed to change the rules of football.

The Carling Black Label Cup lets Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans pick the teams for the special Soweto Derby via their mobile phones, and to nominate subs on match day. This world-first, with over 50 million votes in just three seasons, has become the most popular and, more importantly, the most engaged-with consumer campaign in South African marketing.

Changing the rules and creating engagement are now the Holy Grails for ad agencies. In a marketplace beset by ever increasing competition for eyeballs, and with zetabytes of “content” being uploaded from anywhere and then watched and forgotten as fast as it gets out there, innovation is really the only rule. Graham Warsop, founder of the Jupiter Drawing Room, one of South Africa’s great advertising success stories, talks about how ad agencies need to become “business innovation agencies”.

In fact, ad agencies, the good ones at least, don’t even really like being called ad agencies anymore. “Business creativity”, as pompous as it may sound, is probably a more accurate description of what we do, or what we should be trying to do.

The Cannes Festival of Creativity changed its name from the Cannes Festival of Advertising a few years back to reflect this new world, and that global event really has changed – it now includes PR, design, a multitude of digital categories, promotions, and a Titanium Category for the innovation and integration so revered currently by clients around the world.

Locally, the Loerie Awards has followed suit, and is now known as the Loeries Festival of Creativity, with the 2013 winners being announced at the usual orgiastic occasion in Cape Town next weekend.

While it’s tempting for the sceptics to have a field day with these semantic nuances, the work for clients is really starting to shift into line with this. The big winner at Cannes this year was “Dumb Ways to Die”, a campaign to promote rail safety for Metro Trains in Melbourne which was a complete chameleon: a song, a short film, a television commercial, a viral video, a radio ad, a music video, a PR masterpiece. It’s well worth checking out on YouTube.

Increasingly this is the kind of work clients will be asking their agencies for, solutions that transcend the creaky “old” media and involve all the new digital and social platforms.

So are we any good locally at playing this new global game?

There’s no doubt the South African industry is switched on to the new environment – we are undoubtedly in the game but maybe not yet right on top of our game.

The Carling Cup Campaign did win 5 Cannes Lions for Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town and was named by Contagious Magazine, which tracks innovation in the global industry, as one of the 6 most influential campaigns worldwide, but there are reasons to be concerned.

South Africa hasn’t had a Cannes digital Lion for 5 years. We can bleat all we want about poor bandwidth, iniquitous connectivity costs and bumbling ministers of communications (although the new one seems good), but if we’re honest with ourselves, we aren’t really quite “getting it” yet. If South African agencies truly want to compete with the rest of the world, we need to regularly create great, engaging, integrated and digital campaigns which respond to the new media landscape and to a new kind of consumer who consumes in a new kind of way.

The traditional channels are still very relevant and need to be used in the mix but they don’t always work the way they used to – newspapers are fighting for relevance; television audiences are fragmenting; cinemas are emptying out.

nokia-asha-300_-522-1Everyone knows that in South Africa (and the continent as a whole) mobile is massive and has developed in extraordinarily distinctive ways. Especially in reaching the mass market, we cannot simply adapt developed world, smartphone models – we have to think about feature phones and an ultra low-cost, SIM-switching, Please Call Me mind-set.

In every context including ours, social platforms are exploding and devouring people’s time and attention. Rene Rechtmann, CEO of global trend watchers BeOn, recently remarked that we are living in probably the most accelerated and profound period of change in human existence.

Some agencies will adapt to this oncoming freight train and thrive, a lot more probably won’t. It’s a bit of a quickening, a “settling out period” for the industry as new hotshops, the mega agency networks and the digital specialists all compete for the same space. It’s been described as a knife fight in a phone booth.

logoIf you want to find out who’s going to come out on top in this brawl, keep an eye on those Loerie Awards this weekend. The big industry show has come a long way since the backslappy days of Sun City in the 1990’s. The Festival now celebrates everything from architecture to package design to web banners and the winning work will include short films, music videos, web banners, live events, robots and interactive kiosks. The most prized award is no longer the TV Grand Prix but rather the Integrated Category, which rewards the brilliant uses of lots of different media to get a single, pervasive idea out there.

Attendance has grown year on year and now tops the 8,000 mark as clients and marketers brave the dodgy Cape weather and the cheap tequila to root for their own work, hang out with their agency, look for a new agency or just check out new trends.

No doubt the big winners will be the agencies and clients that took the big chances, that decided to break the rules or, at least, to fiddle with them a little bit.

Chances are they’ll also be the ones who might still be standing in a few years’ time, although, after a knife fight in a phone booth, even the winners are guaranteed to hurt a little bit for a while.

Chris Gotz is Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town, Chairperson of the Creative Circle and a member of the Loeries Committee.

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