Home Renovation Commences

For the next year or so this blog will be dedicated to the renovation and rebirth of my home in Johannesburg – now newly occupied by myself and my partner Sarah. Her move to Joburg and our decision to stay in this house, at least for the foreseeable future, has prompted us to re-imagine the space.

I am no stranger to renovation, having been a part of four office revamps in the past fifteen years. I am aware, of course, of the pain and expense ahead of me. And of the many treacherous decisions that have to be made – structure, space, fittings, interiors. The disappointing service providers. The missed deadlines. The endless Pinterest boards of homes more beautiful, more lavish and more impressive.

However I have also always want to create my own space – to construct something bespoke which suits my idiosyncrasies. I now have a partner who is up for the challenge and equally excited about the outcome. And so, we begin.

I will post here all the contractors, options, stores and suppliers as we go along and I will do my best to offer some advice where I can.

The house itself is in Craighall Park and is a fairly typical home in this area. It has been renovated previously so that much of it is fairly modern, although some corners were cut. In particular the exterior “cottage” is actually in the prime position on the property whilst the house itself sits somewhat uncomfortably up against the road and behind a beautiful, but huge, oak tree. So it lacks both sunlight and view which are both easy to imagine from the cottage.

So the overall plan – at this early stage – is to move the main bedroom and some kind of living space to the cottage, join it and the house, put in some kind of deck from which to enjoy the sunsets, and then refit and refurnish everything. We are determined to create a space worthy of a Pinterest board rather than just inspired by one.

Wish us luck.

The Derivativeness Syndrome

In this piece I’m going to pick on Dan Patlansky a bit. It’s not entirely fair but he is the catalyst for my writing this so he’s just going to have to bear up. I’m quite certain he doesn’t care what I think anyway. But for those of you who think he’s some kind of guitar demigod: be warned.

Patlansky had the honour – a rare one I’m told – of opening for Bruce Springsteen at the Johannesburg concert earlier this month. Given that Springsteen played for three hours and had brought three – four including himself – world-class guitarists with him, Patlansky was unnecessary in both temporal and auditory senses. Nevertheless, there he was.

Without doing a detailed review of his performance let’s say two things. First, he is technically a very proficient guitarist. His phrasing is clear and precise, and he is passionate with the instrument. And secondly his material is utterly derivative and unoriginal. When musicians use the word “blues” to describe their music, in 2014, they are telling you to prepare yourself either for cover songs, or for painful attempts to add to a genre that is already too crowded. By and large, I mean. Every style of every art still has space for new geniuses. Unfortunately Patlansky isn’t one.

During the concert I tweeted that Patlansky had both listened to too much White Stripes, and not enough. As a fairly obvious example of how a guitarist, with blues roots, can completely change the musical landscape, look no further than Jack White. That said, this is no more helpful than saying “look no further than Picasso”. White is a genius, both of the instrument and of composition, and is placed into this scene as a point of comparison. An unfair one perhaps, but I did warn you I would be.

Patlansky offered up to the enthusiastic crowd at Soccer City every rock and blues guitar cliche ever invented. There wasn’t a single sound or note that wasn’t an imitation of something else. I know there is no such thing as “truly original” in music, or anything else, but there is a difference between technique and mimicry. Mastering a scale but deploying it in a surprising way is, in effect, taking something played a million times before and playing it yourself. Lifting, wholesale, phrases and sounds, and piecing them together is more akin to remixing than invention. And even then we must demand novelty rather than simple competence.

And competent he is. As I said above I can’t fault his physical technique or delivery. If you want to hear someone trot out blues and rock cliches one upon the other, at times with superb athleticism, Dan’s your man. His vocal skills are less impressive and his band merely capable, but his guitar playing is excellent.

The problem here is that he – like so many talented South African musicians before him – is failing to innovate. And, like many South African musicians, plays crowd pleasing music that has the tin ears of the general SA public vibrating in ecstasy. We too, you can hear them thinking (and read them tweeting), have our Peter Green; our Stevie Ray Vaughn. Indeed, our Tom Morello. Yeah Dan, rip up that stage.

This is not to say that South Africa has never produced great music or great musicians. Depending on your tastes, and your generation, you can point to some examples of bands that have done something unique and have gained international acclaim as a result. But the truth is that in a country of 50m+ people, 20 years after sanctions ended, we have produced hardly any really world class acts. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we have produced none. We have no U2 or Sigur Ros or Crowded House (to name three of thousands). For international recognition we have some Apartheid-era icons like Johnny Clegg or Hugh Masekela. And we have the sorry examples of The Parlotones and Goldfish: horrible me-too acts that, like Patlansky, are all trying to epitomise something they overheard.

The fault, it must be said, is with the audience more than the musicians. As a public, as a culture, we are content to hear someone quote Hendrix and Jimmy Page. We mistake that for greatness. We are connoisseurs of craft, instead of champions of originality. I see this in many parts of our art and culture (with obvious, but telling, exceptions that prove the rule). It’s as though we were so starved of this kind of thing during the Apartheid years that we believe it is sufficient to simply keep up with the Joneses. And as long as we do that we will never have an iconic world band emerge from this country.

It is wonderful that young South Africans are so supportive of local music. From Hip Hop to Rock, Metal and RnB we have lots and lots of love for local music. Credit must go to radio stations, venues and people in general for snapping out of the belief that South Africa has no talent. We have, in some ways, drifted to the opposite extreme. We now think we have so much talent that all we need to do is show up and throw empty beer cups at one another. We’re great so what’s the problem?

The problem is that we are going nowhere with all of this. There is no emergent culture or style in the way that kwaito, or even boereorkes, was. There are just white guys, with fake American accents, aping acts from times gone by, who were blessed with more talent and the benefit of being pioneers. It’s kind of tragic when you think of it like that. Or, if not tragic, then at least self-defeating. I’m not taking away from the fact that everyone in the stadium had a jolly old time when Dan laid down his blue notes against a 4/4 rhythm. But having fun and growing culture are not the same thing.

We have to start supporting musicians whose goal is not to be a great example of something but to create something new. And whilst they too will be derivative and inspired by others they will, in the process, create something that is an expression of our country and our culture. Something we can export with pride and be the world’s best exemplar of. Springsteen took to the stage and utterly, effortlessly, erased any memory of Patlansky within one song. And well he might: he is the best in the world at being what he is. We stare, as South Africans, in wide-eyed wonder as much at his fame as at the object lesson. He cannot be dismissed. This is what we need to encourage and nourish in our own land.

The Great Women in my Digital World

The digital marketing industry is, in my view, one of the least transformed and most chauvinistic I have encountered. It’s ironic because we are supposedly the most progressive, groundbreaking and mould-shattering of all industries. And yet there is not a single large digital agency with a female CEO, and precious few women in senior roles in any part of our industry.

I take as much responsibility and blame for this as anyone. The Native VML Exco has one woman on it; the DMMA Board has zero, not counting our non-executives. It’s a tragic indictment of a white, male culture that has to change.

So in the spirit of this I would like to celebrate a few people in our business that rarely see the limelight but are every bit as critical to our success as the men, like me, whose names are constantly up in lights.

Diane Wilson – Native VML CFO


It would be impossible for me to exaggerate the profound importance that Di has made to the three businesses she and I have been a part of. Starting with humble roots in interior design and a stint at a network cabling business, she joined VWV Interactive as the first kind of project manager working anywhere in digital in SA. She has gone on to write the textbook on how to manage digital projects, operationally run a web development and digital agency business and structure its finances. She has not only learned everything by experience but has taught hundreds of people over the past two decades how its done.

Di hates public attention more than just about anything – and as a result has remained one of our best kept secrets over all these years. You will never see her at the Loeries or The Bookmarks, and she leaves agency parties early. But she has a remarkable ability to bond with people in their language and at their own level. She has never felt comfortable with a C-suite title, and would choose to sit around talking about physics with some of our back-end geeks over presenting at a Board meeting any day. But there is no-one I know who has a sharper, more insightful, more courageous view of the world. She has 20-20 blindspot vision and has never been daunted by a single problem, no matter how hopeless, in all the years I’ve known her.

For me personally she has been my partner and comrade-in-arms for 17 years – she has enabled me to do whatever useful things I have done professionally and I honestly believe I would be nothing without her. I wish she had more ambition and desire for public recognition because she could give pretty much every man I know a run for their money.

Jacqui Maroun – Native VML Head of UX


Another long-time shareholder and seminal part of all three of my businesses, Jax has risen from a great content writer to one of SA’s foremost experts in the burgeoning field of UX. Having built what I suspect is the largest UX team in any local agency, with some of the best people, she continually amazes all of us with her patience, insights and exceptional work. Even more gratifying is the fact she has brought a number of new women into this industry, and given them the kind of clear, purposeful mentoring that has begun – I have no doubt – any number of incredible new careers.

Jacqui has repeatedly re-invented how we work and how we think – and in the process produced some iconic pieces of the South African web. She also happens to be one of the nicest, kindest and most supportive people I know – even in an industry which can turn anyone’s heart to stone. Loved by clients, admired by colleagues and an inspiration to her team, I feel exceptionally lucky to have had her in my life and business all these years.

Danelle Stiles – Native VML Head of Project Management


It is rare to meet someone in the midst of their carefree youth, hire them into the most junior role in the business, and be able to honestly say they have risen to the top. Dan is the person I am perhaps proudest of from my working career. I like to think I have been a part of her success but the truth is she has earned and owned every step herself. Unlike many young people today who expect success to fall into their laps, Dan has worked her butt off for over a decade, from receptionist to HTML developer to project manager to shareholder. She now manages a 15-strong team of project managers across two cities. Moreover she is the person who is increasingly responsible for Native’s services billings – a huge task in one of SA’s largest digital agencies.

I truly believe that Dan is someone the industry will get to know in years to come. She will be one of the women who rise to be a role-model to others. She is self-made, self-motivated and brilliant at what she does.

Tracy Cabrita – Native VML Head of Traffic

Tracy_pic 5[3]

If there is part of an agency that is invisible when the awards roll around it’s the traffic department. Digital traffic is not the same as traditional agencies. With the heavy production focus we have, traffic people have the unenviable task of dealing with account managers, project managers, creatives, programmers, social media people, content producers, UX designers – the list goes on. The mix of knowledge and skills these people need, with the resilience, patience and fortitude to deal with a thousand curveballs a minute makes them as rare as a creature as its possible to imagine.

When the Native merger happened Tracy was running operations for Brandsh. She also had a small child and another on the way. Unlike the others on the list above – none of whom have children yet – Tracy has managed to take on the traffic function of a busy, growing, demanding agency while having two small kids. More than that she has been able and willing to collaborate with people like me who are constantly trying to re-invent the way agencies work. This is interesting work but it’s also disruptive and adds tremendous stress. I don’t know another traffic person who would spend 5% of the time Tracy does in trying to innovate and improve. She is uniquely dedicated, loyal and a really good person. And leaves every other traffic manager back in the dark ages.

Vanessa Gibb, Native VML Head of HR


Once in a decade or so you meet someone in your professional life who so exceeds your expectations that you consider retracting your endless pronouncements about being an atheist just so you have someone to thank for your luck. Vanessa is one of those rare finds – an HR and OD person who is not about leave policies and petrol claims but is about finding great people and making them happy. She is also open to the denizens of insane experiments I constantly inflict on her in an attempt to build Native’s unique culture.

If she doesn’t end up writing a book about building organisational culture and managing so-called Millennials she will be robbing the world of her insights and accumulated wisdom. I will also be really disappointed. I expect at least a footnote somewhere in that.

Digital skills, in SA, is almost an oxymoron. Vanessa is re-defining the role of talent and culture in the industry, and in so-doing is helping to reshape the future for hundreds of young people.

Leanne Godden, Liz Janse van Rensberg, Chantal Brunette (respectively below)


With a little more public profile to their names, our three Group Account Directors, that head up several of our largest accounts, are the best of their kind in the country. I know this because two of them have already won Best Client Service person at The Bookmarks – an accolade no other agency can claim. But in one of the toughest and often thankless roles, these three women defy the stereotype of both women in digital and client service people. They’re completely clued up, technically proficient and passionate about their customers. Since an agency depends on its customers more than anything else they hold  key positions. Our clients couldn’t be in better hands.

Narrowing to a short list of shout-outs here is, thankfully, challenging. Native VML has a lot of great, strong women who shape our business and are challenging this male dominated industry. Some – like our Head of Social Media, Amanda Fairweather – need no introduction from me. Others – like our amazing Project Managers, Strategists, Finance team, Account Managers, Office Ops, Programmers, Creative Directors – are already on endless recruiters hitlists so I will spare them – and ourselves – that pain by not listing all of their names here. But we are determined to see all of them step up and change the face of digital in South Africa.

Whilst BEE is fundamentally important to redress the historical injustices in this country, the inequalities that women face risk being ignored or underplayed. This is both as a result of classic male chauvinism but also because many women shy away from taking what’s theirs. Thus all of us – men & women both – have a responsibility to shift the thinking away from this outmoded nonsense. Women are not better than men. They may not even bring something substantively different to the party. But they are every bit as good, as entitled to earn the same salaries and to be afforded the recognition for their part in the work.

I hope one day, at the end of my career, I honestly be able to say I have done my part to usher in this change.

A brief journey into the amazing world of audience measurement

I know, audience measurement — riveting stuff. Other terms to send a bolt of excitement through your veins include “market research”, “analytics” and “audience surveys”. If this conjures images of bespectacled data scientists hunched over screens filled with graphs, spreadsheets and numbers — many numbers — then that would be fairly accurate. But if you are a publisher, advertiser, agency manager or anyone else in the broader marketing community you should force yourself to read this piece. Yes, even if you are in digital.

There are few things within the marketing and advertising business that are more central to the business we are engaged with than measurement is. Whilst the big award shows may get all the glitz and glam, and the awarded work may startle us, it is measurement around which the whole industry revolves. And ignoring the data scientists and the “media department” is a sure way for the rest of the community to foster an era where advertising is even more of a swearword than it already is.

The past year or two has seen a lot of drama and politics in the market research community. It’s also seen digital measurement coming of age and starting to extend its reach into areas formerly the domain of old media. These two winds of change have blown disarray and uncertainty into this ordinarily sedate and frumpy realm. Politics — like oil — mixes poorly with just about everything; and extremely poorly with statistics and statisticians.

(Before I go any further I should say that I am the Chair of the DMMA, the Digital Media and Marketing Association, and sit as an alternate Board member at SAARF — the South African Audience Research Foundation. I am not a numbers geek but I do have insight because of these roles.)

To put it mildly, SAARF has undergone some challenges in the past year. The broadcasters — operating under the vehicle of The National Association of Broadcasters — have resigned from SAARF, a circumstance that will eventuate at the end of 2014. Contributing the majority of funding as they do, this questions both the feasibility and legitimacy of SAARF.

In order to keep up with me you might need a short history lesson which will also serve as an object lesson in acronym usage.

In 1975 SAARF began operations with the fist ever AMPS Survey — in part the brainchild of Wally Langschmidt whose son Peter is now a prominent researcher and board member of SAARF. AMPS, the All Media and Products Survey, is what is says on the tin: a survey intended to present a view of the entire South African media consumer universe. In 2013, 25 000 individual households were surveyed, door-to-door, from mountain to sea, from township to mansion. The result is a data set that forms the basis for advertising sales in all media except digital.

Added onto SAARF over the years were RAMS, TAMS and OHMS (respectively Radio, Television and Outdoor Audience Measurement Surveys). Each employing different research methodologies, and costing many millions of rands to run, these offered media planners a deep-dive into the consumption of mass media. By using this data within an appropriate planning tool, it is possible to find the most appropriate audience for an advertising message.

SAARF has been, for most of its 38 year history, a joint industry committee (called a “JIC” in acronym land). It includes representatives from the above mentioned NAB; the PDMSA (Print Media South Africa, or Print & Digital Media South Africa as its recent, confusing rebrand would have it); MA (SA), the Marketing Association of South Africa, representing large advertisers; The ACA (Association for Communications and Advertising), the traditional ad agencies; the AMF, the Advertising Media Forum, the traditional media planners; OHMSA (Out of Home Media Association); Cinemark, the only company directly represented; and the DMMA.

This grouping of interest groups can be, as one can well imagine, something of a powder keg. While motivations are generally the same — to encourage spend on advertising, and to improve its efficacy by having it reach the right audience — competition for media spend is always just under the surface. In a time of such flux, where certain media (print, for example, and cinema) are in decline, and others (digital in particular) are on the rise, the word “frenemies” comes frequently to mind.

The unfortunate reality is that the broadcasters, after an audit of the TAMS study revealed some issues, decided to go their own way. The good news is that NAB and SAARF are hard at work agreeing a way forward that will ensure at least an industry-wide establishment survey even if the media-specific ones are run by each media association.

The DMMA, for its part, is busy tendering for a new measurement vendor (or to remain with our current provider, Effective Measure). Over the past 10 years the DMMA has established its official measurement numbers as the de facto measure of internet traffic and audience in the country.

Perhaps uniquely, the kind of digital measurement it does covers both traffic and demographic. It measures things like page impressions and unique visitors — the classic components of site traffic and analytics — by tagging member sites. It also runs a survey, which pops up from time-to-time on member sites, and has about 120 000 respondents. This gives it demographic information that can be paired with site traffic numbers.

As of last month, this data is now supplied to tools like Telmar so that media planners can finally present a single media plan that includes both traditional and digital media, like for like, at the press of a button.

However, great as this all may sound, there are some seminal moments here and significant shifts in the industry that those asleep will miss.

For starters, how SAARF reshapes itself and the establishment survey will set the industry up for, perhaps, the next 40 years. Input, thoughts, guidance and consideration is needed from as many people as possible, via industry bodies, to ensure the right decisions are made. These need to serve the interests of today’s players but also those who will be players in years to come.

Second, since everything is going digital (even billboards), figuring out how the digital industry plugs into this world is key. The spend that is moving away from print, cinema and — over time — broadcast, should be being captured by emerging media in the digital space. The fact is that, particularly in South Africa, this isn’t happening nearly fast enough. Partly because of the bewildering way in which the digital industry presents its product offering, and partly because we have both exaggerated and discounted our media inventory, media planners are wary of the digital offering.

Third, and pernicious and damaging to the local industry, is the hundreds of millions of rands flowing offshore to Facebook, Google and the like, whose clever, accessible and effective bidding systems provide a way to buy audiences with precision.

While it would be foolish to argue that South Africans shouldn’t advertise on these sites, which sit at the top of any traffic leaderboard in the country, it is equally foolish for us to sit by and let global corporations simply mop up advertising revenue from the country’s market. Many local publishers are simply resigned to this fact. We are, after all, talking about the global internet here. Who can fight Google and Facebook? But is this right? And have we really thought about how to shape our offerings to add more value than they can?

Make no mistake: the clients of the future will be fixated on measurement more than ever before. The expectation created by a medium that is infinitely measurable is infinite measurement. The tolerance for vague results or unsubstantiated arguments about “brand awareness” is already in steady decline in corporate boardrooms. The misguided obsession with Facebook likes is an obsession with needing to prove marketing success. We as an industry — digital and otherwise — need to take control of our measurement currencies and industry surveys, and we need to be in command of how we offer our audiences to our advertisers. If we don’t, someone else will.

** First Published on Memeburn 11 November 2013

Roundup: Loeries, The Digital Edge Live, DMMA Publisher Conference & Rocking the Daisies

This time of year is always busy for us digital folk. It’s not quite over with the Bookmarks still coming (on Nov 14) but the three big events in my schedule are now over and I have some time to catch my breath and talk about what happened. For the record if anyone wants to run a digital event in the first half of the year you have a lot more calendar space to choose from.

This blog entry is perhaps the closest thing to an actual “web log” that I have ever written, so there you have it. First time for everything.

The Loeries

As I wrote before Creative Week in September, the Loeries are an ever more important part of the landscape. Particularly for digital agencies whose work is now showing up all over the place, and not just in the digital categories.

This year there were a number of “firsts” in the awards. It was the first year we appointed an International Digital Jury Chair – Debbie Vandeven from VML in Kansas City. It was the first year digital was at the culmination of Saturday night’s show. And it was the first year that a digital agency (my own, Native VML) won two coveted prizes in the Integrated Award category.

The Loeries are a tough award show. Less than 15% of entrants win anything, and only 3% win Gold. That means lots of people walk away grumpy about not having won, or only having won Bronze. And it is also a popular misconception that there is a winner in every category. False. Many, many categories have no winners, either because there were no entries or because none of them met the minimum standard.

Judging is a complex process and the Loeries has the unenviable task of trying to get highly competitive agencies to give each other credit for good work. From everything I’ve heard the digital judging was fairly political again – something I need to work hard at over the next year to improve. We do ourselves a disservice as an industry by letting personal allegiances trump honest evaluation of the work.

The big winners in digital – as for the past few years – were Ogilvy Cape Town. Under the clear creative leadership of Chris Gotz and the digital leadership of Nic Wittenberg, the agency has produced exceptional work across the media spectrum. Digital was no exception with them winning three Golds (out of the 4 awarded). The other went to little agency Ikineo for a concept shop project for Loom. This was executed by one of my ex-staff, the incredible Rigard Kruger, who has since departed for Berlin to play with first world markets.

Overall the awards produced no single campaign that swept the boards. The Engen Fire Blanket turned up a fair amount, as did the above mentioned VW Street Quest.

The DMMA and Brand Council of SA (BCSA) held our first joint Loeries afterparty on Saturday night at 169 on Long. Slightly surreal with dismembered Bill Murray heads scattered around the place, we think we have started a signature event that will happen at every Loeries from now.

A lot of subsequent noise around MetropolitanRepublic and the Loeries has ensued in recent weeks. Suffice to say: the Board took a bold move which I wholly support.


The Digital Edge Live

Rarely in ones life do you get to be a part of something perfect. Even writing that sounds hyperbolic but, as those who know me will attest, I’m not easily impressed. And so when I say the Digital Edge went off perfectly you should know I mean it.

This event is part of a labour of love that I helped found about five years ago. Starting as a weekly podcast show hosted by myself and the “voice” Saul Kropman, we concocted various spin offs and brand extensions – one of which was a live show. The Digital Edge Live ran for the first time in 2010 at the Pavillion at the Waterfront in Cape Town. Perhaps its most memorable element was the live band GoodLuck who destroyed eardrums with a stadium-sized rig.

This time around we packed out the Vodacom Dome in Midrand – and when I say packed I mean we sold over 1000 tickets and something like 1200 people showed up. The team working on this were the best of the best – an incredible events company, TS&A; the Native crew who marketed, sold out and made the show happen; and our awesome line-up of speakers, including the inimitable Harper Reed and Jeremy Maggs, who chaired the debates.

When I say perfect I mean: not a speech was out of place; not a point fell flat; not a mic failed, not a musical track was played out of sequence. Even our live sketch team – a crazy exercise in adrenalin production – worked better than I could ever have imagined, and received endless praise.

All told we got over 6500 tweets at the event (sorry about that) and the kind of gushing praise heaped on rockstars and winners of Idols.

We’ll be back.


DMMA 1st Annual Publisher Conference

Not content with putting on one show in a month the week after Digital Edge was the DMMA’s first Annual Publishing Conference – a chance to think smarter about online publishing in South Africa. At two well-attended events in Joburg and Cape Town, driven by the DMMA’s Head of Publishing Tim Spira, we had the chance to hear from a wide diversity of speakers on where the online publishing industry is at, and where its going. Particular highlights for me were Melissa van Zyl from M&C Saatchi Abel on comparing digital spend to traditional; and Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha from the SACF who put up some really gory slides about SA’s telecoms pricing relative to the rest of the world.

Publishing is a tricky business. Some people make money from it but many don’t – the result of years of underpricing inventory, giving away content and unimaginative business models. I believe that the DMMA has an obligation to keep raising these questions, putting heads together, and building a united front to grow the SA industry. Too much money is either not being spent on digital, or is flowing offshore to make American businesses wealthier. I’m not sure, as Matt Buckland was suggesting at the conference, that we can put in place protectionism for the online publishing industry. But we can work together and make ourselves stronger.


Rocking the Daisies

Lastly, and leastly, I capped off this crazy month by going to Rocking the Daises near Darling in the Cape. We avoided the hell of camping in the freezing cold, teenager-infested swampland and stayed in a B&B in Darling which made us feel both old and rich. The festival was packed, overrun by brand marketing, and sporadically fabulous. My highlight was the Fever Trail Ensemble, a small electronic outfit that played to a bewildered crowd on Saturday. More than Alt-J – great but bored with their own material and the icy winds – and every other local act, these guys are creating the future of music in front of our eyes. Spectacular.

It’s going to take a lot to convince me to go back to this festival. I could dig deeper into the “I’m too old” cart but actually I would’ve been equally irritated by this kind of thing when I was 20. Too crowded, too cold, too in awe of itself. The kind of perpetually drunk and drugged young person, stumbling over their friends and themselves, is as unappealing a prospect as its possible to imagine.

Still with my recent perspective of TDE Live I can only stare in awe at the ability of the organisers to pull something of this scale off without people dying – or worse.


Whew. With a few weeks gap I am now fully rested and excited for The Bookmarks. Bring it on.

The Increasing Importance of Creative Awards


This week the Loeries will once again award excellence in advertising and creativity in South Africa. With somewhere around 3000 entries this award show stands head-and-shoulders above any other comparable show – and is one of the toughest to win at.

Like all advertising awards (or, perhaps, all industry awards) the Loeries consistently takes flak for being a self-important masturbatory affair, and an excuse for otherwise sensible adults to behave like teenagers on spring break. But this tired – and frankly anachronistic analysis – fails to understand the role that these awards play in a multi-billion rand industry.

It also misunderstands the now commonplace refrain that “advertising is dead”. This is a bit like saying “letter writing is dead”, failing to notice that something more compelling has risen from its ashes. And that’s only to the extent that there are ashes. In a country with such diversity of living standards it is many years too soon to call the undertaker on radio, newspapers and TV.

In fact, we find ourselves in a more and more complex media landscape. And, within this, a fantastically complicated advertising context. The number of touch points between businesses and their customers has grown exponentially in these digital times, and both marketers and agencies have struggled to keep pace with consumer expectations.

These expectations are not simply that I as a consumer can reach out and touch a company on my cellphone, tablet, PC, TV and – soon enough – watch, heads-up display, fridge and in my car. It is also that the appetite for, and attitude toward, advertising is in flux. Interruption marketing is less acceptable to those of us who can afford to avoid it, regardless of context. And in every context the competition for attention is at a fever pitch.

What the Loeries seeks to do, within all of this, is to highlight those that are successfully managing to stand out from the background noise. The lens is creativity but that term, too, is being semantically gentrified. What passes muster for the judges charged with choosing the winners is of our time. That means the work needs to prove out in a way that an ad ten years ago would never have been expected to.

Here’s a simple example, from the global stage. The much lauded “Dumb ways to die” piece, from Australian Metro Trains, was at once a public service announcement, a viral social media phenomenon, an iPhone game and a hit single. It charted within reach of Gangnam Style in iTunes for god’s sake.

Award shows have the effect of underlining these successes. They create shorthand for “these are the people who know how to win for your brand”. And of course they would. Both the Loeries and the Bookmarks – which I am closely involved in – adhere to procedural rigour and a selection of the best minds in the market to review the work. Including, by the way, some top international names who have no vested interest in seeing any local agency win.

So, as we head into Creative Week and the Loeries this weekend, and the Bookmarks a little over 2 months later, we should remember that for many clients, these awards create lists of agencies they might like to work with; they celebrate the power of strategic & creative thinking to build brands; and remind us that to win, you have to be in the game.

Good luck.

The Loeries takes place on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd September in Cape Town, at the end of Creative Week.

The Bookmarks takes place on 14th November in Cape Town – and you still have time to enter!

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