World: Insider's View - South Africa

A decade on from the end of apartheid, South Africa's ad industry is enjoying investment again as it starts to reflect the nation's ethnic diversity, Josh Dovey writes.

Rumours of South Africa's imminent demise have always been greatly exaggerated. More than ten years on from the first free elections in 1994, we are sitting with 4 per cent GDP growth, a nationwide property boom and the rand as the strong-est-performing currency against the dollar for the past 12 months.

The ANC government may be criticised on some issues, but surely not on its handling of the economy, which is now slightly bigger than that of The Netherlands.

The frenzy of re-investment from companies, such as General Motors, Chrysler, IBM and Barclays, that left South Africa during the international sanctions, has had a profound effect on our ad industry.

Together with multinationals that stayed - the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Toyota and Unilever - they reshaped it to the global model by demanding international best practice. It's happened quickly.

For instance, no media indep-endents existed in 1994. They now control all media expenditure in a market worth around $2 billion. However, there are very few independent ad agencies of note - the best were quickly snapped up by the US networks following their clients back into South Africa

The racial demographics of the country - 35 million black, five million white, two million mixed-race and one million Indian - are starting to show in the ad industry, which has been accused of being "too white" in its staffing and "too Eurocentric" in its output. Now, campaigns such as MTN's "y'ello" reflect the South African demographic.

These days, any agency without black shareholding will not be considered for government work, and this requirement is rapidly seeping through to the private sector.

Racial divisions in the media are also disappearing fast. Johannesburg's daily newspaper, The Star (owned by Tony O'Reilly), now has a 54 per cent black readership. "White" media no longer exists.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and radio stations cater for the various language groups. Making ads in the African languages is not political correctness, it's simply good for sales.

All good news? Well, we do wish that the Springboks would stop embarrassing themselves at Twickenham, but at least the game is sponsored by a South African bank.

- Josh Dovey is the chief executive of OMD South Africa.

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