The World: Insider's View - South Africa

Creativity takes on a new meaning in a continent where the major issues are clean water, land and contagious disease, Peter Badenhorst writes.

What is African creativity? Is it a distinct species from other kinds of creativity? Would I know African creativity if it came up and gave me a palm-slapping handshake? I would not.

Creativity is not style. It is not fashion or craft, but the ability to be inventive and utterly original.

Africa is one of the most receptive, fertile environments in which ideas can be planted. And nowhere are hard-thinking and original ideas more welcome and necessary.

Unilever, among other things, makes washing powders. A lot of people in Malawi don't have water. Selling washing powder there is tough. Instead of mounting an outdoor and radio campaign dramatising the miracles of their molecular cleaning technology, Unilever sponsored water pumps in rural areas. Communities now had a constant supply of water for drinking, cooking, irrigation and washing. I defy anyone to think of a more potent piece of FMCG creativity.

Land redistribution is big in Africa. It's not necessarily wrong or criminal, just incompetently handled. To my mind, the right to own land is an inevitable and quite tardy consequence of nationalism and freedom to rule. It is an issue deeply rooted in the African soul and psyche, with immense resonance. It also helps sell mobile phones.

Recently, Celtel offered a farm as a prize in Zambia. Farms are expensive, but they are a lot cheaper than a national media campaign. There's also the bonus of having 12 per cent of the Zambian population entering your competition by SMS. Millions of entries, countless phone conversations, huge word-of-mouth, the lucrative call revenue, the national hysteria - when you think of it that way, the farm seems quite cheap. Boy, did someone tell someone!

To an urbane brand architect, these examples may appear quaint, parochial and isolated, but to my mind they are a Cullinan diamond.

They show an impressive lack of advertising conceit. They strain to impress no-one but the prospect. They are impossible to resist.

There's a commercial from Ogilvy Africa's Kenyan agency dramatising how contagious TB is. A woman coughs in church. The camera pulls back rapidly to a man several pews away. He coughs. The camera crash zooms to another person in a distant pew. He coughs.

It's terribly simple. It's also frighteningly convincing. No gag, no twist in the tail. Just a tight argument - TB spreads easily.

At its heart, this is communication that is useful. Its function goes beyond being "involving", "entertaining" or "creating awareness". It tells people something they need to know and makes sure they won't forget it.

And if someone lives even a day longer because of it, we will have done our job.

Peter Badenhorst is the executive creative director of Ogilvy Africa.