The World: Insider's view - South Africa

South African agencies must embrace the diversity of the nation's population in order to resonate with consumers, Ann Nurock says.

The rainbow nation has shaped up fairly well after ten years of democracy. South Africa's peaceful revolution amazed even the most optimistic of us. While democracy has brought a level of freedom previously unknown to the vast majority of South Africans, it has also brought huge challenges, many of which, a decade later, still seem overwhelming. Within the bigger picture, the challenges facing the ad industry may seem inconsequential but, for those faced with overcoming them, they are significant.

For an industry that traditionally produced ads with a Eurocentric bent, the challenge was to produce work relevant to all South Africans. It needed to embrace linguistic, social and cultural diversity. In short, it needed to be truly South African.

A tall order in a country with 11 official languages, each with its own set of cultural mores, values, ethics and ideals. One can no longer look at culture and values along racial lines. White South Africans of British descent differ greatly from whites of Dutch descent. The same is true of the various black and Asian groups.

Often, white South Africans refer to their black counterparts as the "emerging market", by implication a homogeneous, globular mass of millions.

This is a complete misnomer. As in every culture, people progress at their own rate and cannot be classified by one definition.

Taking all of this into consideration, we have learnt to laugh at ourselves, to take the mickey out of each other, without causing offence. Thanks to Vodacom, a mobile phone service provider, and Polka, a start-up internet service provider, we've managed to create ads that cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, with phrases from these becoming part of everyday lingua franca for all South Africans.

We have produced work for global and local clients. Emphasising Nokia's partnership with the Face of Africa pageant, we created a commercial that brings a bit of African colour to an otherwise drab, grey London scene.

We, as agencies, need to get to the hearts and souls of Africans of all cultures and create advertising that resonates with consumers' needs and wants and delivers results, no matter what the medium. Our consumers are savvy, and anything that seems patronising is noticed as that immediately.

Getting to grips with our diverse consumers will enable us to deliver great and meaningful advertising. The new middle class is changing the face of the country, and we, as ad agencies, need to embrace it.

Yes, we have become a more normal, democratic society in all aspects (including advertising) and are constantly evolving. But, while we have come a long way, we are still not yet where we really need to be.

- Ann Nurock is the chief executive of Grey Worldwide South Africa.


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