The World: Insider's view - South Africa

With their agencies' help, clients have the opportunity to affect social change in deprived areas - and can reap the rewards as a result, Julian Watt writes.

In South Africa, there's a huge place for work that goes beyond the conventional. Our country is faced with multiple challenges: disease, poverty, crime. All of these challenges require serious creativity to reach new solutions. Simply relying on the flow of help will not make a significant enough impact.

At Network BBDO, we began a stream of work a few years ago called MAD (make a difference). We dedicated time, and the favours we could leverage in the industry, towards creating work for causes that could benefit the disadvantaged. It ranged from homeless shelters and abandoned children havens to under-equipped schools. The work included print, poster, PR and even TV with free media.

It didn't take long before we started to bring the philosophy of doing good in to our paying client base. It actually makes good sense: we believe that a big corporate client, with a big budget, can affect bigger positive change than a struggling charity. What if we aligned their end games? Clients' brands need to be liked. The world needs help. Presto!

One example is the solar-panelled billboard we created for our client Nedbank. What if a bank really did give power to the people? This one does. In the form of electricity that powers the kitchen of a poor, disadvantaged township school. Nedbank is rolling these out across South Africa. Hopefully they'll pop up all over the planet. It beats typical brand advertising shot in soft focus.

The newest project for Nedbank allows each customer to elect a charity of its choice from its neighbourhood, and the bank will choose and gift a hefty cheque. This "Local Heroes" initiative is a complete anomaly within the banking category, and we're hoping it will put pressure on the bank's competitors to match and beat this initiative.

Our cellular phone client, Cell C, has innovated a product where every time you talk, a portion of the spend goes directly back into building up South Africa's townships.

South Africa needs all the help it can get. When corporate South Africa creatively designs its products to give back, we all feel the benefit.

This needn't be a passing fad in advertising. It could be the start of a different way of getting corporations to invest back into the communities where they trade. Call it social tax.

Our clients are already excited at the prospect of creating brand properties that do more than just advertise. For the first time, clients are seeing it as integral to their business, not just corporate social responsibility that gets done by that "other" department. It's really brand advertising without the "advertising". And for the creatives in our agency, it's a whole new outlet for creative thought. Clients benefit. The needy benefit. The creatives benefit. And everyone goes home with a balloon.

- Julian Watt is the executive creative director of Network BBDO, South Africa.


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