By Darren Gilbert

Congrats on your recent appointment as CD for Havas Johannesburg. What made you decide to move to this particular agency?

Havas has a clear objective to create truly award-winning South African work. This tells me that they realise the importance of relevance in the creative world as opposed to being creative just for the sake of being creative.

They also have a lot of incredible tools that allow for a greater understanding of the constantly evolving consumer and this affords us the opportunity to create work that is unique to South Africa and its people, which is lacking right now, in my opinion.

Lastly, the Havas business model is geared towards delivering results rather than just a service, this, for me, is an exciting approach in an industry that no longer seems to be.

What is your take on the local ad industry? And what do you believe is wrong with the way that it currently functions?

The local industry is relatively young when you compare it to other countries, meaning that we are having to punch above our weight when it comes to international awards but, having said that, there have been pockets of greatness, especially with radio in Cannes, and this is encouraging to see that we have what it takes to compete at the highest level.

For an industry that’s supposed to be out of the box, the processes are highly rigid and one dimensional. In order to tell authentic stories that are of creative brilliance, an authentic approach needs to be taken — sometimes that requires bringing in the guy that sells airtime at the robots to a brainstorm.

I’ve read that you seek to change the status quo in Africa’s advertising industry. How do you plan on doing that? Should it not be the responsibility of everyone in the industry rather than just one person?

Absolutely, it should be the responsibility of everyone in the industry to change and move the industry forward. I know it’s not an easy task, but I believe that if someone starts soon, more people will realise the importance of this.

Being in the trenches for this long, I have realised how formulaic the industry is to the detriment of the work and this must change, otherwise we will lose relevance as an industry.

In your opinion, how easy is it to change the status quo?

It’s not easy to change the status quo, however, it’s necessary if we are to stay relevant and exciting as an industry. I look at the current pool of talent we are attracting and wonder if we are really getting the kind of people we need to move forward, for instance.

I also believe that the industry is ironically one of the most conservative industries out there, and you see this in the way agencies are run — from how we get briefed to how we gather consumer insights to the kind of work we ultimately produce. It’s always one dimensional.

Do you believe the industry is reflective of modern day South Africa?

I certainly think there’s a lot of opportunities in South Africa, more than any other place in the world, purely because we are so diverse and unique. But I do believe that the work is not reflective of that. If you really want to be in the forefront of the communications space in South Africa, you’ve got to hone in on insights and relevance. At the moment, quite honestly, the work feels average, very Eurocentric. It really lacks a truly South African point of view.

I’ve always said, it’s not about a great piece of craft or a great piece of TV advertising, it’s about the real story and the authenticity of that story. Advertising is not just about communicating a product, it’s also about engagement.

There’s a huge disconnect between what brands represent and what agencies are communicating. As advertising professionals, our job is not just to sell products, but to ultimately create true relationships, probably provocative relationships that last long between brands and their consumers. That happens when you’ve found the truth of your brand and how your brand affects the consumer.

Are we doing enough of that in the industry? I’m of the opinion that we are reactive as a result of pressure, therefore we lose sight of the opportunity to just take a step back and realise that we’ve got an opportunity as South Africans to really communicate in a truly South African way.

What needs to be done to ensure a better representation?

There’s a great opportunity for us to create a space for would-be creatives, who are previously disadvantaged, to come into this space not for philanthropy but because I believe they have a lot to add.

The great thing about the youth of today is that they say what they think, they aren’t jaded, therefore they change the status quo and they create amazing work.

They are the ones who will keep advertising relevant.

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