The NATIVE VML executive creative director spoke to media update’s Adam Wakefield about the presentation the agency delivered, together with Khuli Chana and Pernod Ricard, on the One Source campaign at Cannes and being a judge for the Young Directors Awards category.

Beyond the pressure of delivering a presentation at Cannes, how did you find this year’s festival?

Cannes was incredible. It is really intense and a full-on experience. There is so much going on, that you constantly feel like you are missing out on something, even when you are busy watching something amazing. But it was educational and inspiring. There were some great speakers and themes emerging from this year’s Lions and it was awesome to see how great storytelling is still playing a massive role in the work we do.

I think the technology and platforms were also interesting, but getting the combination of these two elements working together seamlessly, and creating entertainment for a brand’s audience, really seemed to be a key outtake for me.

Seeing all the work, discussing ideas, and listening to talks really is the focus though, and it will take a while for all of that to digest. Overall, it does feel like a springboard to the next great thing that we will do as creatives and a company.

How did the presentation go and how was the feedback? What were your attendees most curious about?

It was an incredible privilege to get the opportunity to speak at Cannes. The calibre of people you share the stage with is unreal. Our talk seemed to go down exceptionally well. We received such warm and genuine feedback, which felt like there was a real fascination for the subject matter.

I think we managed to shine a spotlight on what is going on in South Africa, and the continent as a whole, as well as showcase some of the great people who are really lighting some creative fires, and talking about our process and project seemed to be of real interest to the audience.

I think the biggest challenge we face as Africans is a disconnect and misunderstanding from the rest of the world markets. We worked hard to contextualise where we are, why we are there, and what is going on in Africa. I think, with the next billion consumers coming from Africa, and the rise of people looking inward instead of to the West to define their identity, it's an important thing for marketers all around the world to understand.

The One Source campaign won Gold and Silver Lions in the Entertainment Lions, a Silver Lion in Entertainment for Music Lions, and a Bronze Lion in Media Lions. How does NATIVE, and its clients, feel about this success?

It feels fantastic. It really is a huge achievement to win anything at Cannes, so we are thrilled with the results. I think that the Entertainment category is also a fantastic place to win. The way we see things moving and the type of work that’s winning in that category really feels like the future of advertising. We always strive to create work that is popular-culture, rather than advertising, work that people choose to spend time with. And we see how entertainment and brands are getting closer and closer together.

Brands should not exist in pre-rolls before your chosen content. They should bring you the stuff you actually want to watch. Before anyone pays for your product with cash, they need to pay with their time and attention, so we really believe in this approach. To have it validated by Cannes is just fantastic.

It was also fantastic to have our clients there with us to celebrate the wins. We really have awesome clients at Absolut and Pernod Ricard, and we could not have got this project going without this incredible partnership, as well as their bravery, belief in us, and unwavering commitment. I think it’s an important showcase in how we can take global brands and localise them, and still manage to double the brand size in two years, and to show how creativity really does affect brand growth.

We also picked up two Bronze Lions in Mobile for a project for Huffington Post, which we are thrilled and grateful for, and want to thank the clients for green-lighting another brave idea.

In terms of NATIVE VML, I think this is just the beginning. We had a good year last year at Cannes, and an even better result this year, and I think that trajectory is very important. We want to carry on competing with the best creative in the world, develop the best partnerships with our clients, deliver on their business needs, attract the best talent to help us do it, and do the best work of their career.

You participated as a judge for the Young Directors Awards. What did you think of the standard of work? Was there a running theme?

Judging YDA was another great experience. The standard of work from first-time directors was incredibly high, particularly from the US. The writing, production design, focus on characters, storytelling, and craft were insanely good. Most of the films were really serious – only one comedy piece in the whole show – which I found interesting.

I was also very happy to see two directors from South Africa get awarded – SJ at 7 Films and Dan Mace – Well done guys.

What do you think marketers from outside Africa miss when looking at the continent as a potential market? How should they be thinking about the continent?

I think there have been a lot of misconceptions. Some think it’s a deep dark jungle and others think it’s just a copy and paste market. I think we, as a continent, are finally finding our own voice and identity and there is a kind of creative renaissance going on. It’s bubbling up but it’s going to get hotter.

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Dan Mace won his third Young Director Award at Cannes, and we spoke to him about his craft. Read more in our article, Dan Mace: It’s important to make time for great ideas

*Image courtesy of NATIVE VML