shots South Africa issue #173

South African Creatives Face the Flux & Do It Anyway

Some change is slow in South Africa; apartheid casts long shadows & equality issues persist. This, along with economic & political woes, might cast a gloomy outlook. Yet a country used to upheaval is possibly best able to cope with the changes ahead.

Change is a fundamental and inevitable part of any industry, but few have had to deal with as much change as the South African advertising scene in recent years. It has been 23 years since apartheid ended in the country, and the political and economic situation has been uncertain ever since. On top of this, as elsewhere in the world, the local industry is restructuring to meet the modern demands of smaller budgets, shorter deadlines and more varied platforms.

Some of the resulting reforms have been positive. The closure of South Africa’s largest production company, Velocity Films, earlier this year has spurred the launch of various new projects and impacted the local production scene, paving the way for new shops to open.

Equality-promoting initiatives, such as Free The Bid and Open Chair, have also emerged to tackle age-old issues around race and gender. However, despite these positive developments in the industry’s employment and working practices, creative output is still challenged, possibly due to the country’s enduring political and economic instability. There is little faith in the country’s president, Jacob Zuma – his leadership of the ANC is up for election in December. Plus, with the Rand still weak and the economy possibly facing a return to recession, the situation is promoting pessimism among long-time denizens of the industry. But there are new, more optimistic voices emerging, and hopefully young blood can lead the charge towards restoring global and national faith in South Africa’s creativity.

South Africa won a total of 26 Lions at Cannes 2017, which included three Grands Prix in Radio, historically its strongest medium. FCB’s creative director, Open Chair ambassador and Loeries chairperson, Suhana Gordhan, sees this result as telling in terms of what’s going on internally: “As a country, we’re struggling to find our voice. The country is going through changes and the work is a reflection of where we are. Our industry is in a bit of a crisis because we’re under pressure, our budgets are being cut and we still have to produce work on demand. We’re all holding on tightly and trying to make our day-to-day work, while also creating pieces that stand out and cut through to who we are. That’s the daily struggle: trying to find our voices in a way that’s authentic and that people can look up to again.”

Enough with the moaning already

A number of factors have forced the industry to evolve: smaller budgets and tighter deadlines, plus developments in digital and improved internet speeds. “The shift to more online content has happened and we’re [already] doing it, whereas two years ago, we were [just] anticipating it,” says Giant Films co-founder/managing partner Cindy Gabriel.

Sharing a similar time zone with Europe and with English as the dominant language in the media, South Africa could become a viable competitor with Europe; it just needs a boost of self-confidence. “We have to realise that we can do great work now for much less money,” says Groundglass founder/EP Janette de Villiers. “We don’t need a lot of gear and a big crew to pull off clever ideas and I hate people moaning about budgets. We need to come up with ideas that don’t cost the Earth. Some of the best work I’ve seen has been made on the sniff of an oily rag; it’s a matter of agencies and production companies being more agile, getting over having to work old-school. We’ve had all this crazy stuff going on for years, so [let’s] just get on with it.”