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What would David Ogilvy do?

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Two things happened in the ad industry in the last few months that would have made David Ogilvy cringe in his grave. First, an ad agency was stripped of its honours and shamed for entering fake work into an awards show. Second, after an 8-year long relationship, a certain agency was informed – over email – of the client’s intention to put the business out to pitch.

David Ogilvy was born in 1911. At the time, the advertising souls of this era were still floating around in a cosmic bubble, contemplating making a grand entrance a couple of decades later. So of what importance then, is the opinion of this old-world gentleman?

I believe that in a time when our industry is consumed with the challenges and wonders of the digital age, doing good for humanity and fulfilling our rock-star dreams, we should also be consumed with the fact that while nobody was looking, respect, trust and good old common sense started walking out the door.

As someone from the agency side, I have always feared that the very nature of the agency-client relationship is flawed – a relationship that has set us on unequal footing and built master-slave mentalities and battered-wife syndromes. While no relationship is a one-way street, I worry that ours is more strained than it has ever been. Now would be a good time to summon the spirit of the Father of Advertising. Here are five things Ogilvy said that I would like to share with all clients:

“Be candid, and encourage candor.”

David Ogilvy would want us to stop hiding behind debriefs and emails and start having more honest conversations. Tell us what works for you, what doesn’t and before your eyes start roaming, talk to us and give us the chance to show you that we actually care about your business as much as you do. If it still doesn’t work out, don’t break up with us over email.

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?”

Ogilvy recommended that clients should not compete with their agencies in the creative area. Trust that most of us went to ad school. Trust us to do creativity, to write copy and to design. No one wants their copy dictated to them. We should ban tracked changes on word documents and scribbling on layouts. Give us your opinion, criticise and interrogate the work but allow us to do what we love doing.

“Don’t haggle with your agency.”

Sometimes ad agencies behave like a kid who has a hundred bucks and finds himself in front of a slot machine. But sometimes we feel like the kid who has to score goals in Bata Toughees. Maybe it’s time to loosen the iron-grip on the purses. Spend the right money at the right time with the right people and you will see the results.

“Clients get the advertising they deserve.”

A great idea is chosen by you. When you are brave you get brave work. No doubt, every great idea travels a scary journey accompanied by a manic, feverish sweat. We should not be afraid of this fever because it subsides once the work survives intact. If you set your standards high, you allow us to improve your bottom line and to do great work for you.

“Loosen their tongues.”

I think that Ogilvy meant that we should drink Tequila. We should also have lunch some time.  Maybe play a round of golf too. We compress time so drastically these days that we forget that relationships are built alongside the work, the briefs and the meetings. Get to know the people that work on your business and let us get to know you so that we might each catch a glimpse of the passion and commitment we share.

As 2013 draws to a close and the last brief gets jammed under the door, I hope that we can wake up in 2014 with a more evolved approach to the agency-client relationship. On both sides, I hope that we can behave with more integrity, build trust again and pat each other on the backs without the simultaneous urge to stab each other. I hope that we can find new meaning in our roles. If the face of advertising has changed and now resembles a bearded, plaid-wearing guy with an enormous heart, doesn’t it make sense that we both rock up to work as partners, rather than as ‘Agency’ and ‘Client’? Let us make 2014 the year that all others are compared to and let us make David Ogilvy, that old bastard, bloody proud.

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6 December 2013

 

12:14am.
A phone call.
Put on the news.
President Zuma.
Amazing Grace.
Nelson Mandela has died.

The Set Up

438229660_640I’ve had a tummy bug for four and a half days now. This means I’m generally nauseous and irritable. And it just so happens that today was my first Set Up. I almost didn’t make it because I couldn’t bear to leap out of bed and be bright and perky while feeling bland and sort of like the flat Coca Cola I’ve been drinking all this while. But the Set-Up coordinators insisted.

Now, perhaps my entire experience has been tainted by my virus-plagued, plain-toast-overloaded, lame and feverish state of being. And the fact that Mr Match was made aware of my tummy bug. Sexy. Very sexy.

So I go to the event which is a braai. And luckily I’m vegetarian because that makes for great opening remarks around chops and chicken sausages. Apple juice in my glass looks like whiskey and I’m okay. My lovely friend sells me unabashedly to Mr Match. And we go about the afternoon in general chitchat and jovial banter.

Just as I start to think this is not entirely unpleasant, the conversation turns to me. I feel instantly nauseous and a gas bubble rises in my chest making me want to burp loudly. Either this is gastro-bug related or I’m beginning to feel that this social encounter suddenly resembles work and looming deadlines. And this is the problem with The Set Up.

It is too conscious for my liking. The threat of disappointment lingers in the entry hall. The pressure wafts around your face like braai smoke. I know why he is there. He knows why I am there. Every word I utter will be analysed as will his. A thousand and fifty mental notes are being taken. And nothing feels like a chance encounter. One feels like a game player and a strategist and a tap dancer rolled into a massive ball of “Hey look at me!” And while there is nothing wrong with Mr Match (or me) the whole scenario feels A-W-K-W-A-R-D. You feel like you’re in the midst of bricklaying the path to your future and treading with utter precision is required.  (Of course, when one’s gut is not in a state of conviviality it makes everything seem worse).

I’ve been pondering it all from the safety of my Shoebox this evening and this is what I’ve decided: Set ups are well meaning and the people that want to set you up love you dearly. They can be harmless encounters and if anything, the opportunity to meet someone new and interesting. But they’re hard work.

It’s starts with deciding what to wear. You think – what if this is the guy? Then I have to think hard about what I wear so that one day when we we’re together for 40 years he can say: “I remember your mother the first day I saw her – she was wearing a blue blah blah”  Also, you don’t want to make too much of an effort because then you set the bar way too high and there’s no coming down from that. So you go as you normally go hoping they like you just the way you are. (Thank you Bridget Jones’ Diary for making all women believe that it is possible for men to like you just the way you are!)

Conversation is tough because it feels prompted and much like wearing a CV on your head. Searching for commonality feels like the mission of the day and is overrated really. Being aware that you’re being observed makes you feel like a house on show day or the hamster at the petting zoo and saying goodbye is AWKWARD – do you wave, shake hands or hug?

Nonetheless, I survived my first Set Up, despite the fact that Mr Match probably will forever remember me as gastro girl. But one has to be open to these things I hear my inner school principal saying, especially if there aren’t dozens of men banging down your door, dear!

But, hello? How can life be so business-like and….and…ordinary?

I blame Hollywood and Bollywood for building up my perceptions of the first encounter as sweeping, epic and swooning. Yes, yes, that’s naïve but hell, even a Tarantino-esque encounter would do! I just want it to be somewhat memorable, heart-stopping perhaps, unique maybe, puzzling and strange even. Just something that, for a moment, unsettles the mundane beat of my heart.

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The Winged Walkers

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I haven’t spilled in a while.

Cups of milk, shards of glass, avocado dessert and green vegetable soup – yes. But not words and thoughts. I didn’t feel like spilling. That’s what happens when you summon all your energy and place it with family and at the bedside of the one that faces the most challenging journey of his life. You gather it all up, hold it in and store all the words and thoughts in bottles with lids and then you shelve those too. Because these are words that are not easily spilled. They are the breadcrumbs in your own journey back to understanding.

But while I’ve been labeling my words and thoughts and archiving them, I have been amazed and simply astounded by the concept of human love.

I don’t really know if I believe in angels – I tend to fluctuate on the issue, especially the stereotypical, white-clothed, fluffy-winged variety of Angel. But I do believe in The Winged Walkers. These are humans that restore faith in humanity – that behave with absolute good intent and bring only kindness, warmth, comfort and support. They make love tangible in all parts of your life and leave you utterly humbled.

I have Winged Walkers in my life and they are the Bringers, Doers and Senders of these things:

  1. Trips back and forth over highways for departures and arrivals.
  2. Pots of soup and Goodie Tupperwares.
  3. Tissue boxes for Africa.
  4. Stimulating conversation.
  5. Massages and stories of long ago.
  6. Designing of presentations.
  7. Restoration of things lost in cyber hell.
  8. Handling things.
  9. Taking over things.
  10. Brain Cells – when yours seem to have abandoned you.
  11. Being there in the back row.
  12. Speaking to the Higher Powers.
  13. Phone Calls, Whatsapp, Skype, SMS’s, Tweets, DM’s, Group Chats.
  14. Timely and appropriate memes.
  15. Grocery shopping.
  16. Advice.
  17. Tolerance.
  18. Long-distance check ins.
  19. Company.
  20. The ability not to be morose.
  21. Research.
  22. Contacts and Expertise.
  23. Tough, honest conversations.
  24. The knowing smile.
  25. Chocolate.
  26. Wine.
  27. Dokra.
  28. Pop-ins and drop-ins.
  29. Hagendas for supper.
  30. Knowing what to do and say.

The Winged Walkers have surrounded us. They are the love-armoured guards that line our long path, fending off hard times and fear. They keep us in the Present. They remind us of what matters. And what doesn’t.

The Winged Walkers have been great teachers. Their registered trademark is the ability to suddenly transform into solid pillars one can lean on.

As we all put one foot in front of the other on this journey, we salute The Winged Walkers because they remind us of one very simple, human thing…

…We do not walk alone.

 

 

 

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I wish Cancer would die.

I wish Cancer would die.

I wish it would lie on its bed gasping and take its last breath with misery.

I wish that it would endure chemotherapy and radiation – the therapies that look like healing but resemble suffering more closely.

I wish that Cancer’s Family would sit up late at night with a hole in their hearts worrying and fearing.

I wish that its future was murky and without answers.

I wish that Cancer would Google alternative treatments and read till it felt confused and nauseous.

I wish that it would stop visiting all our families and friends – arriving, fooling us into thinking it had left only to arrive again.

I wish that Cancer would die instead of obliterating everyone we love.

And if it doesn’t die, I’m prepared to kill it.

And if I can’t do it on my own, we should all do it.

We should nuke the hell out of that evil Bastard.

We should run it out of our homes and out of our planet.

Cancer…YOU get your papers ready. YOU get your policies and your Will in order.

It’s time for your own damn medicine.

I wish Cancer would die.

Just die. Just fukkin’ die.

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Why a girl will always need her father

My dad has a full head of silver-grey hair. He always says that I’m partly responsible.

I’m sure I can think of a few incidents that sprouted a couple of those grey hairs. There was my 21st birthday opening dance. I choreographed a little Bollywood number and gave him about 15 minutes to learn it. Then there was the time I borrowed by cousin’s fitting suede and leather black dress to wear to the Standard 9 dance. Daddy took one look and calmly asked me to turn around, head back to my room and find some more clothes to put on. And then there was the day he came home from work and found me in tears on the phone with ‘long-distance’ boyfriend. Dad picked up the phone in the other room and gave the guy such a tongue lashing that even if he wasn’t planning a trip to hell, asshole boyfriend started packing his bags pretty fast.

Fathers are different to mothers. The close bond a girl forms with her mum is pretty natural and starts from about the time you decide you need to go bra shopping. Mums nag you about absolutely everything; you rebel as a teenager about absolutely everything and by the time you’re an adult, you’re the closest friends and can confide in each other. The bond a girl forms with her dad is different. It’s less verbal and less overt but supremely powerful.

The way a father exercises discipline is different to a mother. Mothers tend to spend the bulk of daily activity with their children and that allows them all the nagging time in the world. Very quickly, you get to learn mum’s reactions. But because you only see dad towards the end of the day, he tends not to play the nagging role and concentrates only on the major mess ups. So when you’ve done something wrong and dad voices his disappointment, you take note. It’s partly because he reserves his anger for special occasions and partly because you’re surprised he’s echoing mum’s words. Fathers watch from a distance. They observe everything and say little. But…they know things.

A girl will always need her father because he is the first man you get to know and he is the measure for all men you will ever meet. A girl will always need her dad for his quiet guidance and his ability to weather the storms with grace. He reminds you to see the world in perspective and to maintain dignity wherever you can.  He builds a protective force field around you from the day you’re born and you feel it even when you’re old enough to know how to kick a guy in the balls. He can dispense advice like the Dalai Lama and dance with you like Fred Astaire. And most of all, he is able to straddle the worlds of old-school charm and contemporary reality.

Dad was my after-hours English and History Teacher. I wouldn’t sleep well at night if he didn’t tuck me into bed. He open-heartedly agreed with my decision to study Drama and welcomed me back into his home when I decided to leave advertising to be a ‘starving’ dancer. He once sat through a long, angst-ridden contemporary dance piece of mine and when it was over he said: “I’m sorry, I didn’t really get what that was all about. But you were beautiful.”

My dad once gave me permission to tell a nasty, disrespectful old woman to “fuck off”. He has shared dirty jokes in my presence and taught me that no state of being is a permanent state. He always surprises me with his ability to help me put my head back on my neck when I’ve clearly lost it. He is the most open-minded person I know and has taught, and continues to teach me, that better judgement sometimes exists without society’s approval.

Dad, I know you’re not sentimental or romantic like mum. So forgive my next gushy outburst – you can blame it on her genes. But…I have to say that I love you more than you know. I will always always need you. And even though you have not one remaining black hair on your head, I’m proud of your silver crop. In a sea of men, it makes it easy to spot you, for you are the rarest of them all.

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Dinner and Indigestion with the Mugabes

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Tonight as I sat down to eat dinner, I was surprised to see old Bob Mugabe and his family having their own dinner with none other than the velvet cushion man – Dali Tambo. My appetite was quickly ruined.

In the Sunday Times, Dali Tambo reveals that his mandate for the show People of the South is to “take the person out of the caricature, to make them real.” The question been bandied around in the press is about whether Tambo’s style should have been more interrogative rather than jovial. My question would be this: Should we be humanising a tyrant who has refused to vacate the Zimbabwean throne for the past 26 years?

My simple answer is no.

History teaches us to understand that humans are never one dimensional and even the oldest president in Africa has silly spats with his wife from time to time. Sure, one can celebrate the power of the media in allowing us a glimpse into the lives of people not always accessible to us, or even offering up a different perspective. But frankly, watching the Mugabes dance a little jig as the show’s credits went up, was enough to make me want to hurl.

I’m just a girl eating my veg curry on a Sunday night in front of the telly. But what if I was a person of the south affected first hand by the behaviour of Mugabe –by being silenced, having family killed, subjected to poverty or having my basic rights been abused? I hardly think that such a person would be interested in the human characteristics of this brute.

If we are really people of the south, surely we should spend our efforts ridding our continent of the used oil that clogs the pipes of democracy instead of cooking up a nice dinner with it? Ironically, this week the SADC (Southern African Development Community) had to cancel a summit to discuss Zimbabwean national elections because Robert Mugabe announced that he was not ready to meet. Hmmm, perhaps he was too busy resting on his newly acquired velvet cushion and being fed almonds bought at Harrods by Grace.

While people of interest deserve their time in the garden with Dali, I still don’t think dictators should crack the nod.  Because the only way for Mugabe to reveal his human side is to release his chokehold on the Zimbabwean nation and to tap out from all things grotesque, undemocratic and unbecoming of a twenty-first century Africa.

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Stupid Things Clients Say in Digital Advertising

imagesIt’s been 7 months since I jumped the Traditional Advertising Ship to join Digital. (Almost enough time to pop a baby). In this time I’ve learnt a few things about ‘The Client’ in Digital.

‘The Client’ in Digital is the same as ‘The Client’ in Traditional Advertising. Only more scared. Selling work is harder because our clients know they need digital advertising but want to get it over and done with like pulling a plaster. They hold onto budgets even tighter and hand them out like the Old Woman in The Shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do.

If you thought your clients in above-the-line were little bullies, in digital they’re worse. They can be thoroughbred dictators who’d prefer you to just do and not question.

When giving feedback, they start off by saying how they’re definitely not tech savvy but by the end of the meeting they gather so much momentum in their own belief that they are right, it almost seems as if they are channeling Steve Jobs himself.

We all know that words can drop from a client’s mouth like A-bombs in Nam and in digital it is just the same. These are a few of the stupid things I’ve heard clients say:

1. “I hardly use the internet. My son does though. But he’s always on the internet. The thing you’ve got to ask is why would I go to your website?”

2. “Who has time to use Skype really?”

3. “Well Skype is just about phone calls actually.”

4. “My friends only use Skype to talk to friends and family that live far away.”

5. “That idea is just too big. Our marketing department doesn’t have the resource or time for an idea like that.”

6. “We want something quick and manageable. This requires longevity.”

7. “We want something easy to implement. What about user-generated content?”

8. “We are not a content company.”

9. “You must realise, this target market is not digitally advanced.”

10. “Yes, you guys would do it…but you’re in advertising.”

11. “No…I wouldn’t drop what I was doing to chat to Ryan Gosling on the internet.”

12. “Please list ALL our terms and conditions on the banner.”

13. “The copy is too clever. I just want something straight.”

14. “I don’t want a viral video. I want a million-rand TV ad.”

15. “Can we just have some banner ads please?”

16. “Can we just have some banner ads please?”

17. “Guys between the ages of 30 and 40 are dads. They don’t have time to be online.”

18. “If this was on Mxit it would be great. I’d give it to my helper and she’d spend all day on it.”

19. “I’m having my hair done. Can she come and present to me here?”

20. “Make the logo bigger.”

I know that advertisers say stupid things too. But I also know that when I go to a doctor and he tells me that I need a blood test, I don’t tell him to rather give me a colonoscopy. It worries me that as the marketing and advertising industry grows older, we’re not growing wiser and our clients have become less and less trusting of advertising expertise.

They’re terrified of digital but instead of handing over some of the brand custodianship, they toss out the breadcrumbs and hope to get lucky. The Marketing Director has become brilliant at using the ‘sample of one’ survey – himself. ‘The Client’ always thinks their online engagement is the benchmark for the entire target market. And they still look at digital as the redheaded stepchild.

To my fellow advertisers in above-the-line, take comfort. ‘The Client’ is the same hairy beast in our neck of the woods. So what do we do? Maybe it’s time to gather our reputations as rebellious, crazy, wild advertising people with big ideas. Let’s stop being so damn well behaved in meetings. Let’s bring back the boozy advertising lunch, let’s take all ‘The Clients’ out to lunch and tell them we’ve all had about enough of ‘The Client’.

We would rather have partners. We would rather have good fellow parents who are ready for the fears, the joys, the difficulties and triumphs in raising a brand. We would rather make meaningful, memorable work than banner ads. If there was ever a time to respect the big ideas, it would be now.

Goodbye Vuyo

Vuyo-Mbuli6This morning I was greeted by the shocking news of Vuyo Mbuli’s death. Shock gave way to the immediate need to say something on Twitter and Facebook and eventually the need to say something gave way to tears.

No, I don’t know Vuyo personally. I’ve never even met him. I only know him as the talented, jovial newsman I invite into my lounge every morning. It’s my ritual. I get up, take a shower and while getting ready for work I listen to Vuyo and Leanne on Morning Live like thousands of other South Africans every day.

So why was I crying like I just lost an old friend or an uncle?

I guess it’s because you watch a TV personality through a screen doing the same thing they do every day and hope you’ll catch a glimpse of their human selves. I did. I caught a glimpse of a very positive individual – someone who knew how to wake South Africa up with a smile. Even on the difficult days.

I liked the way he tried to break down the stiff demeanour a morning news show can have. I liked the way he always commented on Andile’s shoes. I liked the way he took time to greet us in so many different languages and the way he unashamedly proclaimed Morning Live to be “The best breakfast show in the world”.  And I liked it when he ended every broadcast with ‘Sharp Sharp’. Even if it was hellava cheesy.

Vuyo was a newsman of the people. He seemed to be in touch with the Everyman of South Africa. He knew how to get to his interviewee. He knew how to pursue the tough, uncomfortable questions just as we at home began asking them in our minds. And he always did his homework. But apart from his polished presence and genuine interest in his journalistic subjects, he just seemed to have a gentlemanly touch and a fine passion for the work he did. And that is always rare.

I will miss you Vuyo. Tomorrow morning we will all rise but we may refuse to shine because without you being there to salute the start of the day, it will be very difficult.

Goodbye Vuyo. Hamba kahle. Alvida. Totsiens. Khuda Hafiz. Tsamaya Hantle.

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Letting Go

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As we grow older, we learn to hold on tighter. We become experts at holding onto fear, guilt, worry, anger and cynicism.

Letting go sounds so easy. It sounds like opening a window and letting the curtain billow in the breeze. But it isn’t easy. It’s more like swimming up to the surface to breathe in, despite being pulled under by dark and slimy sea creatures. If it were easy to let go, we would not walk on this earth. We would float above it and glow with eternal buoyancy.

Holding on offers a strange comfort. It is what is expected. It is not unchartered territory – you’ve been here many times before. Keeping calm and carrying on is not as easy to navigate. Because most of the time ‘carrying on’ takes place without witness and all the effort that goes with it is under the surface.

We are expected to feel guilty for making mistakes. So we gather our mistakes in a guilt menagerie and stand back and admire their ugliness. When the anger builds up we let it brew till it boils over and sticks to the surface.  Cynicism is like the stray pet that arrives at your door unannounced and you just can’t say no to its big, droopy eyes. And fear? Fear is the worst because we learn to live with it so well that we develop its accent and soon forget our real voices.

We also hold onto hope. And just because ‘hope’ is a smiley-faced angel child in one syllable, we mustn’t be duped by it. Holding onto hope can be naïve and distract you from the reality.

I have an F minus in ‘letting go’. I’ve held onto the bruises on my heart for many years now. I carry them with me and even though they don’t fit well with certain company, I allow them to participate in the conversation from time to time. I also hold onto the fear manifested in my nightmares and I hold onto the guilt of a 1000 glasses of spilt milk.

Maybe it’s time to let go?

I read this quote the other day: “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” It’s by Buddha. And I like it. Not just because Buddha mastered being buoyant and grounded at the same but because it doesn’t imply that we have to empty out our fears and worries like a chamber pot onto the street. It implies that ‘letting go’ is work in continuous progress. And perhaps it is less about letting go and more about deciding that today…we won’t be carrying the heavy load upon our shoulders.

 

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