Young creatives, with the help of Brand SA and the Loeries, are shaping how we use technology for innovation while creating jobs for themselves and others. Picture: SUPPLIED
Young creatives, with the help of Brand SA and the Loeries, are shaping how we use technology for innovation while creating jobs for themselves and others. Picture: SUPPLIED

Thabang Manyelo bounced into an evening party for young people in the advertising industry wearing a bright orange sweatshirt with the word UNEMPLOYED emblazoned across the front. He had grabbed it as he rushed out and was met with laughter when he arrived at the event, which was hosted by the Loeries and sponsored by Brand SA.

Manyelo’s sweatshirt could not have been more ironic — he is more than gainfully employed. In 2017 he won the Young Creatives Award during the Loeries Creative Week, a category that showcases the work of people aged 27 and younger as part of a drive to generate recognition and support for their work.

His portfolio of five submissions included a popular radio commercial for Netflorists which he wrote as part of FCB’s campaign to move from occasional to everyday gifting. It was called A War of Words — Anniversary Forgotten.

"As I was walking home, I thought, ‘What happens in any relationship? We fight every day. So come with flowers before it happens’," he said.

Manyelo’s take on how a couple’s argument was resolved resonated with listeners so well it scooped up three prestigious global awards: at One Show in New York, the Lions in Cannes and the Loeries in Durban.

Since then his life has changed completely. "I got calls from morning to midnight and job offers in Dubai and the US. But at this point in time I didn’t feel the need to go abroad."

Instead, he set up his own company, where he will be the creative director. To prove that content is the most important ingredient of success, Manyelo and his partners decided to pull words out of a hat to come up with an unusual name for their company — PiSlovakia&Dance.

He plans to make it international one day and "create global defining work". Few doubt that he will succeed.

In SA there is generally little appreciation of the commercial value of "creative" industries, their economic impact and the jobs they create for the youth who think out of the box.

Transformation in the industry has speeded up with the realisation that to be successful, agencies need to create work that resonates with the majority of the population.

Jobs in the local advertising industry — which is worth about R42bn a year — rose to 3,556 in 2016 from 3,300 in 2014, according to figures from the Association of Communication and Advertising (ACA).

It may seem small but this is an increase of 8%, which is significant in a flagging economy where the overall trend in employment is downwards, says ACA CEO Odette van der Haar. During the same period, the industry improved its transformation ratio, nudging up to 48% from 43% — a far cry from just 23% in 1998.

Transformation does not just happen at the bottom either. ACA data show that 18% of top executives and 42% of middle management are not white.

Van der Haar believes that creative talent is woefully undervalued in SA, despite the fact that in 2017 the World Economic Forum identified the creative industries as "trending" in sub-Saharan Africa.

Thabang Manyelo and Amori Brits are both previous winners of the Brand SA Young Creatives Award. Picture: SUPPLIED
Thabang Manyelo and Amori Brits are both previous winners of the Brand SA Young Creatives Award. Picture: SUPPLIED

"An artist who also understands science can be very successful in the advertising and communications sphere. Creativity is at the heart of solutions to any business problem and those who see the world differently can break through the clutter and be seen," she says.

Another advantage for youth in the industry is the fact that they are generally far more digitally savvy than their elders. A third of SA’s 25-million who access the internet regularly are aged between 25 and 34, according to Google’s 2017 Connected Consumer Study.

"The shift to digital is definitely attractive to young people as they are best equipped for it," said Loeries CEO Andrew Human. "Their generation are change agents and it’s important to have young minds involved in planning brand campaigns."

An overwhelming 69% of South Africans online most often access the internet on a mobile device, more than double the global rate of 30%. This is relevant for advertisers in SA, Google points out, with more than 2.5-million South Africans already shopping online.

"It’s a dynamic industry and it’s constantly changing — what worked three months ago won’t necessarily work now," says Monare Matema, a rising star at DNA Brand Architects. "There’s so much opportunity for young creatives — a lot of them create their own opportunities by using social media as a conduit to attract work."

What you create comes from what you feed your mind, we don’t want more ads, but life-changing stories

Matema started working as a receptionist at the company three years ago and is now an associate brand architect. He plans to enter his work in the Young Creatives category, now sponsored by Brand SA, at the 2018 Loeries — the first time for someone from a PR agency.

Young creatives see themselves as storytellers who can both reflect and shape their culture, while producing something of value for their market.

"A lot of agencies still get it wrong," says Naledi Manama, an art director at FCB. "The brands which are doing really well in the advertising space are the ones that represent the culture. From my own perspective, right now it’s a very good place to be."

But Manama had to work hard to convince her family that she would rather work in the advertising industry than spend years at university studying architecture. "They were very terrified. I think they still are."

Manyelo’s advice to his contemporaries at the Loeries party was to "tell South African stories, trust your gut and remain dissatisfied. What you create comes from what you feed your mind. We don’t want more ads, we want to see more life-changing stories, our stories."