Picture: 123RF/RAWPIXEL
Picture: 123RF/RAWPIXEL

There’s no question that in a digital world, staying relevant is more important – and more challenging – than ever before. As drivers of change, advertising agencies have to ensure their clients’ brands resonate with consumers – not easy in an age where culture is the biggest competitor of all.

M&C Saatchi Abel strategist Keke Mahlelebe recently attended RISE, the largest tech conference in Asia. “Currently, the technologies receiving the most attention are AI [artificial intelligence], voice and blockchain. Not only are they evolving at lightning speed, they’re also disrupting industries across the board,” he says, adding that these three technologies could be called the RISE trinity of 2018.

Mahlelebe says that in this landscape, agencies are holding themselves back with cumbersome processes and a failure to adapt quickly enough, whereas start-ups in the industry know exactly what it takes to thrive: collaboration and agility.

Today’s relevant brands have struck a balance between maintaining their own distinct identity and evolving constantly with the times, he says. Brands such as Apple, Nike and Tinder have effectively moved up a level when it comes to incorporating technologies such as blockchain, AI and voice and using them to analyse data, Mahlelebe says.

The challenge for advertising agencies is to ensure the brands they represent remain relevant while at the same time producing measurable business results. At M&C Saatchi Abel the agency is prepared to shift its own processes and ways of thinking if necessary. 

This commitment has been reflected over the past year in the awards the agency has won – six Creative Circle Ad of the Month awards, an Apex, 10 Loeries and an Epica award, with founding partner and CEO Mike Abel receiving the Business Achiever of the Year award at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards and the agency itself being ranked at the Loeries as one of the top five creative agencies in SA.

The big take-out

Technology and change move at the speed of culture, making it necessary for advertising agencies to ensure they remain relevant by reconsidering the way business is done, and to drive the change from within to ensure that they – and their clients – keep up.

The Nando’s #RightMyName campaign is an example of the culturally and socially relevant work the agency produces. This campaign highlighted the problem around spellcheck highlighting certain  names as “wrong” – an issue that Nando’s itself experiences. Local celebrities added their voices to the campaign on social media and the agency made history when the Sunday Times agreed to underline SA names in its editorial copy. All in all, 70,000 people put their names to the campaign, which aimed to make computer dictionaries more inclusive.

As a brand, Nando’s has always been part of SA’s social dialogue by highlighting the country’s challenges, and this campaign was no exception.  It’s a good example of a brand that allows itself to be shaped by the culture in which it exists and to adapt and remain relevant at the speed at which that culture may change.

According to Mahlelebe, as much as brands in today’s climate are driven by the speed of culture, it is the ad agencies themselves that should become the real disruptors. “We need to change our own internal process and drive them towards evolution. We should be asking questions such as how AI could be used in the creative process, whether we could be using voice to manage traffic or diaries, or if it would be possible to use blockchain to discover new talent. As technology changes the world and makes it ever more complex, it will be only the simplest messages and ideas that will make their way to the fore,” he says.