A South African flag on the Donkin Reserve. Picture: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES
A South African flag on the Donkin Reserve. Picture: THE HERALD/MIKE HOLMES

A deeper look into how media owners, agencies and brands energise our biggest asset – South Africa was discussed during a recent Future of Media digitised event, in collaboration with Vodacom, EziAds, Everlytic, Proudly SA, The Media Shop and WAN-IFRA and hosted by Siya Sangweni, brand manager of CliffCentral.com.

Sangweni started the conversation with some proudly South African accomplishments. Reminding us about Zozibini Tunzi being crowned as Miss Universe, the Ndlovu Youth Choir making it into the final rounds of America’s Got Talent and an act of kindness that made news headlines about a petrol attendant who paid for a woman’s fuel who forgot her credit card and risked being stranded in a dangerous part of town.

Brent Lindeque, editor in chief of Good Things Guy, spoke about the effect of media in our country and that what is said or portrayed in the media impacts our state of mind whether one is conscious or unconscious of the fact that one is taking in the news. He went on to say that the reason he created the Good Things Guy Facebook page is because he found no balance in the news. “If we are only absorbing bad or negative stories, your opinion and perspective of South Africa will naturally become negative and scary. Good news is actually everywhere you look, it just needs to be reported and portrayed. Balance is really important because the media plays a big part in how we develop perspectives.”

Jaun Pienaar, co-founder of ApexMedia was asked which countries have gotten it right when it comes to reporting factual yet uplifting content. He answered with a counter question: “what is considered right? Let’s take the general execution in the countries that are getting it right. In those countries they have access to technology and have a good digital equality. When you have this, content works as a marketing and educational tool. These countries are also citizen centric, and embrace disruption better.” He went on to say that South Africa has been slower at adopting some of the above mentioned things. “How do we instill prosperity and pride in our people? We seem paralysed by this encroaching future. To market the country better we must embrace technology while keeping the focus citizen central.”

Happy MaKhumalo Ngidi, chief executive: marketing and communications of Proudly SA spoke from a brand perspective saying that “the responsibility of brands in South Africa is to contribute positively to the economy but to also add a ‘feel good’ type of belonging as a strategy and to remember that there is no brand that can exist without human need.”

She mentioned that as Proudly SA, they have noticed that during Covid-19 there have been arguments from all industries saying that things are worse in one industry more so than the other. She added that everyone is affected the same way and that brands have the responsibility to look after their people, firstly from a job creation stand point but also from a people centric perspective. “Brands need to pause and remember that its human beings and value chains that are behind households and people that are being affected.”

“If you look at any strong South African brand, they embrace who they are. The currency for this is authenticity. Sho Madjozi and Siya Kolisi are just two examples of South African names that have embraced who they are and what they have put out to the world, displaying strengths and vulnerabilities. Despite the challenges we have as a country, South Africans need to take ownership of what they stand for and who they are in an unapologetic way,” said Nwabisa Makunga, editor of the Sowetan.

Lindeque made a point that when we have less we give less, but companies who help each other and work together will grow and succeed together.

Pienaar added by saying that “we need to acknowledge that innovation and resourcefulness is a result of tough times. We need to give independent thinkers a chance to challenge the status quo. In South Africa we need appropriate solutions instead of appropriating solutions.” He feels that South African brands struggle to take a stand on anything. Pienaar continued by saying that “brand empathy needs to be authentic. Take a micro economic view that we can celebrate then tell that story authentically on social media. Let’s celebrate our small wins to build our nation.”

MaKhumalo Ngidi pointed out that the buy local phenomenon is not unique to South Africa, adding that we have to assume responsibility for our own economy. “In South Africa we have a perception and mind set issue, we need to remind South Africans to buy local and not to be apologetic about what we have to offer. She used Charlize Theron and Dr. John Kani as examples of localisation ambassadorship. “They are proud of whom they are and know that what they represent is unique and that of quality.” She ended off by saying that “if you choose to buy a product that is not made in South Africa, you are creating a job in another country.”

When asked about promoting positive South African advertising, Makunga said that “what I love about social media is that it forces a very direct and immediate response from audiences. We get to know, in real time what audiences think of our content and it forces us to respond. If you are claiming to be a mirror of society, then mirror society.” She also said that as an editor she needs to be deliberate in finding stories of ordinary South Africans doing extraordinary things and by doing so, will advertise South Africa positively.

Sangweni pointed out that fake news is a reality in this day and age, mostly causing more harm than good. He asked Lindeque how he would advise brands to inspire while still reporting accurately.

the big take-out:

Despite the challenges we have as a country, South Africans need to take ownership of what they stand for and who they are in an unapologetic way.

Lindeque answered by saying, “after 100 days of lockdown, quarantine fatigue is real, with South Africans being sensitive. If you would not print it in a newspaper, DON’T put it online. Fact checking is important, even on social media because believe it or not, you are a news breaker. As South Africans we need to be responsible for the content we post online. Being positive and inspiring is vital in this day and age.” He added that social media used to be a happy ‘connective’ space but somewhere along the line we have confused the internet for something that it’s not. “The internet has become this place where people can be nasty to people without consequences.” He concluded with a simple yet effective point, “be kinder, especially on social media, you have an impact on the people that follow you.”

With all the panelists agreeing with this point, MaKhumalo Ngidi also reminded brands that “the digital space has become the way to repurpose their businesses.”

Sangweni summed it up by saying, “if there’s one thing that unites the media industry and country, its celebrations and tenacity for success. Remember we are all in this together so let’s push though and make it work.”

The next digitised event, ‘International Perspective: Brand Evolution during Social Revolution’, will be taking place on 21 July at 18h00. For more information, or to register, click here

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