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Here’s a confession. I love a good bumper sticker. In fact, I collect them. My all-time favourite is for a classical music radio station in the US that said: “Bach off — you’re too close”.

Then there is this one that informed the theme for this year’s edition of AdFocus — “Change the Game, Don’t Let it Change You”.

Right, we thought at planning central, that kind of sums up what brand communication agencies were forced to do in 2021. And, as an air mechanic might have said to a World War 1 Sopwith Camel fighter ace, “chocks away”.

And now, after a year of stress and skirmish in the commercial trenches, we land this year’s book that seeks to explain just how agencies were forced to change their game.

For many who didn’t, they would have — to use more World War 1 parlance — been a basket case. Others who pivoted, used new methodologies, introduced new services, or simply did more for less, end the year flying, still in business, and probably better for the experience as they’ve become leaner, wiser, and much more adept.

Our bespoke research gives a good indication of how agency leaders retooled and reinvented themselves, and our lead story is specifically tailored to offer agencies a first-hand account of survival and to offer solutions that have really worked.

While 2021 has been a year of survival, there is no doubt that the marketing and advertising sector is seeing a few green shoots. That is amply borne out by global and regional projections. Of concern is that SA lags the rest of the world when it comes to industry growth and there’s no doubt that 2022 will be as tough and challenging.

To our category winners, we say well done, and particularly to the Joe Public Group — our agency of the year. This is a business that, in our opinion, has always been resilient and adaptable and understands the nexus between business, success and creative excellence.

To that end, we publish an opinion piece from its chief creative officer Pepe Marais, who takes strong issue with our lower weighting for creativity when it comes to agency judging and adjudication.

He makes a clear argument that one axiomatically follows the other — food for thought for next year’s competition.

Given that 2021 was a year of recalibrated priority for many agencies, some chose not to enter. We hope and trust they will return next year. We had just a single entry in the small agency category and judges chose not to declare a winner, but to give a special mention to Avatar Durban. We’re confident there will be more entries into this category next year.

Another special mention to our Lifetime Achiever Thebe Ikalafeng. Not only is he a respected figure on the local brand stage, but he has garnered a continental reputation as a leading brand and marketing thinker who, additionally, takes the role of mentorship seriously. We’re thrilled to welcome Ikalafeng to the club.

Another new club member is this year’s AdFocus project director Dale Hefer, who not only brought her agency experience to the programme but clear, new thinking to the entire process. Her first innings was achieved under pandemic conditions and we’re confident of even more innovation next year.

Another big thank you to our outgoing jury chair Tumi Rabanye, who has corralled and marshalled her team with dedication and aplomb. Choosing winners in a highly competitive industry is not easy. Rabanye brought it over the line fairly and equitably along with our auditing team from Deloitte to whom we also owe appreciation for the scrutiny of the process.

On several occasions in the past few weeks engaging with senior agency players, the answer to the question, what next in 2022, is met with both trepidation and, interestingly, a degree of cautious optimism. Long may it last as marketing and advertising remain at the sharp point of any economy.

So, if 2021 was about changing the game, 2022 will be about taking the rules of that new game and ensuring all players emerge victorious.

Jeremy Maggs


Click below to page through the full edition of AdFocus 2021 (zoom in or switch to full screen for ease of reading):


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