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Navigating South Africa’s Communication Landscape


Roanna Williams, chief creative officer at Net#work BBDO, tells LBB’s Natasha Patel about wading through technological advances and what impact this has had on South African creativity

Navigating South Africa’s Communication Landscape

The last time we spoke to Net#work BBDO in South Africa was when the agency’s CCO Roanna Williams told LBB’s Laura Swinton about the agency melting down 27 years’ worth of advertising medals to create pendants for employees past and present. Since then, a lot has happened both within the agency and South Africa as a whole that has given creativity a new meaning. 

As the agency’s thoughts look to a post-Covid world, Roanna explains what is driving the country’s communications at the moment: “What we’re looking at a lot is work that makes a difference to people's lives. I think what's great is when brands actually show that they're making a difference and helping the communities in some form or another. Those are the sort of  brands that will keep being loved in the industry.”

In a country such as South Africa, with a population of almost 60 million, getting to know consumers can be challenging. And with a rise in technology and new virtual worlds growing in developed markets, Roanna details why she believes the country is behind on these developments. “Not everyone has access to the technology as it's expensive, but that said every single South African, no matter where they sit on the income bracket, all have a mobile device.” 

These mobile devices are powered by data, which is costly to consumers, but gives marketers innovative ways to come up with campaigns to ensure that the short amount of time they’re given to showcase a spot is worthwhile.

“It can be a good challenge, depending on how you approach it. You’ve got to approach it with an open mind and obviously not see it as something that's negative. We have two or three seconds to grab people's attention and it just makes us look at how we tell a story just in a slightly different way.”

This new short-form content is just one of many changes Roanna has seen in her career since she began in advertising in 2012. Since her first role at Joe Public, the CCO has flaunted her talents across agencies within South Africa before joining the team at Net#Work BBDO in 2020. For Roanna, the biggest change to grapple with has been the digitisation of advertising.  

“When I started, it was a completely different sort of media field that we played with and now it's changed quite radically in terms of how brands are interacting and I think that's across the world. It's technology that's really, really changed our industry and the South African landscape of how to communicate with the consumer.

“Our youth market is massive and I think the youth are looking more and more for different types of interactions with brands and I think that technology will bring that. These different technologies also become more open to a variety of people, I think South Africa will definitely be on that bandwagon.”

The youth may be driving communication at the moment, but one cannot look at South Africa's heritage and ignore it. The country is rich in history and for brands who are brave enough to touch upon this, sometimes the pay off can be great. Roanna urges those who want to touch upon this to do so with integrity and care because sometimes telling a personal story can be trickier than a brand’s one. 

While Covid-19 may be far from over, the citizens of South Africa are keen to step away from campaigns that remind them of gloomier times and instead brands look at touching upon the resilience and humour of residents, because as Roanna says: “It’s a universal thing to want a bit of joy.”

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NET#WORK BBDO, Tue, 25 Jan 2022 15:36:00 GMT