Creativity and culture: the issues holding back Africa and Asia in breaking out of regional and winning global

Creativity and culture: the issues holding back Africa and Asia in breaking out of regional and winning global

Last year it was widely noted that Asia didn’t fare well at Cannes but other continents, such as Africa, win in a similarly sporadic manner.

It’s no surprise that mature markets win often, but the agencies of South America have established a global name for themselves and it leaves many questions as to why other emerging geographies don’t get the same results.

Fran Luckin, chief creative officer of Grey Africa, spoke to The Drum ahead of her first foray into being a Jury President at this year’s Cannes Lions. She explained that South America’s creative achievements on the global stage were aspirational.

“It’s so interesting to compare Africa to South America. South America, as a continent, does incredibly well at awards shows. There’s a wide spread of countries across that continent that are serious contenders at global awards year after year. I’d love Africa to get to that place. Right now we have one or two countries that do well from time to time; Egypt and South Africa, and Tunisia’s won a couple of Lions in the past few years. But on the whole, we don’t represent as a continent the way South America does,” she observed.

More diversity on jury panels

Luckin noted that some of the changes needed in Africa to create more award winning work wasn’t unique to the continent, and indeed selected similar reasons to those cited by creatives in Asia Pacific last year.

According to her, one key issue is that there isn’t as much representation from certain continents on jury panels, coupled with the way ‘localisation’ is approached by global brands.

“What happens quite a lot is that work that’s been originated in, say, Dubai or Europe gets imported into Africa and ‘localised’. Typically what that means is that you just have to reshoot the TV ad, replacing the white actors with black actors, and then that ad gets used for the whole continent. And typically what happens is that there isn’t budget to shoot different versions for West and East Africa (whose people are actually very different culturally and physically) so you either have to find someone who looks “pan African” (which isn’t actually a thing) or you cast Kenyans and Nigerians for the same ad and that has to suffice - somehow the audience just has to suspend disbelief and accept that there’s a world where this bunch of people from opposite sides of the continent are just hanging out and living together,” she explained.

Paternalism from corporate brands

Another issue that Luckin describes is that stereotypes around customers in different markets are exasperated, removing the opportunity to be creative.

“I think there is quite a lot of paternalism in big corporate brands’ attitudes towards their consumers on the African continent. I can’t tell you how often I hear “the people on this continent are very literal. We need to speak very literally to them.” My copywriter friend in Uganda gets told this all the time. This smart, cool, sardonic African guy gets told he must make his stories simpler because people in Africa are ‘literal’.”

Some awards shows within regions are more rooted in celebrating the localised nuances. In Asia Pacific, the upcoming Adfest awards in Thailand has a ‘Lotus Roots’ prize which awards a special gong one of the campaigns that showed special attention to culture or religion. It’s essentially a grand prix for being very specifically local. Luckin says the same happens in Africa but more industry collaboration is needed to push the market into the global spotlight.

Greater leadership collaboration

“I think shows like the African Cristal awards and the Maxim festival will help a lot by getting people together to think and talk about how to move creativity forward on the continent. Creative people need to believe and see that there’s a market for their passion and ingenuity. We need to collectively stand together as advertising practitioners and creative people and show the world that we are as ingenious, smart, funny and lateral (not literal) as the best of them. I’m really encouraged by the fact that the Berlin School of Creative Leadership is running a course at the African Cristal Festival in May; a course on ‘Leading for Creative Value’. Because, of course, strong leadership is required to drive transformation -creative leaders who are confident enough to stand up and fight for a more original African voice in the work,” she argued.

Another problem is that in some emerging markets, creative thinking isn’t finding its way into the traditional creative industries. The new rockstars are the startups and technology is becoming the go to industry for young, curious minds.

Talent diverts to tech

In Africa, she said, “advertising creativity appears not to have changed much. It feels very predictable and dated, and that’s mostly, I think, because of the things I described earlier. There is an abundance of brilliant creativity on the continent. It may not be able to express itself in advertising, but it’s finding other avenues, particularly in the entrepreneurial and tech spaces. There are young African inventors finding ingenious solutions to the many physical and infrastructure challenges we face on the continent. If only that ingenuity and flair was able to find an expression in advertising communication.”

Luckin said these nuances weren’t all bad, however, and herself drew a comparison to Asia Pacific, noting that markets like Japan win big because the exotic nature of the differences seem exciting. She says human insights can be universal but the execution around work can afford to be more local.

“I think it can work for you sometimes. Japan, for example, tends to do very well in awards shows because they have an incredibly strong design aesthetic culturally, and also because the ‘foreignness’ of the work (to Western eyes) makes it look very fresh and original. I think African work should be more culturally nuanced. A lot of it is based on Western tropes of ‘aspiration’ and ‘success’. If you look at India, there they’ve managed to find their own unique voice and they produce incredibly engaging, appealing work. It has a unique language and style but the human insights it references are universal and everyone can relate to them,” she said.

Nuance needs to be accessible and simple

An example from Africa where this perfect crossover of local nuance and global human insight crossed over, according to Luckin, was Vodafone’s ‘Fakka’ campaign. It made micro-recharge cards for small amounts of money. “I don’t need to live in Egypt to understand the problem that café owners were giving people change in sweets because they kept running out of small change, and this annoyed a lot of people. It was explained in the case study, and I got it. It’s a great idea. So yes, there’s cultural nuance there, but it’s not inaccessible,” she explained.

Balancing globalisation with local nuances is a balance many businesses are struggling with and it’s part of the reason behind The Drum’s decision to combine its print magazine into one monthly global edition. The first edition focuses on ‘globalization’, tackling many of the issues Luckin and her peers are fighting for on the global stage.

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Charlotte McEleny

Charlotte McEleny is The Drum's Asia Editor, charged with finding all the interesting industry news and insights from the Asia Pacific region. During her year in Asia, she's covered topics as wide ranging as industry overwork to artificial intelligence, and interviewed top CMOs such as Alibaba's Chris Tung, and world famous creatives such as Rankin.

Based in Singapore, she travels the region regularly, attending and presenting at many top events, such as Spikes, Ad Week Asia and Innovfest.

Prior to her role as Asia Editor, she spent 10 years working across the London marketing trade magazines, even picking up an award for Best Digital Team at the PPA Digital Awards during her spell as digital editor at Marketing.

All by Charlotte