BOOK REVIEW: Lessons from an Able & Willing Ad Executive

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

It’s a well-known fact that some politicians and editors are influential in society. Advertising executives however, are taken for granted.

If there’s one thing that stands out in the book by Mike Abel, advertising guru and founder of South African ad agency M&C Saatchi Abel, it’s the fact that ad executives have a massive influence.

In his latest book, Willing & Abel – Lessons From a Decade in Crisis, which chronicles his professional life and the birth of M&C Saatchi Abel, there are the scenes of communication campaigns that had a significant impact in South Africa.

One such campaign is the #DefeatDayZero campaign which came into being due to imminent Water Day Zero, the day on which Cape Town was anticipating dry taps due to water shortages. The book highlights the key role that was played by Mike Abel, in crafting the communication plan, in collaboration with the then leader of the Democratic Alliance. South Africans will recall that this partly led to a conflict at the City of Cape Town as to who should lead the water shortage campaign.

Cape Town defeated day zero and according to the book, this is partly due to a communication campaign that was designed at M&C Saatchi Abel.

Another campaign that illustrates the power of ad agencies and their executives is the #RightMyName campaign which was designed for Nandos during Human Rights Day. The execution of the campaign included a takeover of a Sunday newspaper with African names which were underlined in red in the same way that a computer underlines words that are deemed ’incorrect’.

The campaign identified how technology in South Africa was not keeping up with local communities and how the devices we use every day seem to be possessed by this colonial being that only allows English names to be input into the device dictionaries by American software companies. The campaign tried to address the issue of names that are not Anglo-Saxon being considered a mistake. The campaign focused on updating software companies’ dictionaries.

The book points out that as part of the RightMyName campaign a video was developed which featured a plain white word document and some real-time typing:

Hi Tshedimoso (underlined in red)

Hi Kobus (underlined in red)

Hi Nasaal (underlined in red)

Hi Tshilidzi (underlined in red)

The aim of this campaign was to create a downloadable database that could be added to device dictionaries.

The book also provides an interesting account of challenges experienced by the Ad agency and its founder during the past 10 years. It however falls short of delving deeper into the business challenges experienced by Mike and the agency in building the entity. One such account which hopefully will come through in his next book is Mike’s perspective about Creative Spark acquisition. An agency (which is now a digital agency within M&C Saatchi Able stable) which was founded by the late Matthew Buckland does not feature in the book. People in the industry only know Matthew’s side of the story which is not rosy about his experience based on his book (So You Want to Build A Startup). According to Mike, one lesson from that acquisition is that “do your homework before acquiring a company”.

This is a book that business leaders should read to understand what goes behind the scenes of adverts that we come across in our newspapers and other media outlets. It’s a book you should read to understand the mind of an Ad executive and the thinking that goes behind communication strategies in South Africa.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine.


How the SABC can rise again

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is undergoing natural death.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is undergoing natural death.

Its death is natural partly because it was built on old technology and shifting media consumption trends.

There’s an opportunity, however, for the state broadcaster to rise again and more importantly save jobs. Its survival will depend on transitioning towards new technology.


Before the SABC can fully enjoy the benefits of new technologies it will have to understand current technological opportunities. One opportunity that the SABC is missing out on is podcasting.

PwC forecasts $800 million (about R12.1 billion) will be spent this year on podcast ads in the US and by 2024 the total will reach $1.7bn.

PwC says podcast revenue continues to grow at a faster rate than for either radio or the music industry – it estimates an annual growth rate of 18.8 percent through 2024– which it says is a reflection of gains made by podcasters in reaching new listeners.

It is important that the value of podcasting is understood at SABC because there are indications it is not understood. If SABC understood the value of podcasting it would not host its podcast assets with IONO, a podcasting start-up company.

By hosting its content material with a private company, it is missing out on fully benefiting from the podcasting industry. Imagine if SABC radio were to take podcasting seriously and host their content on SABC podcasting platform. SABC has the potential to become the king of podcasting not just in South Africa and across the African continent.

In the same way that the old technology radio became a platform that promoted local musicians and storytellers, the SABC podcasting platform can become an audio environment through which local musicians and storytellers can host their content.

Online video is another avenue that is a missed opportunity as SABC uses another private company, YouTube, and a Google Alphabet-owned company for this purpose.

Recently, SABC has shown an interest in entering the video streaming industry via a partnership with Telkom, a good move.

Before SABC can enter the video streaming industry it needs to begin a process of hosting its own video content on a platform similar to YouTube.

Such a platform, however, would have to be built and owned by SABC. This move alone will enable SABC to earn billions in revenues, which are probably currently earned by Google based on SABC content.

The global online video platform in the media and entertainment market size was $218m in 2016 and is projected to reach $915m by 2025.

When SABC has built a solid online platform then it can move to video streaming. In doing so, it will have to avoid relying on an external that has little understanding of the media industry.

The current approach of collaborating with Telkom in developing a video streaming solution should be a short-term intervention. In the long run, SABC has to develop and own its digital platforms.

Netflix is what it is today because it built its own platform that is improved daily. SABC can’t compete with Showmax and Netflix by outsourcing its technology development function.

Practically, this means SABC has to hire at five least senior software developers to build its future in the digital world. Staff within SABC will have to be retrained for the digital world.

Lastly, SABC has to rely less on lawyers and accountants in its leadership. Media and technology leadership is what is necessary to lead a 21 century media entity.

Lawyers and accountants should play a supportive role and not drive strategy.

The future of audio and video is digital and SABC needs to become a truly digital corporation to survive and rise again.


The banking app that turns clients into company investors

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Banking apps are replacing banking buildings with ease of access to banking services.

Banking has become something that you do instead of requiring one to visit a place. Some are even going beyond traditional services to include financial services that are empowering clients. The Capitec banking app is amongst some that are enabling powerful financial services such as enabling clients to buy shares directly from the app.

Capitec, South Africa’s largest digital bank, has added the EasyEquities investing platform to its new banking app, allowing its clients to invest in shares on stock markets in South Africa and the USA.

Getting equities used to be a privilege reserved for the elites. The partnership between Capitec and EasyEquities is enabling ordinary people to now buy shares in listed companies.

“The partnership brings our clients greater accessibility to a variety of investment options, in an affordable and simplified way. We currently have over 4 million app clients, who will now not only be able to invest in top South African companies but also those based in the USA, a unique feature not offered by traditional brokers,” says Francois Viviers, Executive of Marketing and Communications at Capitec.

EasyEquities is an online platform that allows anyone to buy shares with as little as R5, $10, or whatever amount they have available to invest (and with no monthly brokerage fees).

Charles Savage, CEO of EasyEquities explained this unique ability, “EasyEquities is a qualified intermediary with the IRS, which simplifies opening a US investment account and lowers the cost of trading US shares. Our EasyFX feature allows Rands to be converted to Dollars within the platform and then used for the purchase of US shares.”

Clients also enjoy a 20% discount on brokerage fees when using the new widget and pay zero data costs when accessing the widget, as Capitec’s app is zero-rated for data.

“EasyEquities have made investing accessible to all, through affordable fees, removing the need for minimum investment balances and using digital technology to create a simplified client experience. Their approach is based upon the same principles we have used to challenge the norms of traditional banking, making our partnership with them a perfect fit,” Viviers says.

Savage, expressed excitement at the opportunities the partnership would create for South Africans, “This partnership is the realisation of a dream for all of us at EasyEquities. To be able to work alongside the Capitec team has been a privilege and we are incredibly excited about what the two teams can do together in making investing simpler for all South Africans.”

South Africa’s Gross Savings Rate* is low, measured at just 15.4 % in March 2020 according to CEIC, and it’s a national imperative to encourage South Africans to invest and save as much of their income as possible.

“By giving South Africans easy access to investing we can help shift investment behaviour in the right direction. EasyEquities is perfect for first-time investors as it offers a demo account, which can be used to familiarise yourself with the markets you are interested in, before investing actual money.” Viviers added.

Capitec clients are able to access EasyEquities from the latest version of their banking app by clicking the “explore” tab and then navigating to “widgets”. “Existing EasyEquities clients can easily sign-in and link their accounts. New clients can follow the registration process and then start investing,” Viviers said.

What Capitec and Easy Equities are enabling their clients to do is changing the face of the banking and financial services sector for the better. Accessibility to financial services has never been this easy. Now more than ever before South Africans can get a slice of listed companies with a touch of a button on their mobile phones.


Tech Skills Need A War Room

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Efforts to develop the necessary technology skills are not yielding the desired results

If the Google-IFC e-Commerce Africa report is anything to go by, then South Africa and the African continent is in trouble.

According to the report, the entire continent has 700 000 developers. South Africa has only 120 000 developers. Those numbers may sound big however they are nothing in comparison with countries in similar economic conditions. Latin America had 2,162,461 developers in 2019, with Brazil (573,400), Mexico (315,300), and Argentina (304,600) leading the region in total numbers. If this is not enough to illustrate the point consider the following fact: the state of California in the US alone has almost 700 000 (628,414) software developers.

There’s no shortage of programmes designed to develop technology skills and yet SA and the continent still lags behind in terms of adequate tech skills. There’s something very wrong with the skills development initiatives that are currently in place.

South Africa established what was then known as ISETT-SETA to oversee skills development initiatives in the tech space. This entity was later changed and integrated with the media skills entity and got called, MICT. The Media, Information, and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA) is a skills development institution established in terms of the Skills Development Act of 1998, to generate, facilitate and accelerate the processes of quality skills development at all levels in the MICT sector in South Africa. The MICT sector is made up of five subsectors that are interconnected but also quite distinct and identifiable in their own right. These are advertising, film and electronic media, electronics, information technology, and telecommunications. Part of the problem and failure of this entity lies in the fact that technology skills development has now been lumped with advertising and film production. Having said that, the MICT has tried to develop tech skills through its programmes however those skills are not the right quality.

Another intervention in the skills development space has been mainly from the private sector. There’s no shortage of colleges that are offering technology skills programmes. The reality however is that even private colleges have produced very little in terms of quality technology skills. The tendency of most private colleges has focused on offering skills on how to “use” tools instead of focusing on the creation of technology.

The combination of what the public and private sector have done so far is not adequately addressing the real tech skills challenge.

If South Africa and the continent is to benefit from the almost $200 billion potential of the internet economy something very ambitious needs to be established to address the tech skills challenge.

South Africa needs high schools, colleges, and universities that are dedicated to teach highly in-demand technology skills. Such institutions will need to work and be partially funded by the technology industry to align skills with industry needs.

These institutions will have to incorporate work readiness skills to avoid the current situation of producing graduates who are not ready to hit the ground running.

Lastly, students in the tech space need skin in the game in the form of starting their own tech companies and this needs to form part of the curriculum of tech dedicated institutions.

Of course, not everyone will start a tech company however those that have the appetite need all the support they need to start their own companies. This partly means that the funding of tech startups needs to start from training and education institutions that are focused on tech. Instead of sinking students in education debt, they need business funding to support their technology research to turn into tech enterprises.

The Google-IFC e-Conomy report should serve as a warning bell to the tech industry and more importantly inspire action and creation of a tech skills war room.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko