Business COMMENTARY: Building Africa’s creative economy

South Africa and Africa—a ludicrous separation and one that makes everyone in Africa bristle. But sometimes it’s an unintentional gaffe and, when it is, we must forgive our Southern brethren.
Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

South Africa and Africa—a ludicrous separation and one that makes everyone in Africa bristle. But sometimes it’s an unintentional gaffe and, when it is, we must forgive our Southern brethren.

As in the case of South Africa’s most recognised awards for commercial creativity: The Loeries. 34 years after their founding, the Loeries this year is expanding its call for entries to ‘Rest of Africa and Middle East’. And before you bristle anew, the reasons are historic and the new category should be seen as transitional. Historic because the Loeries has received enquiries from these two huge geographies before, and now wants to embrace them. Transitional because they hope the competition will develop into more sensible regional contests – Loeries West Africa for example.

Anyway, for the moment, anyone in commercial creativity in Africa and the Middle East is welcome to enter their best examples of innovation. By clicking in

Architects, event promoters, ad agencies, PR companies, design studios, digital hotshops, point of sale prima donnas. It’s open to all, and not limited to members of professional associations.

So, cast aside the fact that your work will be queued up with Saudi Arabian showreels and Tunisian typography in a weird creative version of London Heathrow’s Terminal 3. If you aren’t in the competition you can’t win, so get stuck in.

To be more specific the Loeries is looking for us to submit work we have created in Africa and flighted between June 2011 and May 2012. Flighted can be defined as ‘ really happened’ – in other words, buildings that were built, TV ads that were aired, and events that were staged.

Here in East Africa this strikes a chord, because widespread ‘scamming’ has paralysed our local awards culture. Scamming occurs when a creative person has an idea, creates it, and pretends it has really been executed as a genuine piece of commercial communication. Sometimes with the collusion of his client; sometimes without their knowledge. And at other times, when the client is the proprietor of a bicycle repair shop who could never afford to promote himself on TV, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. It is in fact rumoured that the creative reputation of some very large ad agencies in the region was built upon this practice. I just couldn’t imagine it.

Anyway leaving the issue of scruples in our wake, let’s return to the purpose of awards competitions like the Loeries. They are there to promote the CREATIVE ECONOMY. By which I mean the trade in ideas that drive consumer behavior and business development forward. It’s an area that we in Africa have not fully mastered.

We have mastered other professions. We have mastered finance. We have mastered diplomacy and academia. We have mastered telecoms and new technology. But ideas that change business? There we are not so hot.

I think there’s still a strong feeling that creativity isn’t a serious business. That it is ‘beneath’ business leaders. That engagement in creative discussions exposes you in ways that more formal engagements don’t. So creativity is generally left to junior people. You would be amazed how many Managing Directors in West Africa have influence in their Company’s Ad Agency relationships.

Now creativity and young people should be a good fit. But not when the young people are compressed under layers of disapproving old farts. Did he just write farts? I believe he did.

We’ll talk more about the value of Creative Economy next week. Meanwhile, the Loeries will accept award entries from marketing clients themselves, independent of their communications agencies. Now, there is some skepticism in the ad industry about marketers’ ability to identify a good idea when they see one. But I for one would like to see those detractors confounded.

The Loeries 2012. Enter now. See you in Cape Town in September.

The author is Chairman Young & Rubicam Group Africa
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