Advertising is an industry of celebration – we live by challenges

I believe advertising is an industry of celebration. We build our campaigns from insights and tailor them around topics that are true to a certain demographic – this is a form of celebration, a form of acknowledgement. We bring things to light, often by offering a different perspective – all with the aim of positioning the client or product as the vehicle for behavioural change.

We sell through telling stories! So, when advertising stops dictating the story and forcing a client or product into a conversation, it seamlessly integrates into the world it wants to speak to by truly understanding its market and the way its people live, think, and speak. This is a form of celebration – of a people, of a culture.

It’s a celebration because of the true understanding of who we are speaking to, and how we’re able to speak deeply as well as meaningfully to those people. Sometimes it’s about spreading joy and excitement while sometimes it’s about a responsibility we inherit to address people who are in dark places. Storytelling isn’t all about joy, it’s about learning and sharing. The ability to tell effective stories requires an understanding that allows us to borrow from that world after observing and understanding it, to the point where you can slip seamlessly into the conversation because you’re a part of it. The ability to do that requires a responsible approach and, when it works, it serves as a celebration.

The ability to understand those different worlds and speak to the people who inhabit them goes beyond research. Someone needs to be part of that world and help educate the agency team working on the project on how it works. Agencies need to be made up of diverse people from different walks of life, who want to tell stories in the best and honest way possible. When people come to work, they bring themselves to the office – their culture and experience, and the smartest agencies know to give people the space and safety to share their worlds. It helps us understand each other better as people, it gives us the chance to speak to our clients more effectively and efficiently, which translates into work that is culturally relevant.

Honestly, bringing together a base of diverse people can be intentional, but it can also happen by luck. Someone on the team may connect perfectly with a brief because they were brought up in the culture of the people we’re asked to converse with. That’s where the link to challenges comes in. It’s only when you work with people that have faced certain challenges that they are able to offer them as the very insights that make great, authentic work. We’re built by the challenges we’ve faced; we pour that into our work. On the other hand – and the part that’s much harder – is where the team works hard to go out and learn about the people they’re being asked to converse with. The right kind of creatives are like journalists who dig and dig until they understand the nuances of the topic they’re dealing with because they have an insatiable desire to understand it.

There are many examples where agencies have failed to engage correctly with the market – or been forced away from the path they know is right, because of a misalignment between the agency and the client – this is where things tend to go horribly wrong for the brand. In almost every instance, the common denominator is a lack of understanding of the needs, wants and context of the market; it does far more damage than good to the brands. An agency has the responsibility to know who they are speaking to – and how to speak to them – in a way that is meaningful.

Meaningful, in this context, speaks to a fair balance between the needs of the market and the client. To do so means respecting the culture and portraying a true understanding of it. It means finding a meaningful insight and building around it – if you agree or disagree, interrogate why, and the work will be better. When a creative can put themselves in the position where they’re able to influence human behaviour in a meaningful way, the spark of celebration shimmers. Awards are great, winning and retaining clients is important to the bottom line, but changing human behaviour is the ultimate goal of every creative.

So, we celebrate our challenges, the challenges of the consumer, through the work we release. Let’s substitute the word ‘brief’ for ‘challenge’ in the agency world. The client’s brief is the challenge, because without a brief there’s no challenge to tackle, problem to solve or work to do. We should embrace the challenge as it presents not just a job to do, but a chance to learn, grow and make a meaningful impact on the world.

By Khanya Sijaji, Executive Creative Director, 8909