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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  #WAATBP – A South African Perspective

#WAATBP – A South African Perspective

Posted on November 2, 2011 and read 1,766 times

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kamo #WAATBP   A South African PerspectiveKamogelo Sesing
Creative Group Head

The funny thing about sharing my perspective on the ongoing conversation around “Where are all the black people in advertising?” is that I’ve had this debate with so many of my homies in the industry, and there’s always that comedian smart ass in the group who’ll answer, “The black people in advertising? You’re crazy if you think you’re gonna give a brother an Apple Mac and expect to see his ass again!”

It seems like lately in South Africa it’s become the norm to blame Apartheid (A system of racial segregation enforced by the previous government of South Africa under which the rights of the majority ‘non-white’ inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy was maintained.) for anything that happens when it doesn’t favour us blacks. So it would be obvious and simple for me to finger Apartheid as the culprit for the reason there are so few of my brethren in this industry. So I won’t.

But what I will talk about is something that is a by-product of Apartheid. And that by-product is ‘a lack of access to information.’

Apartheid was as much about limiting where you could go and what you could do, as it was about limiting what you knew. So back in those unsavory times, industries like advertising were inaccessible to black folk, not only because we weren’t allowed through the door but also because little to none of us knew about the industry. We had a lack of information about its existence as a career choice.

Now since we all know that things don’t change overnight, that legacy still haunts South Africa today. But now does it through the education system. Fact is…how do I put this? Um…lets just say the Life Orientation lessons in township schools are a far cry from those in the private schools. In the hood, no one tells you what you can do with an artistic ability.

Probably because the teachers themselves have never heard of Copywriting, Art Direction or Design. But in this instance, who do we blame? The ad agencies and ad colleges for not going out into the high schools in disadvantaged areas and making the teachers and students aware of such an industry? Or do we blame the teachers themselves for not proactively doing enough to find out about a wider range of careers available to their students? I don’t know. What I do know is that most of my friends in this industry found out about advertising by themselves, as did I.

So it seems more and more obvious that this lack of access to information, especially at school level, is our biggest hurdle.

Another issue is that most black parents are just as clueless about the advertising industry. Because they grew up in a time where the most you were allowed to be was a nurse, policeman or teacher, it’s hard for them to understand how someone could make a living from writing or as my dad would say, “drawing pretty pictures.” So some black kids end up not going into advertising because their parents aren’t willing to pay the ridiculously high ad school fees for their kids to study something no one has ever even heard of.

While we’re on the subject of fees, if the ad schools made it more affordable and maybe set-up satellite campuses close to the hood, it could help harness a bigger talent pool of black advertising professionals.

I remember telling my parents that I wanted to be a Copywriter. The best way I can describe the expression on their faces is… well, think about how you must have looked the first time someone told you what The Rusty Trombone was. Exactly! Thankfully, I had open-minded parents, because after I clearly explain that it had very little to do with the small ‘C’ you find next to the ‘TM’ on Intellectual Property, we were cool. Some kids aren’t as lucky.

Our industry now faces a new problem. Think about this; if you were a black kid coming from a previously disadvantaged background, would it make much sense to get into an industry that won’t afford you a better life than the one you grew up with and your parents lived? Nope! So we find ourselves losing these guys to more high-paying sectors like finance, law and engineering. And who can really blame them?

Truth is, as things stand, most of the blacks kids who get into advertising come from more privileged backgrounds. Now unfortunately, because of our past, the more privileged black kids are not in abundance, so you end up with a handful of black advertising professionals.

With that said, our industry is slowly changing to accommodate those kids who are from previously disadvantaged backgrounds by setting up programs to guide and encourage those kids from those areas to explore their artistic abilities. TBWA’s “Room 13″ and DraftFCB’s Imagination Lab are two such initiatives. I would mention government’s Marketing and Communications Transformation Charter but since it’s done little in the way of helping matters over the past 10 years, forget ‘em.

I have no doubt though that as more and more black kids are getting into better and better high schools, more and more kids will get through to the ad colleges and eventually join the industry.

Hopefully this will help in yielding the next crop of young black advertising talent.

Fact is, things aren’t going to change for a while. There are as many factors outside of advertising as there are in advertising that need to be looked at before we can see considerable change taking place in our industry.

Until then, I guess it’s up to those of us currently in this bitch to help drive the very change we would like to see.




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