The Need for Diversity in Advertising

Race has become, over the last few years, a heated topic, not just here at home in South Africa, but globally. America has in the last few years, looks to be retreating back into the civil rights battle of the 1960’s. Europe has been swept with extremist racial viewpoints whilst managing the migrant crisis. Australia too, driving some rather unsavoury migrant policies and opinions. It feels as though we were living happily together for a while and it has bubbled up again because there simply is not enough change or representation.

Within the frame of the advertising world, the only world I really know well enough to comment on, there definitely is not enough change within our staff and in turn, the advertising we put out to the world.

Particularly in South Africa, our communication and agency staff is certainly not reflective enough of a true South African demographic reality. A diverse staff provides diversity of thought and consumer insight that desktop research or “cultural immersions” could never provide. The white, heterosexual, mid- to high-income view is most likely not the most popular or widely-accepted view. Especially not here on the tip of Africa.

It will take time for us to develop great black ad talent, as many of the marketing and advertising qualifications are from private, inaccessible institutions. We aren’t exactly recruiting talent from high school like the accounting firms, or developing creative programs in schools to put the creative industries top of mind. The industry is simply not thought of or in their sphere of awareness.

“Diversity of thought is powerful. We need to become the industry that embraces a vast array of talent from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, while also making a real effort to recruit people of different cultural experiences, ages, genders, religions, sexual orientations and lifestyles. This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades” – AdAge

But it’s not just about race, it’s also about representing women, lower income groups, the LGBTQ community, and language equally. We disconnect ourselves from our audiences when we put across inauthentic views and assumptions. People resonate with “people like me”. Race, gender and income brackets are immediate visual isolators.

With younger consumers (I’m purposefully avoiding using clichéd marketing terms here), they want to support brands that are ‘good”, brands that represent diverse people and relationships. They are more likely to put their money where their heart is and they can see right through inauthentic advertising.

Advertising is a powerful medium. If we have the power to change how someone feels about a beer brand or a bank, we aren’t optimising our communication for good well enough. We have the opportunity to have a positive, widespread impact on people on more important issues. We should, as agencies, push back against clients and educate them on real people and real problems their products can solve. We should put across messages that are positive and authentic, and we can only do that by making people real, as part of our staff and as part of our audiences.

Two great articles about diversity in advertising (from a rather Americanized viewpoint):

Adweek: Survey on growing demand for diverse representations of families in ads

Adage: The advertising industry needs diverse leadership 

Image source: unsplash, Andrew Ridley


Podcasts I Love

Over the last two years I have really fallen in love with listening to podcasts. Having always been an avid radio listener, particularly during my work commute, I found myself becoming increasingly bored with the content and the music. I was first shown the light with The Bugle Podcast which was John Oliver’s original platform before he exploded with Last Week Tonight. Once I got into the habit of listening to The Bugle en-route to work I then started discovering a whole new world of entertainment and information.

I am now tweeted, SMS’d or emailed at least once a week for a podcast recommendation so here it is, the list of my favourite podcasts…

  1. The Tim Ferriss Show

The second podcast I subscribed to after The Bugle, The Tim Ferriss Show is a longer form podcast (90 – 120 minutes per episode) where Tim chats to some of the most interesting and successful people around. My favourite episodes include Seth Godin, Rainn Wilson, Alain de Botton, and Scott Adams, but it’s really hard to pick because there are so many others that I have loved and learned from.

The length of the podcast can sometimes be a bit much but are great for long car trips and you really do glean so much from one episode. Guests are also rather heavily in the white male demographic but doesn’t necessarily impact on the quality of the content, all the guests do bring so many different insights and experiences.

2. No Such Thing as a Fish

This is possibly the most random podcast I currently subscribe to but I am a total sucker for useless information and No Such Thing as a Fish is the best feeder for that need. Created and hosted by the “QI Elves”, the people behind all the great content on the BBC show, QI.

Each episode is only about 30 minutes long, and is just filled with intelligent, dry British humour and fun useless information. You can really just pick it up from anywhere in the series but their live recorded shows are particularly good.

3. #GirlBoss Radio

As the title suggests, #GirlBossRadio is one for the girls and those on the higher end of the feminist spectrum. It’s not an “in your face feminist” platform but it certainly gives a boost to your girl power after listening to some inspirational and successful women. Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and author of the New York Times bestselling book, Girl Boss, is seriously funny and candid about life at the top of your game.

Episodes on average are 50 minutes long and delve into some seriously interesting female characters. Some of my favourite episodes are with Charlize Theron, Rachel Weiss and Jenn Hyman. If you’re a girl person who needs a bit of inspiration and motivation in your professional life, I seriously recommend a listen en-route to work and read the GirlBoss book!

4. Death, Sex & Money

Every time I listen to Death, Sex & Money I hear someone’s story that blows my mind. Each episode of the podcast touches on a hard-to-talk-about topic through listeners telling their stories. It is generally just about the shared human experience of life and just how grateful you should feel about your experiences. The host, Anna Sale, is so good at making her contributors open up and in telling their stories, you get sucked into each episode and time flies.

No episode is really longer than 30 minutes, and some of my favourites include; The Sex Worker Next Door, Why You’re Not Having Sex, Autism Isn’t What I Signed Up For, and Dead People Don’t Have Any Secrets. I can also recommend listening to a playlist they created called Anthems of Change, great music to listen to when you’re going through big life changes, all recommended by listeners (but only if you have spotify).

5. The Brave Ideas Podcast 

Now, this suggestion comes with a little bias, as it is the official podcast of the agency I work at, Aqua. But, I did listen to the podcast for a while before I even applied to work at Aqua and still thoroughly enjoyed the content. Brave Ideas covers the marketing and digital industries in South Africa and abroad, and if you too are in those industries, you’ll love the conversations. Hosted by my colleague in Strategy, Dan Herman and the lovely Esther McGeer, they interview people from within our agency group to bring great ideas and talent to the fore.

You can even watch/listen to me contribute to our live podcast last year where I speak about Millennials in the work place, although I am probably moving away from those beliefs now, I think it’s still interesting. I can also highly recommend the episode with Richard Dunn, the Head of Strategy at Wunderman EMEA.


I subscribe to about another 6 or so podcasts but the ones I’ve included here are my true favourites and most interesting. I listen to my podcasts through the Podcast app on my iPhone, which means all of the podcasts are available online or on iTunes.

Happy listening! If you are listening to something you love, please share.

Image Source: Unsplash, Christian Baron


The Economic Value of Ideas

A question that has long plagued me has been one around attaching real economic value to creativity. By studying both advertising and economics, my academic background is one of contradiction but has also given me a unique approach to business and creativity. For me, creativity holds great value, value that should translate into real bottom-line impact in a business. I have attempted, and not quite yet gotten there, on an economic model that will simply and concisely show that creativity has real monetary value. I have involved some real economic minds on this one but find their grasp on creativity lacking, expectedly.

A thought process that has come out of this argument has been on a personal level too. I am someone who makes money for businesses through my ideas, my time is then charged for as a resource for the business I work for but does time always reflect true value and meaning? In working with large, traditional advertising agencies I have picked up some serious inefficiencies in the way in which they work, charge for work and promote staff. I have too often found ill-experienced employees over-charging clients for poor creative and strategic work and leaving meetings with an arrogance of “the client has no idea what they are talking about” after receiving criticism for the work. They would tell me that they worked all hours of the night and weekends to produce the work but they really have little to show for it which tells me, billable hours are no reflection on quality of work or value.

If we had to treat ideas as if they were currency, which it absolutely is for idea workers, that would mean that, like a currency, you should be investing your ideas wisely to ensure the best return on idea investment. This translates into effectively putting brain work into the projects that matter, effort that will see the biggest return. Considering also, the institution in which you invest your ideas, the company or brand you invest your ideas into by providing you with enough growth on your returns. Is your creativity getting better over time? Are you being challenged with interesting work? Are you encouraged with a growth-driven environment?

I oftentimes struggle with the marketing and advertising industry as the work does not drive as much impact as I would like and agencies are not working smartly or effectively with their staff’s idea investments. The cause really sits within education institutions that continue to teach outdated curricula where value either sits too heavily within the artistic but not economic (with the likes of Vega), or too heavily within traditional marketing practices that are no longer relevant (like your traditional BComm courses). Experienced staff at agencies should be focusing much more on the development of junior staff and providing them with holistic work experience rather than executing grunt work.

As I continue to work on my economic model, I would love industry input as to how we can really start making more effective agencies and communicate the value of our ideas better to clients.

The Settling : An Outlook on 2015

2014 was for me, a year of restlessness, I was constantly plagued by a sense of unrest and dissatisfaction with the state of my life but, as I kick start 2015, I have noticed some real lessening of those feelings for a few reasons.

Firstly, I took a giant leap of faith and love with my best friend and we begun dating in October. Yes, it is the same friend that I wrote about in this article, about how the opposite genders CAN be just friends and nothing more. I still agree with this statement mostly, but would like to add that he and I clearly couldn’t be just friends. Our solid friendship long before we started dating has given us the strongest foundation for an amazing relationship. I have never quite experienced a love and satisfaction with a relationship like I have with him and for the last three months, he has treated me like gold and shown me how relationships and love are meant to be. Our relationship has given me a real sense of being settled and satisfied in love.

Secondly, I was rather unsettled at home. I was living with a dear friend for close-on eighteen months in a beautiful apartment. I had all the comforts in the world for almost half what the place was worth but it began not feeling like home at all. In a combination of my friend and I living different lives and wanting different home experiences, the place stopped feeling like home and I begun feeling like a paying guest just waiting to head to my actual home. Now, with great plans on moving into a place with my beloved in March, I am excited to finally make a home of my own and have a place where my heart and mind can come to rest.

Thirdly, towards the end of 2014 I was feeling rather uncomfortable in my work. I am so lucky to be working for someone I consider a great friend and mentor in a business that I am passionate about and want to be in. With some difficult team dynamics and my personal feelings of unrest, I thought I wanted to move on as I thought I was being underutilized and underestimated. I begun watching a role model of mine, Angela Ahrendts, speak about her career for some inspiration and she said some things that hit home. She said that she attributes her success to committing herself to one organisation and giving it her all until she feels she has given it everything, that the grass is only greener on the side that you water it. I took this really to heart and ruthlessly analysed my own behavior at work. Was I really giving it my all? I came back with a resounding “no” and realised that I had the unique opportunity to make the business as successful as I want it to be. I need to take accountability for the business’ success and start treating it as my own, because it is my business. So, I began the year with a new mindset. I voiced my feelings to my amazing MD and said that I wanted more accountability, I told him concrete things that I wanted to learn with clear timelines and have become more proactive in my work. It will start off easily, being the beginning of the year and feeling fresh after a break but it is crucial for me to consistently put deadlines and goals in place to avoid the complacency and unhappiness I felt at the end of the year.

Over December I took a trip to Amsterdam on my own for ten days to really assess my life and find some peace within myself. I was expecting to return home with great clarity and new direction but instead, I found that I had that all already that I just wasn’t putting it into action. I realised that I was so much more independent and brave than I thought. It was an eye-opening experience into humans too, I was surprised at generally how unfriendly Europeans really are and that South Africa is completely on the cutting-edge of tech and banking. My biggest realization though is that these trips are great for reflection but are also so much better when you are sharing them with someone. I desperately missed my loved ones while over there and think the experience would have fulfilled a different role but been wholly, more enjoyable all-round.

I certainly hope that 2015 is a fantastic one for you and yours!

Featured image courtesy of PicJumbo, free photos for personal and commercial work

I certainly hope that 2015 is a fantastic one for you and yours!

When Faced with Mortality

It is another of those times where I am forced into introspection, where I need to step back and think, and in this case quite literally, about the meaning of life. Not just generally, but specifically, about a life and my life. My grandfather passed away on Friday morning after six years of a real depletion of quality of life due to a stroke. In many ways it is a relief for him and for my gran who has selflessly cared for him everyday, an act that has truly aged her too.

My grandparents had been married for 53 years and my grandfather died in peace in the home he built himself close-on 60 years ago, with my gran by his side. Considering his physical state and age, that can be the best way to go, particularly for him, a simple and traditional man. It was heart wrenching watching my gran say good-bye to him. He really has been all she has ever known. They met when she was 20, married two years later and had four children together. Her every waking hour for the last 53 years has been primarily focused on providing for him and seeing her in their home quite alone and old was a stark reality for me to take in.

One thing that really stuck with me was something quite contradictory to what we are told and that is that life is long. Our youth may be short, but when you start examining the life of someone 84 years long, you begin to comprehend time. Life also gets particularly longer in old age, and if you are ill or don’t have anything to fill your days with, time must be torturous. Seeing my grandparents’ life over the last few years has forced me, despite being in my 20s, really start preparing now for those years because I certainly don’t want to be sitting in my house waiting to die. It also got me thinking about my time now and if I am doing enough for my own selfish happiness, if I am spending my time in the best manner possible in these younger energetic years. I am sure there are things both my grandparents wish they had done, perhaps living in a different city, maybe being a little less frugal, delayed having children. I am going to assume they felt that way and do it for them anyway.

I also assume it is natural, but I felt myself slipping into the spiritual and had to force myself to come back to reason when thinking of my grandfather’s passing. I guess when you lose someone the thought of being able to see them again “on the other side” is comforting but I found it much more comforting to think about it truly being the end. Our brain deals with situations through learned responses and when our only frame of reference to death is one we have learned from religion, it gets hazy. The more you think about death, and in particular your own death, the easier it become to deal with. My experience of losing my younger sister a few years ago was a vastly different emotional experience. Yes, in her case it was a sudden and unreasonable death. At ten years old, she had hardly experienced life at all. Dealing with the loss of her knocked me but it was also incredibly formative and forced a realization of my own mortality. It is a terrible frame of reference to build but it is a crucial one.

This is the first of my four grandparents to have died so in the next few years I will be faced with losing another three all with different lessons to take away from their lives. I can only hope that they go just as peacefully and satisfied.

In Rememberance of Edgar Ronald Ross Farnham 13.10.1929 – 10.10.2014

Image Source : image taken in Alice Springs, my grandfather’s Australian home town