Peter Carr of Velocity Films
South Africa has always had a great reputation internationally for great creative work. However the question that arises is where we are creatively? The first annual Cannes Lions Report 2009 is an interesting indicator of our position globally, the question that arises is where are creatively? In this article, we look at the highlights of the Report and get feedback from some of the top creative minds in South Africa.

The Cannes Lions Report 2009 stats:

Agency of the Year 2009

  1. DDB Brasil, Sao Paulo - Brazil
  2. ALMAPBBDO, Sao Paulo - Brazil
  3. DDB&CO, Istanbul - Turkey
  4. DDB London - UK
  5. Marcel Paris - France
  6. BBDO New York - USA
  7. CLM BBDO, Boulonge-Billancourt - France
  8. Ogilvy, Johannesburg - South Africa.
    With TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, Johannesburg and Net#work BBDO Johannesburg coming in at 14 and 18 respectively.
Highest Ranked Agencies 2009:
Press 11 Ogilvy Johannesburg - South Africa

The Highest-Ranked Agencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa:
TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris was 2009 highest ranked agency from the EMEA region at Cannes Lions.

The TBWA\worldwide creative director, John Hunt, is located not in Brussels, London or Santa Monica but in Johannesburg.

EMEA Top Agencies

  1. TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Johannesburg - South Africa
  2. DDB&CO, Istanbul - Turkey
  3. Happiness Brussels - Belgium
  4. DDB London - UK
  5. Marcel Paris - France

The most awarded countries in 2009

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Australia
  5. Brazil
  6. Japan
  7. Belgium
  8. Spain
  9. India
  10. France
  11. New Zealand
  12. Sweden
  13. South Africa

Previous year rankings: In 2008, South Africa received 16 Lions and was ranked 11th, in 2007, SA was ranked 9th, with 18 Lions and in 2006, we received 29 Lions and ranked 4th.

The most creative cities

  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Sao Paulo
  4. Hamburg
  5. Sydney
  6. Brussels
  7. Paris
  8. Auckland
  9. Mumbai
  10. Johannesburg

What are the views of our top creative minds?

Mike Shalit, Chief Creative Officer of Net#work BBDO maintains we are right up there with the top in the world. "Our standard is high but as it increasingly takes on a local flavour, with some more colloquial nuances, it is less recognised on the awards front. We should also be proud to be punching our weight on a global scale. With our puny budgets and humble currency, this tiny industry should be reduced to a hushed whisper, yet our accolades shriek volumes. But of course, we should always aim higher or complacency will set in. Our passion and naive idealism help set us apart."

Paul Warner, Chief Creative Officer of MetropolitanRepublic, explains he believes we are increasing in our global competitiveness. "South Africa over the years has slowly crept to the highest standard in the world, and with every year we are getting better and better and are able to perform as well as the top dogs. However, as usual, the great TV and digital categories always seem to elude us. This is due to bandwidth restraint and accessibility to the mass market being crucial factors."

He elaborates: "The key is not to get complacent. We should continue to strive for better. In order to climb higher up the rankings, I believe we should stop watching and copying what is being done globally and invent our own styles, do less European type commercials and celebrate our indigenous creativity. If you look at the fresh styles coming out of India and the East it feels like they are finding their own passage to new ways of thinking which the world seems to enjoy and awards."

Andrew Human, Chief Creative Officer for The Loeries, thinks the best measure for SA's global creative competitiveness is the Gunn Report. "This reviews the performances of agencies across the globe and ranks them. In the 2008 edition, the report compared the country rankings with the size of the advertising market in each country. In this way, you can see who truly 'punches above their weight'. South Africa is ranked 16 in the creativity table and 18 in market size. So according to this measure, we punch two points above our weight. In comparison, the USA is ranked 1 in both tables and the kids who pack a real punch are Argentina (3 for creativity and 25 in market size), Thailand (8 and 28), Singapore (13 and 45) and New Zealand (15 and 40).

Human continues: "It seems we are doing well but could be doing a lot better. Without a doubt, the standard of South African work is improving. We have won five Cannes Grand Prix in the last four years - winning two in 2009. Before 2006, the whole of Africa had never bought home a Grand Prix. I'm also sure that when the 2009 Gunn Report comes out we would have improved our ranking."

Peter Carr of Velocity Films adds: "We are rated in global terms but clearly not in film. This category is letting us down. Although our work is good, there's been very little coming out of South Africa in recent years. We need to raise the standard of our TV commercials and win more awards in this category to further our SA ranking."

What are the challenges and how do we need to improve our standard?

Before one can get the whole picture, it is important to examine the challenges and what we need to do in order to develop a better environment to be creatively exceptional.

Schalit says keeping up with global trends is critical but what holds us back is the brain drain. "This has left us with a pitifully shallow pool of visionary clients. Political correctness and sacred cows are often a huge barrier to breaking new ground. Diversity is one of our biggest points of difference so we need to encourage more mentorship and skills transfer across cultures and communities in order to attract more cross pollination."

Warner believes the challenge is self doubt. "I think that this mindset, coupled with the idea that we live in a less creative country, is what holds us back. I believe we need to concentrate on the retention of great South African creatives as we seem to lose so many of the truly fresh and very senior talents to the global arena. We are a great university and when the student graduates with honours, they tend to go abroad to seek international fame and recognition instead of staying locally. I also believe we must be importing global talent into this country like we did in the past, just to shake things up a little."

Human maintains: "In South Africa we have to increase the exposure of the brand communication industry amongst school pupils and make sure that this is a career of choice for the top school leavers. The industry needs to be a talent magnet, attracting top people from all over South Africa as well as internationally."

Carr concludes: "There are many challenges. The crucial question is how we raise the bar? It has so many answers: better scripts, better budgets, braver clients and better execution. All of these elements count towards good ads but it ultimately comes down to strong ideas. We are not short of talent and resources but we're a small market in the global picture, so we should be proud of our status. We need to win with more then a few campaigns to up the rankings. It's as simple as that."