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Libations to the Advertising Gods: Raising a Glass to What We’ve Lost, and What We’ve Learned

By Antonis Kocheilas of Ogilvy web

By Antonis Kocheilas of Ogilvy on Jul 31 2020 – 3:00pm

Change is hard, but we have the chance to reinvent what we do

In ancient times, the libation was a ritualistic pouring of a liquid as an offering to a deity. It represented sacrifice; we give this up to you in the hopes that we’ll get something back. Something was lost, but something was also gained.

We have lost quite a lot through the first half of 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic’s spread across the world has radically altered nearly every aspect of our lives. We have lost loved ones, jobs, businesses. We’ve lost a sense of security. For those of us fortunate to still be working, we lost the physical contact with our co-workers in a shared space. We lost our commutes, that alone time we could use to refresh, ponder and learn. Not long after the pandemic struck, the world underwent a reckoning on racial injustice not seen in decades, bringing another inflection point for businesses and institutions around the globe. It is a fraught time. Major events such as these force us to rethink everything we thought we knew. While some of the resulting changes may be temporary, many of them will be permanent.

The advertising world is not in a unique position. Like every industry, its business has been greatly affected by the pandemic. In many ways, things will never be the same. This is a time for reflection, but also a time for action. So, let’s take this time to pour one out to the ancient gods of the industry previously known as advertising—let’s recognize what we’ve lost so far this year, but also what we’ve learned.

What We’ve Lost

For many of us, our jobs

Our clients across industries, and our partners in everything from media to live events, have been hit particularly hard by the crisis. Their trauma has led to inevitable loss for us.

Those of us who are able to continue doing our work are incredibly fortunate. The pandemic has affected every industry, and the advertising industry is no exception—it is expected that 50,000 of our colleagues and friends across the world will have lost their jobs through next year due to the economic crises caused by Covid-19.

“Our principle is: protect our people to protect the company, so we’re ready when we come out on the other side of this,” said WPP CEO Mark Read. “But realistically, we have to expect there will be layoffs.”

We can only hope that we emerge on that other side sooner rather than later.

Our excuses for not doing the right thing on diversity and inclusion

The news story that finally took the coronavirus off the front pages across the globe was a tragedy—the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police in Minneapolis. The size and scope of the protests against racial inequality and police brutality made it clear—this was an inflection point for everyone. Us included.

Our industry can no longer hide behind vague diversity plans or plaudits of our so-called progress. It’s not been nearly enough. We simply must do better.

Amid the protests, over 600 Black advertising professionals penned an op-ed calling for immediate change in the industry. There is not much we could add to their words:

“We have seen even less progress in ensuring equitable representation of Black professionals in senior and leadership positions. And because this industry does not release or track diversity numbers, it is impossible to tell what, if any, progress has been made. Worse still, there is a ‘boys’ club’ mentality that remains pervasive in this industry. The same elitism and discriminatory behavior that has restricted women from advancing in the workplace has resulted in an oppressive mono-culture that stifles the growth of Black agency professionals and restricts our ability to express our true selves. Many gallons of ink have been spilled on op-eds and think pieces, but tangible progress has eluded this industry for too long.”

Conventional ways of working and analog rituals of the past

Are we saying goodbye, for good, to the office? To the in-person meeting? To the convention?

Whenever the “end” of our current situation arrives, it’s certainly likely that there will be an urge to return to some semblance of normalcy. Humans are social beings, and video calls can only go so far in replicating the experience of sharing a space with others. But there’s no doubt that the forced shift to remote working has opened many people’s eyes to its benefits. And with likely cost savings involved, there is no doubt that remote work will only grow, if not be a permanent change for some.

And the intimate, stripped-down, gritty nature of remote work has resulted in some impressive work, created in transformative ways. Automated production has led to record turnaround times, with some ads that used to take three months to complete being finished in a week’s time. Creativity is at its best when there are fewer restrictions. Over recent years, many in our industry have instituted too many checks and balances that don’t serve a purpose. The shift to remote work has forced our industry to undergo a change that it has needed for a very long time.

Our creative yardstick

Sure, Cannes Lions and the Clio Awards—both of which were postponed until 2021—are award shows, and there’s plenty of great work that never wins an award. But it’s what those awards represent—a creative benchmark, a yearly yardstick for which the industry can use to measure itself. And creativity still matters greatly. The more creative a company is, the better it performs.

Many think Cannes is nothing but an overblown, overhyped, overcrowded party. It surely seems like the festival’s luster has been muddied over the last few years, what with the exodus from competition from some of the biggest names in the agency world. But that sentiment was always misguided, and the lack of a festival this year proves it. With each year that passes, we get a literal in-person view at how the industry is changing; something we’ll miss out on this time around.

What We’ve Learned

Our work matters

This crisis comes at a time when trust in government and institutions is already the gutter. Even months into the pandemic, Covid-19 continues to spike across the United States and many countries around the world. There’s no question there’s a leadership void to be filled, and brands can be among those to step in.

It’s not only marketing professionals who believe this. According to Forbes and MediaPost, 43 percent of millennials believe brands play an “important” role at this time and indicate a desire for them to step up their support. In fact, one in four think they have power to be as impactful as the government. One in three say brands should even communicate more than usual; half say the current context needs to be addressed in advertisements, and 83 percent want brand initiatives that help now, not later.

But amid the Covid pandemic and the outcry for racial justice, many brands have been guilty of promoting seemingly empty platitudes. Sending an email blast to all of your customers or putting out a statement on social media might seem like the right thing to do, but it must be credible. If the brand is not acting on its stated purpose, these ads—and they are a form of ad—will come off as contrived at best and tone-deaf at worst.

“Some of the most hollow creative executions have come from brands who appear to be treating the crisis simply as an advertising brief, rather than an opportunity to use their commercial power to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives,” writes Richard Holmann. “Even during a pandemic the golden rule of brand purpose still applies—unless you have a credible, demonstrable and longstanding commitment to the purpose you’re endorsing, which stretches way beyond an ad campaign and actually costs you money, don’t even go there.”

Brands can be leaders in a multitude of ways. One way is by simply doing more—providing practical help to solve problems. Acts, not ads. As Sarah Douglas, CEO of AMV BBDO in London, puts it: “We’ve seen brands such as Bacardi use their distilleries to make hand sanitizer, Dove donating personal protective equipment directly to healthcare providers, and Guinness pledging funds for bartenders who have lost their livelihood.”

Effective communications are also needed, though. The United States, in particular, is struggling with convincing its population to wear face coverings. Effective communications can act as rallying cries, promote unity and ultimately help shift behavior. Olivier Feldwick at WARC likens this moment to wartime, where famous slogans like “Your Country Needs You,” “Dig For Victory” and “Make Do and Mend” helped boost morale. “We will need a similar effort in our collective Covid-19 response, and communications must play a critical role in encouraging the right behaviours.” He may be right.

Brands have a great responsibility

Prior to the pandemic, we knew that brands held lots of power. The biggest among us could shift consumer behavior or push culture in a different direction. The industry talked often about the importance of brands having a purpose that went beyond simply selling more products. With a global leadership and credibility gap, brands now find themselves with even more power, and with that comes the requisite responsibility.

According to The Trust Barometer, 62 percent of consumers agree that we will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in the solutions. And eyes are on brands now more than ever. More than half (53 percent) of consumers who are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it. People recognize brands like Gap and Dove when they live their values, helping manufacture protective equipment for healthcare workers or hand sanitizer. On the flipside, you don’t want to end up in the red on didtheyhelp.com.

This time of crisis and a racial justice reckoning is validation that the strongest brands are the ones that authentically live their values and purpose. Part of that purpose is taking on the responsibility of being a communicator in a time when government leaders do not seem to be willing or able to provide it.

Brands can be powerful influences in people’s lives. This is true in “normal” times, and doubly true in times of crisis.

A crisis can bring out an industry’s best self

When we’re all facing a collective crisis like Covid-19, the problem to be solved is very well-defined. The variable factor, then, is the skills and knowledge individuals can bring to bear. The changes that have been forced upon those in the industry have placed even more importance on company culture—if your culture is tethered to your physical location, how strong was its bond to begin with? In some ways, we’re becoming closer with our colleagues and partners, being invited into their homes, meeting their pets and children. In many cases, it’s leaders that are doing the most learning, as employees are being given more control over their work schedules and processes.

“Darwin wrote when he was building his theory of evolution that natural selection favors a sense of flexibility,” said psychologist Adam Grant. “It’s not always the strongest species that survives; it’s sometimes the most adaptable.”

In regular advertising life, the urgent and the important are often very out of sync. The most impactful work we can be doing sometimes ignores firm deadlines. But during times of crisis, creativity tends to thrive. Empathy spurs creativity, and when people see that meaningless constraints are off, they tend to feel freer to be creative.

In the advertising world, this has resulted in new ways of working that point to a future that puts creativity back at the center of the ad world. The advertising industry’s creativity hasn’t only helped clients solve problems in this new age. The industry has pointed that ingenuity inward—as we mentioned, gone is the old way of doing things, where one ad might take months to create. Now, we can make an ad and distribute it in record time.

Digital transformation is not optional

Necessity is the mother of invention. Times of crisis bring drastic change, forcing the entrenched to dig itself out of its staid foundation. The old ways of doing things have to go.

Some companies are better equipped than others. Any company that was still behind the digital curve is finding itself in quicksand. This mostly digital landscape is not unexpected, it’s what the industry has been preparing for for years now; however, it’s arrived much sooner than we thought. Companies that have strong direct response and e-commerce capabilities are well positioned to emerge set up for success in this changed world.

Even when confinement measures are relaxed, more typically analog channels will shift to digital to keep up with consumer behavior. Those who are already meeting consumers where they are have the advantage of the data they’ve gathered along the way, giving them a leg up when it comes to trying to stay ahead of coming behavior shifts.

But most of all, prioritizing creativity and innovation will prove to be prescient.

As Brian Wieser, global president, business intelligence, for GroupM describes, “Companies will find that there’s never been a better time to pitch ideas that involve real transformation. People will be more open minded, and we’re going to see businesses find ways to push transformation even faster.”


It’s been said that you should never let a serious crisis go to waste. The chance is there for us. If we leave this crisis and finish this year believing we should return to the industry as it was, we will have lost the train.

The industry previously known as advertising has spent so much time transforming the brands and businesses of our clients that we have left ourselves behind. This is a time of massive change, and represents an incredible opportunity for us to transform ourselves. It’s a time to practice what we preach. If we do, only then will we truly be in position to serve our clients better in a future that is going to be completely different from the one we’re used to. Now is the time to use the power of creativity to blend the best in communications, experience, commerce and technology to build better futures for our clients and their consumers.

This has not been an easy time. Change is hard, especially when it is forced upon you. You can either let yourself get run over by it, or get back up and change for the better. For our industry, it’s up to nobody but us.

The duality of hats: A pracademic perspective

The duality of hats - A pracademic perspective

At a recent IMM Graduate School forum, SEAN McCOY facilitated the Marketing the Future sessions as master of ceremonies, channelling an exciting line-up of speakers on the subject of “unlocking the human element in the digital era”. It was here that the topic of the “pracademic” arose.

While used fairly informally, the term ‘pracademic’ triggered some interesting discussions and prompted this article to offer a perspective on what is meant by the description and how it applies to higher learning and the world of work, relevant to both marketing and the business sector generally.

During the forum, I introduced myself as a “pracademic”. It seemed like an apt description for a moderator who straddled the IMM as the host organisation and Nedbank as the sponsor. The intent was to blend the perspectives of a learning institution with those of a leading financial services brand and full-service bank.

This duality of hats, so to speak, was examined through the perspective of either filter to assess whether they were really far apart in a changing business landscape, and how we could ensure they remain integrated while addressing the challenges facing us today in academia and business holistically.

Through the eyes of an academic

From an academic dimension, the fundamental requirement in the broader marketing and business context is to teach students and prepare them for the world of work. This sounds simple but is more challenging as we delve into the detail.

The world of work is changing and evolving. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and the 4th industrial revolution (4IR), higher education has to embrace change. This has impacted on curriculum content and relevance as well as channels of content delivery. It has even redefined and reinvented their understanding of the job market – how do you equip students to enter the workplace and take on jobs that are not clear or even known yet?

This latter point talks to the sentiment from some employers that students entering the world of work are ill-equipped and not remotely ready for what the new environment requires of them. This naturally leads to a dearth of talent for organisations and also immense frustration and disillusionment for students. Workplace change has translated directly into disruptive educational models challenging conventional modes and institutions. A case in point is Udemy, a platform brand offering a marketplace connecting instructors and students looking to improve specific skills.

This is hyper-focused content, based on direct and immediate workplace needs, and offers true affordability. That it is disruptive is evidenced by leading organisations such as VW, Booking.com and Adidas enrolling employees as part of their skills development and learning process, in some cases with module specific learning pitched at a minimal fee of the equivalent of R100.

Another example of dramatic shifts in curricula is the Italian online university, eCampus that recently launched a three-year programme to earn a degree in social media influencing, an industry that is today reported to be worth $2.4 billion and something that simply did not exist a few years ago. Change is indeed the only constant.

Higher learning disruption notwithstanding, the academic still has a vital role to play in teaching critical thinking, helping students to apply learned theoretical principles and driving discourse that challenges the way we see the world while seeking new paradigms and solutions. The rigour of research should not be forgotten either – after all, this plays an essential role in advancing theory, not just for the benefit of academics, but if correctly applied, as has been the case in the past, enables quantum advances in thinking that has implications for practitioners too.

Thankfully, the IMM Graduate School is a dynamic and challenging institution that does look at the higher education model constantly and evaluate new ways of doing things. It interacts regularly with industry players through advisory channels and workshops and it places great emphasis on practical learning and ensuring fit-for-purpose students well equipped for the workplace who can adjust and deliver at the requisite pace.

The teaching faculty, by and large, are pracademics by implication and this ensures that programme content delivers a balance of cognitive skill and variety, while being fact-based, driving critical evaluation and ensuring sound problem-solving skills, all crucial criteria for the world of work.

 Through the lens of a practitioner

The practitioner perspective is, of course, entirely grounded in the reality of business and what it takes to implement strategies daily, whether they be greater business strategies or tactical marketing ones. This often proposes one of the biggest disconnects between the world of academia and that of business – the capacity to translate theory into commercial action and successful implementation.

As much as higher learning is undergoing disruption and digital transformation, the world of business has experienced this with break-neck speed and impact. The disruptive case studies of Netflix, Uber and Airbnb are already old and represent the norm today. Whole industry segments are being eroded or disintermediated and most organisations are grappling with what AI and 4IR mean to their businesses.

Increased complexity and ambiguity Platform brands are emerging in many industry sectors and are simply redefining business models and the way whole industries work. This has implications for businesspeople and marketers alike. As we saw during the Marketing the Future discussion, this is driving a number of changes which include increased complexity and ambiguity in this world of redefined connectivity, borderlessness and new interdependencies as well as a shift in consumer and customer power through the increased capacity to demand experiences and switch market sentiment at the press of a button.

This challenges a purpose-led brand such as Nedbank, which aspires to use its money expertise to do good and is dynamic in the category of financial services. The intensified competition in the South African market through challenger brands like Capitec in the retail segment or new players like TymeBank, mean that standing still is not an option.

The likes of Discovery Bank and their innovative behavioural business model will likely perpetuate the competition and force a plethora of new initiatives in the category. Then there are the newer fintech players and propositions that supplement traditional competitors.

Leveraging insight to solve simulation and practical learning

Case study learning has become a vital dimension of equipping students today and the practitioner is able to leverage this insight and ensure that real problem-solving simulation and practical learning does take place. Well executed, this individual straddles both educational and industry requirements as a pracademic.

Sector-specific exposure can be amplified across markets. For example, taking our involvement as HKLM in the Nedbank brand, we supplement category insight and learning in markets such as Ethiopia, having rebranded the Bank of Abyssinia in 2018 and several banks and financial services organisations in West Africa over the years, most notably in Nigeria.

This brings rich experience and pan-African perspective to the unique challenges of our continent. Of course, these also traverse other industry sectors and play out in the likes of telecommunications, mining, hospitality, higher education and professional services, to name a few. The ability of the practitioner to share these learnings with students and research scholars is invaluable.

A fusion of the two

Cycling these insights and perspectives between academia and practice is the domain of the pracademic. An individual who can understand the development needs of higher education and the dreams and aspirations of students’ intent on growing and taking up their rightful place in business, is critical to economic growth and future business leadership development.

So, too, is an individual who understands the needs and pressures of the business world and its dire demand for talent that can help build sustainable business and competitive advantage. The reality of business is not at odds with academia. The challenge that exists is that there needs to be greater interaction and collaboration between the two to ensure that higher education remains fit for purpose and industry has the talent pool available to drive growth and economic prosperity for all – an imperative in South Africa and across the continent. Welcome to another newly defined role – the pracademic.

A critical skills shortage in digital marketing could mean job opportunities for 2020 school leavers

A critical skills shortage in digital marketing could mean job opportunities for 2020 school leavers

Why School Leavers will battle to find a job 

As the class of 2019 are released into the big wide world of work, many parents are holding their breath, hoping that by some miracle their school leaver finds employment and start a successful career. Sadly, according to an unemployment report released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), youth’s (15 to 24) are far less likely to find a job or to be absorbed in the job market than those that are older. There is a general belief that total lack of experience counts against them and firms would rather employ older people who have more work experience. It is therefore not surprising that the youth unemployment rate in South Africa rose significantly to 58.2 percent in the third quarter of 2019, reaching its highest level since the first quarter of 2008.

A critical skills shortage in digital marketing could mean job opportunities for 2020 school leavers B

Dalein van Zyl, CEO of IMM Graduate School says, “with this pressure on parents and households, the obvious next step is to look to tertiary education to solve the problem. Unfortunately, only 33.6% of candidates (2018), who wrote the NSC examinations received a bachelor pass and were eligible for studies at higher education institutions. In addition, unless the programme of study is highly practical in nature, jobs are still hard to come by. The industry wants graduates that are job-ready.” 

It is critically important for parents of school leavers to identify where the biggest skills gaps are and then get their school leavers upskilled (with experience) in one of these areas as quickly as possible.

The world has gone digital

The world as we know it is changing, with one common element driving everything – digital transformation! Businesses can no longer ignore the fact that digital technology is the key to future success and therefore are constantly on the lookout for people that have a talent and skills in digital technology.

Parents should therefore be looking at careers for their school leavers that involve some sort of digital technology if they want them to even be considered for future employment, globally. One of the fastest growing industries in the world today is digital marketing – the science of knowing where to find customers online, how to develop a relationship with them and how to communicate with them in a meaningful, efficient and effective manner. For a while now those in the digital marketing industry have taken note of an escalating skills shortage. Digital marketing skillsets are in high demand, but ultimately in short supply.

There has never been a better time for school leavers to develop a digital marketing skillset

In a recent global survey published by The Economist Group, research from across nine countries highlights an alarming shortage of critical skills and talent within the digital marketing space. Interviews with more than five hundred international marketing executives, reveals that 74% of marketing executives believe their industry faces a critical talent shortage of digital marketing experience and soft skills needed to meet customers’ increasing demands. Areas of ‘customer experience’, ‘strategy and planning / brand management’ and ‘data and analytics’ were identified as crucial to an organisations’ success and business performance. The survey further points out that many of these marketers will need to place a strong emphasis on recruitment, meaning they are on the lookout for new, young talent with verifiable skills. According to the report, securing talent with the right skill set is the most cited challenge faced by marketers today.

“There has never been a better time for school leavers to develop a digital marketing skillset. That’s why we set out to understand what skills are required for entry into this industry and developed a 12 month skills focused course that could both address the skills gap and solve (to some extent) the unemployment issues that school leavers are facing,” added van Zyl.

Practical skills valued over credentials

One of the challenges in the industry it seems is that digital marketers tend to be too specialised and there is a need for candidates to have a broader understanding of the digital marketing landscape and overarching strategies. “Furthermore, 60% of digital marketing executives we surveyed indicated that they did not care whether or not a candidate had a three year degree and were happy to accept someone with a Diploma, Higher Certificate or even an online short course, as long as they had the skills to do the job,” adds van Zyl.

Successful candidates are chosen for their ability and understanding of basic design and content creation, this means having practical skills such as copywriting and blogging abilities, knowledge of research techniques such as keyword research, blog topic research, social monitoring and clickstream analysis and an understanding of top of funnel versus bottom of funnel strategy and tactics. The need gets even broader where candidates need an understanding of marketing fundamentals and useable knowledge in SEO, segmentation and targeting, various testing strategies, reporting and analysis using online tools such as google analytics. The marriage of creativity and analytical thinking is central in today’s landscape of digital marketing.

“After assessing the feedback received from industry it became apparent that we had to develop youths with generalist skills and that their specialisation would happen later – through on-the-job training – or more formal education channels.

With this understanding in hand we proceeded to develop what we believe to be the best and most relevant 12-month certificate course in Applied Digital Marketing”, added van Zyl.

Equipping school leavers with practical digital marketing skills.

This course is an online blended learning course with interactive content, webinars, gamification and one-on-one coaching with industry experts. The intention of this course is to provide students with knowledge and then get them to apply the knowledge in order to develop specific skills that are aligned to industry requirements. All of this culminates into a hands-on, skills-based portfolio whereby students can showcase their ‘experience’ to the industry, hence improving their chances of employment. While this course has been designed to specific industry requirements for minimum entry as a junior digital marketer, it’s also ideal for those already in the industry wanting to broaden their knowledge and future-proof their careers.

Included are eight learning blocks and one overarching portfolio project where students will

  • build and manage social media business pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube,
  • design and create content for social media using online tools,
  • apply basic writing skills for online copy and blogging
  • apply online research techniques including keyword research, blog topic research, social monitoring and clickstream analysis
  • develop a good understanding of how to plan and implement SEO strategies and create content for search ranking purposes,
  • gain skills in building reports and interpreting data from google analytics and other social media insights tools,
  • build a basic website using Wix,
  • Learn how to navigate the backend of a WordPress site,
  • utilise online tools in the Google Suite such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Docs,
  • use Mailchimp to create email campaigns,
  • leverage tools like Grammarly to typo proof copy,
  • understand and use HubSpot as an online CRM tool,
  • use tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer as a social media management tool.
  • understand the in’s and out’s of PPC (pay-per-click) advertising,
  • know how to use tools like Google Ads and Wordstream.

Portfolio of evidence

“This course won’t just leave students with an impressive paragraph on their CV, it will also give them an extensive portfolio of evidence demonstrating their new digital marketing skills,” ends van Zyl.

Interested candidates can get a more detailed breakdown of this course here. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the IMM Graduate School on 0861 466 476.