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South Africa’s advertising industry stands shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world. And in the experiential marketing space, two boutique agencies stand out.


In Part one of this blog we spoke to Jason Stewart, co-founder and Managing Director of HaveYouHeard and Duncan MacLennan, Director of ANDPEOPLE about the state of brand experience marketing in South Africa.

Here, we continue our conversation to get an inside look at how boutique agencies work and talk about some of the world-class experiences they’ve produced for top international brands here in SA.

What do you need from prospective clients to deliver the best results?


I’d like our clients to be willing to push the boundaries a little bit more. The brief of: we want to throw an event, get a band, get a DJ. Anyone can do that. It’s really easy, but there are so many brands doing that. It’s the same old event strategy.

Brands need to be distinctive, they need to stand out. And to do that you have to be a brand that is willing to do what hasn’t been done before. To take hold of what’s happening culturally in a space is really, really powerful.

I know those are abstract answers, but for me, our greatest success comes from brands that are willing to do that. Because of the current economic climate, brands are a lot more hesitant now. We’ve seen that they are hunkering down into trade and below the line and what they know will have a direct boost on sales. Rather than taking a leap. Which I can fully understand. But I’d like brands to be up to taking the leap. We are seeing powerful bottom-line returns for brands that are willing to do that – as long as the strategy and execution are correct of course. You can do anything for anyone if you understand what the culture is about and what is driving the consumer.


Our purpose is always to grow the business or brand by creating value in the lives of young people. So we always start with what is the emotional connection that we are creating for this audience? Even though we’re a full-service agency, we try to steer people away from doing campaigns. Because campaigns, by definition, fight to be heard and then, I take from you what I want and then I disappear. And then I come back again. And do it again in a couple of months.

We prefer to work on a holistic basis with brands. We try and instill in our clients a kind of programmatic approach to engagement. So turn it up and turn it down, but don’t treat it like a campaign because that’s not how people live their lives or interact with a brand. That’s how slides work in a presentation, but not in reality.

We work on a very holistic basis with most of our clients. So we look at everything that’s happening in the brand experience, online, offline, point of sale. And then find creative solutions. Clients that appreciate our way of working are always the best.

What role do tangible rewards play in your campaigns?


Often tangible rewards have this monetary value attached to them. We create intangible rewards around experience – access to something that may cost us nothing, but which may be perceived as way more valuable than a R50 or R200 gift.

But if we were to bring tangible rewards in they’d be a curated, bespoke or novel range, delivered in a special way. The kind of tangible rewards we use would need to be elements that are more relevant within the culture of the brand we’re working with. And delivery cannot be the standard corporate mechanism. We’d look at someone from the culture to deliver the rewards in the right kind of way.


A lot of the time, our brand clients handle that aspect themselves.

Because of that, we haven’t tackled that much of it ourselves. But it is something that we are open to and for certain brands, it would make more sense to try to do it ourselves.

The starting point for us when we think about the world of rewards is first and foremost, the emotional reward. How are we connecting with this target audience to demonstrate that we understand them? That we understand what matters to them on an emotional level. Then we start to open a dialogue for more tangible rewards or reward mechanisms.

Because to approach it the other way around feels too short term, too much like a campaign that ends. It feels too much like, I want your attention right now. And your value right now. And I am prepared to buy it. As opposed to showing you that I am willing to earn it because I understand you and your needs. And look, those worlds aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s just that we aim to start with the former and explore the role of the latter as a part of that.

And if you look at the local loyalty programs, there really isn’t anyone displaying an understanding of young people. Authentically understanding them.

Our insight is that young South Africans see tangible rewards as important. But it has to be an addition to, as opposed to the starting line.

For young people today, the value that they are looking for from brands is not volume-based. That’s an old metric. They want much more of an emotional connection to the entities that they are going to associate with. There’s a reward ecosystem that needs to serve that audience. And it has to come from a point of understanding them. Understanding their motivations and lifestyles. Understanding what matters to them. As opposed to just giving away stuff that isn’t rooted in that understanding.


Are you playing around with smart spaces using AI, automation, and VR tech?


Yes, we are, but we find that the user experience has not yet got to a level where you can guarantee a seamless, simple experience. We are moving there but the idea needs to lead the technology, rather than the technology lead the idea (it always looks enticing in a presentation or watching a case study online, but doesn’t always translate into the experience in real life).

We focus more on having powerful, simple and insight-led ideas that move people and use whatever technology or tools to bring that to life. We don’t want to get distracted by potentially sexy gimmicks – we want to stay true to understanding what resonates with the human soul.


It depends on what we are trying to achieve. We will always develop an idea that’s powered by an insight. And then look at how technology can enable that idea. As opposed to the other way around. Like, we need to use Virtual Reality in this, how are we going to do that. We don’t take it that way because that just ends up feeling like a gimmick. We don’t like creating those types of moments. It’s really about how technology can make the experience richer, more unique, or based on whatever insight we are leaning towards.

Tech is a new space. So we haven’t utilised a huge amount of it just yet. Because it hasn’t ever really felt anything other than gimmicky. So we haven’t had a project that we felt necessitated it yet.

What we are interested in is using data to inform an experience. Like, how can our user data influence a music line up, lighting, temperature … those types of aspects of an experience. That’s what we would explore.

But it always starts with the intention. Like, why are we doing this? There has to be a reason. A very legitimate reason as to why. Not just that we want the experience to be powered by some sort of technological aspect. And it wasn’t just there because people wanted it there.

Also, in South Africa, the consumer isn’t super tech-savvy. At the moment, our version of tech-savvy, compared to the rest of the world, is someone who is on social media.

There’s also a relevance, a cost, and an infrastructure aspect. And then there’s also a reality around failure. Often we look at things and think it would be cool to do VR, but many risk factors are attached to it. What do we stand to gain vs what do we stand to lose if it doesn’t work? Those are all the types of things we consider. Just because it appeared in a trends presentation that someone’s seen from a very developed market, doesn’t mean it’s going to work here.

To go full circle, if we have an opportunity to deepen an experience, make it more personal, make it a richer interaction and if you can mitigate the risk – awesome! But until you can, it’s not worth it. Let’s just say that at the moment, tech trends that aren’t relevant to our market are something we approach with caution.


What’s the most exciting experiential campaign you’ve worked on?


There are two that come to mind. The first was when Jameson Whiskey gave us a brief to take cult film and bring it to life. The objective was to create experiences that people wouldn’t get again. So we developed a world that they were transported to called Jameson Cult Film Club (Fight Club, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction).

Our client was brave and gave us free rein, which was great. And so we kept pushing it, asking, how can we make this weirder or more surprising or more separate from the expected? That was an enormous amount of fun. And it had a huge impact. There were only 500-800 people at each event. But because it was so novel it had enormous social reach.

Then, we created a space called AMPD Studios in Newtown for Old Mutual, to strengthen their youth banking reach. The project is all about equipping, upskilling and offering opportunities for young creatives in the music industry in SA.

We have classes every 2 weeks with icons of the industry. We’ll have other events like that. We have a recording studio where they can demo and record their music. We have people there to guide them. And we’ve partnered with YouTube to help broadcast content from there too.

For me, the most important aspect here is that it’s not just creating fun and exciting experiences, it’s focused on providing value. And it’s driving enormous returns because it’s a functional brand exchange (giving customers a functional benefit).


The Adidas project we launched ANDPEOPLE with 6 years ago, is still running to this day. It’s gone through 4 evolutions, but it’s still running in line with its original purpose.

So, when we launched it back in 2012, it was a 500 square metre warehouse experience of the Adidas brand. Everything from a skate park, a photo gallery and exhibition space, and base camp for a massive street art mural project. It hosted parties and product explorations too. The idea was that it would be constantly rotating. It was constantly evolving, but it was always about making Adidas brand stories real.

That lasted for 2 years before it then evolved into a retail concept store. So, in the first 2 years, we didn’t sell any product there because it was more about getting people amped on the product, but not selling. But then we realise 2 years on that people are really into the product and we are missing out on an opportunity to run it as an independent business. So we created a world-class retail experience in that Braamfontein space. For 2 years we facilitated numerous product and campaign operations with young emerging creatives there.

When that ran its course, we set it up as an open-source photographic studio where we just let young creatives come in and explore. We gave them the gear and the resource and just guided them in terms of what they created. And we also gave them access to Adidas products to feature in their work. That performed incredibly well.

Today, it’s turned into a purely online space (@NTWRK3). Something that we call an open, youth powered Instagram handle. But again how it operates is, we identify young people that we think are making cool stuff, and we just give them product. And they interpret that product in whatever way they want. There’s no brand approval process, there’s no anything. It’s just – let them run it. They get on the platform and they curate it themselves. It’s certainly one of a kind and has picked up lots of international exposure due to the quality of the authentic creativity.

This work highlights who we are as an agency. We use cultural insights and we use culture as a springboard to solve problems and create relevance for brands. We don’t define the work we do by medium. We implement youth culture and see consumers as collaborators. We don’t even like to use the word consumer because it’s just so one-way. In favour of the needs of one entity. It implies a transaction. We try to create mutual value between brand and audience. A transfer of value. The audience has to believe that the brand’s intentions are real. Then you have a harmonious relationship.

Adidas is a company we work with that has an omnichannel infrastructure. So they’ve got wholesalers, they’ve got their own retail spaces, they’ve got their own brand channels etc. And we’re their lead partner here in South Africa in translating stories and campaigns across our local market.


The winning formula

Possibly the most compelling aspect of this interview is to learn how big corporations like Addias and Old Mutual are choosing to partner with boutique agencies. Both ANDPEOPLE and HaveYouHeard have invested their own capital to take ownership of key brand strategies, which shows that they are a) fully prepared to back their ideas and b) able to diversify their business offering in a way that serves both them and their clients. It’s clearly a winning formula.

The loud and clear message for South African brands is that it’s time to retire the old event marketing playbook and start thinking about creative ways to stand out, connect with consumers, plug into current culture and create value through relevant immersive experiences. It’s an exciting opportunity to show your authentic brand self and create ever-evolving, multi-dimensional relationships. It’s a long game and it’s time to get started.

And don’t forget the emotional value of tangible rewards as meaningful momentos of intangible brand experiences. Bespoke, unique, curated and delivered with creative flair. We’ve got you covered.

If you missed Part one of this interview, you can find it here.



Duncan headshot

Duncan MacLennan is Director of ANDPEOPLE. A creative agency of youth engagement specialists with studios in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Sydney.

We guide brands in connecting authentically with youth culture through custom solutions, which create sustainable value for both brand and audience.

Jason headshot

Jason Stewart is the co-founder and Managing Director of HaveYouHeard. A communication agency immersed in culture to influence it.

We uncover unique insights to create innovative ideas that influence the audience by bringing the brands we partner with to the center of culture.



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