Industry Interview: Neo Mashigo On Creativity As A Force For Good And Changing How The World Sees Africa

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Neo Mashigo Chief Creative Officer of the M&C Saatchi Group.

Neo Mashigo, Chief Creative Officer of the M&C Saatchi Group, is very humbled to have received the 2019 AdFocus Industry Leader of the Year award. Such recognition is what continues to drive and show him that his efforts resonate with that of the industry.

Early life

On Saturdays, Mashigo attended a school where he learnt about drama and creative writing. He loved the arts and being creative but had his mind set on becoming a lawyer. He was always told that if he studied the arts he would be poor – and that’s not the life he intended living.

When he left university, he worked at a company that researched adverts mainly targeting black consumers. ‘I always felt like they were getting it wrong and that I would have done it differently. The research proved me right, and this planted a seed,’ he said.

A while later, the Creative Directors Forum put an ad in the newspaper calling for those who thought they would be great at advertising to apply for a programme. Mashigo was selected and placed in an accelerated programme as a copywriter at Net#work BBDO. His career has included serving as ECD at both Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg and FCB Joburg. He joined M&C Saatchi Abel in 2017 as a Creative Partner and a year later was promoted to Chief Creative Officer. He has been in the advertising industry for almost 20 years.

What do you enjoy most about working in the industry?

‘I love creativity – it holds the keys to be a force for good and a force for change. I enjoy challenging the way things are being done, and being part of incredible, authentic campaigns that resonate with people. Being part of changing advertising that previously missed the mark has been a privilege.’

Mashigo said this is one of the areas where M&C Saatchi Abel resonates with him. ‘As a company, they decided that they were not going to be boxed into traditional agency spaces. They are in the business of creativity and ideas and so they actively seek out innovative, creative opportunities – such as the Nelson Mandela Tower of Light landmark in Nelson Mandela Bay. This 27-storey glass building will be incredible! It is exciting and shows that the only limitation, really, is yourself and what you give yourself permission to pursue.’

Industry changes

‘In the past, for a piece of work from Africa to win an award, it needed to portray Africa in a way that would make white male judges on the award committee feel sad or guilty. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. In other words, it would show a child suffering from malaria or starvation or walking ten miles for a small amount of water. This didn’t work for me, and so I decided to be part of the change. I knew that I would focus my work on authentic creativity – stuff that really resonated with the audience and South Africans. Eventually, as time went on, this kind of work started winning awards – look at Nando’s. This is an authentic voice.’

Mashigo said that with a largely saturated white audience, clients want to target black consumers. ‘The nuances required for authenticity are lost in an all-white team from creatives to production. The industry is still not transformed to the point of where it should be, but young and gifted black creatives are making their way up the ranks.’

2019 industry trends

‘The key, certainly from an M&C Saatchi Abel perspective, is a razor-sharp focus and that means always keeping creativity front and centre.’ He stated that this also means that ideally, the advertising industry wants to avoid chasing the latest big things for the sake of razzle-dazzle. ‘As Founding Partner and CEO Mike Abel wrote recently, ‘a jack-in-the-box will only wow you once’. The overwhelming drive and impulse has to be finding the most brutally simple answers. This kind of focus – that puts creativity at the forefront – will take us to exciting places in 2020.’

Keys to success

‘A strong work ethic and authenticity – at the end of the day we are telling stories that need to resonate with people. You have to trust your instinct, do your research and embrace creativity. Just because something feels uncomfortable, that doesn’t make it wrong. Allow yourself to be challenged. Believe in what you do and lay a solid foundation from which to convince people to believe in something big. Work very hard and enjoy the journey of seeing it come to fruition.’

Favourite project and advice for creating successful campaigns

‘I’ve been privileged to have worked on a number of award-winning campaigns such as  Nando’s #RightMyName, which picked up a Grand Prix Loerie award in 2018, as well as work for Takealot Group, Standard Bank, MWEB and Lexus.’

Mashigo really enjoyed the Nando’s Right My Name campaign. ‘It is authentic. With my surname, for instance – a red line appears under it each time I type it on a device (as if it is a spelling mistake). My name is not a mistake! Black people have been accustomed to this, and it involves how we are seen and how we see ourselves. And so, the Right My Name campaign set out to set the record straight by creating an app that allowed your computer to recognise your name. This campaign resonated with South Africans. In South Africa, Nando’s is the voice of the people.’

According to Mashigo, the keys to creating successful campaigns are: authenticity, honesty, research, embracing diversity, trust (you need to sell an idea), resilience, investment in the best talent and perseverance.

Other interests

Mashigo co-founded production company I See A Different You, which he is very passionate about. ‘We set out to change how the world sees Africa; how we are perceived. We wanted to take ownership of our own stories. The reception has been amazing – because there is still a need for this, and the advertising industry can take note. While we live in a democratic country, there is still a need to undo the generations of separation that has determined how some people and places, like Soweto, are perceived.’

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