Beating the drum for South African creativity

I remember my first Loeries like it was yesterday. It was at Sun City and Hunt Lascaris brought a massive banner and a big drum that they beat everytime they won a bird. Which was all night long.

But that night wasn’t last night. It was 20 years ago.

A lot has changed in the creative business over two decades. The internet happened. Globalisation accelarated. Nelson Mandela went from prisoner to president and South Africa transformed into a brand new country.

Nobody in their right mind would expect the Loeries to remain the same forever. For an award show to serve its industry (and that service is to ensure that we keep doing better work) it would have to keep up with the times. But the question should be: is it changing for the better?

This weekend, the SA ad industry congregated for #Loeries2015. Hunts didn’t bring their drum, no one agency dominated — and it was held in the coastal city of Durban — which turned out to be a great host for this event. Print is still dying its slow death and even outdoor is now entered as case study videos. We are now firmly in the digital age and we are starting to see better work with stronger insights developing in the interactive categories.

But, besides the new venue and the transformation of the work, there were a few more changes. Most notably, the Loeries is suddenly a regional show. It now entertains entries from all over Africa and also the Middle East. Suddenly our local work with local insights are competing with work from other countries. There were also new categories with interesting premises. Best Use of Licensed Music?

Some good things remained. There was still the same collegial spirit that makes SA’s ad industry unique and great. Local agencies were heartily congratulating each other with their wins. This is because we are a small country with a reputation for punching above our weight on the global creative stage. When one of us does well, we all do well. And so we stand together.

And right here is my point. The Loeries has been a local award show for great local work. It was the annual barometer for how we are doing as an industry. We are not scared of international competition, on the contrary, we relish it. But we do need our local competition to make ourselves better on the global stage — to be globally competitive.

Jenny Glover, multi-award winning creative director, said it better than I ever could:

The Middle East is not part of our region. Marketers have lumped us together for convenience. It’s insulting and ignorant actually. I’m not even convinced of the merits of making this African. Right now our focus should be on getting to know the cultures and nuances in our own country, developing local talent and finding our own voice. We’re nowhere near achieving this. We’ve hardly begun. The purpose of the Loeries is to celebrate and evaluate our local industry.

We need a broader conversation with all stakeholders to see how we handle the next 20 years. On the priority list should be to figure out what we do to develop the creative profession in South Africa — making it more representative and making it stronger to keep and even advance our international edge.

Making the Loeries a regional show won’t advance this agenda.

We need local to be lekker to keep beating that drum louder and better.