Cool kid Andile Mbete’s Twitter bio says, “Bacon, Beats, Guns and Money. Bury me a G. Suburban Thug for life….”, while his observant tweets make reference to Kanye West and humourously expose conundrums of youth life. He’s a pop culture nerd, who according to Instagram boasts impeccable style and always seems to be having a good time with a bunch of friends. At the forefront of the South African youth scene, many will recognise him at youth-related events in and around town, but Andile isn’t just about being on fleek. He’s a youth engagement strategist, whose day job at ANDPEOPLE requires him to find unique ways to engage young people with brands.
How do you explain to people what your job is?
Yeah, I think that is the hardest part of my job, trying to explain what I do. I think at it’s core, I’m tasked with figuring out the most authentic and valuable way for our clients to connect to the audience via a combination of research, insight and people management – finding the right people and variable to ensure that we produce the best work possible.
Have you always wanted to work in this field, and how did it you land up at ANDPEOPLE?
I’ve always wanted to work in the brand space. Having grown up with a deep love for certain subcultures, brands were always an element of expressing yourself and a way of aligning yourself, especially when access to those scenes can be quite limited. Every Hip Hop fan will begrudgingly admit to have owned a FUBU item and despite it’s DIY anti-brand commerce attitude, punk will always be aligned to brands like Fred Perry and Dr. Martens as part of their uniform. So essentially, working with brands closely aligned to subculture has always been my interest. I’ve been quite lucky to have pulled it off. With regards to ANDPEOPLE, I was lucky to have been closely affiliated with people in the company after some time and through a maintained relationship this turned into a job.
To an outsider, it seems like you attend a lot of cool youth-based events. What do you do on day to day basis?
What I do on a day-to-day basis varies all the time, but I guess it focuses greatly on research and insight extraction for both internal and client work through assisting on all Joburg facing projects and liaising with all our suppliers.
“There’s a tendency to undermine the ability and influence of the youth. We look at our history as the result of great old men, who shaped the country with the support of the nation, but for me the youth are easily the most disruptive force with the biggest historical and cultural influence on our society…”
What drives the minds and hearts of SA’s youth?
It really depends on how you look at it, but I would argue that because of our repressive past, South African youth are taking greater agency of their identities and are finding different ways to express that on a number of different platforms.
You’ve worked in Cape Town and Joburg. Are there any differences in attitude between the youth in each city?
To a certain degree, I’d say yes. I think a big part of how youth culture works in either city is fundamentally built in the actual make up of the cities. I would argue that based on the proximity of things in Cape Town, it means that the youth tend to pick up on new ideas quickly and live them out. I think it’s a bit different in Joburg. Things take longer to stick but there is so much happening that keeps bubbling beneath the surface, and the inherent tendency to commute always allows ideas to travel. However, in both cities, I think there is an entrepreneurial element to youth attitudes. I think that is a key element part of the South African youth experience.
What’s been your favourite project to date and what do you enjoy most about your work?
The most exciting things has been our work on the AREA3 project of adidas. It’s definitely the most tangible expression of everything we do at ANDPEOPLE.
Has your research changed your perception about South Africa? And if so, how?
Undoubtedly, there are so many ways to understand South Africa and the complexity that makes this country unique. Research has given a great deal of perspective, which I think is invaluable not only as a professional but as a South African as well.
What’s the most underrated thing about South African youth?
There’s a tendency to undermine the ability and influence of the youth. We look at our history as the result of great old men, who shaped the country with the support of the nation, but for me the youth are easily the most disruptive force with the biggest historical and cultural influence on our society as a whole, #RHODESMUSTFALL and #FEESMUSTFALL are examples of that. I hate to quote Kanye West (not really) but “LISTEN TO THE KIDS, BRO!” should definitely be the mantra of our nation.
South Africa’s youth is very diverse. What are the challenges when it comes to creating engagement strategies?
I think when developing strategies it is essential to not treat South African youth a monolithic idea, but rather be highly conscious of the myriads of variables that fragment the youth space. Our history has created a complex and unique fragmentation that effects the ways young people perceive things, behave and respond to marketing and communication. When segmenting that youth market, subtlety and a great deal of empathy is required.
What advice do you have for those wanting to pursue this line of work?
The only advice I can give anyone to is stay curious, it’s the only edge you’ll ever have. You and the world changes so much and so do the youth.
Dream big: What do you hope to achieve one day?
Hard question, but I think there’s a gap in knowledge in the South African youth culture. I hope to play a big role in developing a greater deal of knowledge in this area. This goes far beyond the space. I hope to work in academia focused primarily on youth and popular culture in the South African space.