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Endorsement Deals x Urban Culture: Who Benefits? | In Conversation With Ndu Donsa

Brands are always on the lookout for ways to improve product sales, brand recognition, brand awareness, brand credibility, and market share. Celebrity endorsement has proved to be the most effective way to help the brand reach the masses and achieve its main objectives. This form of marketing has been in existence since the 18th century. Now, digital platforms have made it easier for brands to select an endorser for their product. Social media has also extended the idea of a celebrity, now brands also use ordinary people with a following to market their products.  

During the years, we’ve seen relationships between brands and South African celebrities. AKA, for example, endorses some well-known brands such as Reebok, Cruz Vodka to mention a few.

Additionally, Motswako rapper, Khuli Chana endorses big name brands like Absolute Vodka and Austin Martin. It has always seemed as if the brands are all about their product and less about what the artist or culture gains from endorsing their product. Even with collaborations, brands turn to exclude the artists. We’ve read stories about artists such as Kanye West fighting with a brand, Nike because he claims that he was not given the freedom to be creative and also had issues about not getting royalties.

There’s a lot that needs to be unpacked about endorsement deals and urban culture, and so, to chat more about the topic, I had a chat with Ndu Donsa who is a strategic planning director. He was the lead content creator for SlikourOnLife, a GQ Magazine Music Cover Page writer, and has worked across many brands in Africa. He also has his own platform called SkinnyGenesTV which curates original content in urban culture, brands, lifestyle, and football.

Firstly, can you define the term Endorsement and urban culture?

I think endorsement is when artists get paid to promote or talk about a product or service from a brand. The artist uses their clout and their influence to endorse a product. Urban culture is an expression of lifestyle, music within the entertainment, and it’s culture because it’s got a certain way of behavior that the people of the culture behave in. It’s always obsessive, it’s always very passionate, It’s always around progressing our identity and our viewpoint.


What’s the difference between collaboration vs endorsement?

Collaboration is more like working together which really happens, take Travis Scott x McDonald’s that’s a collab of some sort.

Endorsement pays an artist to endorse the product it may be a one-off or long-term one. Both of these are about working together.

As an artist, how do you align with brands and what they are looking for?

I think brands are looking for someone to take out that month piece in an interesting way. The brand is always going to see how best we can promote our offering with an artist. And what the brands look for is someone that is authentic and original. Someone that lives the product, someone that lives a lifestyle because the end-user needs to believe that story. 

Do brands get it wrong sometimes? And what is it that they get wrong? 

I think brands get it wrong because they chase for what’s hot and what’s relevant. They will always find people that are hot, trending, but most of the time those people have not really walked the mile of what the brand is promoting. Brands never align with people that shared the same value as them, they gonna go for someone with the most reached, the most influence but in this day and age that doesn’t really matter for much because people can spot something that’s fake. 

Who’s benefiting from these deals between brands and artists?

I think fans. I think at the end of the day the fanbase is what’s getting the win because fans are now able to see the brand differently, they are able to engage with the artist differently.  And also it allows the fans to talk about music and interesting stuff because they have been given a new opportunity to do so.

What would be an ideal endorsement for any artists, in terms of contracts?

I think there are definitely two ideal endorsement deals. One would be the one that has longevity and another one would be the one that allows the artist to bring their influence in creativity. Sometimes brands exclude the artists in the creative process of their campaigns. The winning one is where the artist has a say in what the brand does. 

Do brands exploit artists?

That’s a tough one. I think they do when they only come when the artist is hot. And also when the artist is not doing much they win because they getting something out of it. It’s always about shared value. 

Do brands endorse Subcultures? 

Brands will always endorse culture but the brands need to figure out how they can move the culture forward. A brand has more to give in terms of reach and paying for eyeballs. Culture is more important than brands.

What are some of the best endorsement deals in South Africa so far and what are these brands getting right?

Personally, in my view, I don’t think there has been a stand-out. We have many endorsement deals but few collaborations. A collab is great because the artist’s voice gets to shine through. Sadly the process is not really followed through. these days endorsement deals feel like a transaction and not a relationship. We can do much better. It will happen soon. 

The endorsemments are not doing much for the cuture or the artists. Brands pay a portion to an artists and make a fortune in retun. Even when the relationship or contract ends between a brand and an artist that will not stop consumers relating the product to the artist. This is an unsigned lifetime deal but the artist will not benefit from it because the “contract” had ended. I think the culture should hold brands accountable for the grown of the culture. Also the brands should allow the artist a room to be creative in the making of campaigns. The future should be collaboration with flexible contracts that include things such as royalties so that the artist grows while the brand grows too.

Written by Philela Singama



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