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6 LESSONS FROM M&C SAATCHI ABEL ON THE ART OF CREATIVITY

M&C Saatchi Abel is known for ad campaigns that, like good art, are not only beautiful to look at but also challenge our thinking and open our minds to new perspectives. A feat their creative team managed to pull off  with Animals Do What? 10and5 checked in with their creative squad to get the lowdown on how they did it and to find out what the magic ingredient in the M&C Saatchi Abel sauce is. 

Known for thinking outside of the box and creating beautiful designs that capture the imagination, M&C Saatchi Abel have been responsible for creating a plethora of simplified solutions through influential and inspirational campaigns such as the NANDO’S Righting A Wrong With A Spellcheck, Repositioning Africa’s biggest bank during a global pandemic, Standard Bank, and more recently showed off their creativity with Animals Do What? an NSPCA campaign.

Internally branded as ‘Hot Work’, Animals Do What? has moved the needle in and outside of agency walls. Instead of using the usual sad images of mistreated cats and dogs to pull at our heart strings, the campaign focused on showing humans the amazing things animals do for them. It all started with the question, ‘How do you make everyone care about animals?’

The answer they found was simple, ‘You show them how amazing they are in ways they don’t know yet’. Animals have inspired medical and technological advances, innovations and inventions that not everyone knows about. For example, did you know that alpacas are being used to treat children with autism or that wood-boring wasps have inspired the design of a flexible robotic needle, which will help reduce the risk of damage to a patient during brain surgery? It is around these lesser known and super interesting facts, our fave emojis and beautifully textured visuals that they built their story.

Lesson 1 – Team Work

With a hands-on approach to achieving results, the team emphasizes the importance of building on each other’s work to achieve success. In Ad Land, success is always a joint effort. 

Teamwork is key but not always easy if you’re a rising star out to make your mark. Building a connection with fellow team members makes it easier because you build trust. Stephanie Senatore, copywriter/creative director and partner in crime Vanessa von Broembsen, creative director/ ‘pictures person’ have been working together for 6 years and their relationship has progressed to the point where they affectionately refer to each other as their ‘work wives’.

Their close partnership is at the core of the success of Animals Do What? Although they were the heart and soul of the campaign, Stephanie says, “we’ve really had amazing people help us along the way.”

Other team members included account director Shailini Narsing, Vikash Gajjar, James Cloete and Neo Mashigo himself. 

Shailini, known to her team friends as Shai, agreed wholeheartedly, “It’s a very team-driven industry, so if you’re not part of the team you’re gonna struggle”. On why the team at M&C Saatchi Abel work well together, Shai had this to say, “To be part of a team that’s filled with love and pride and who believe in making a difference and in making something purposeful, is what really drives us”. 

Lesson 2 – Grit and Patience

Speaking to the team, the one lesson about how to become a rockstar in ad land that stood out most was their story about grit and patience. “Creatives are often impatient, we want quick returns, we want the ideas now and it doesn’t always work like that”. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to get to that final version than you think Stephanie explained. Their message to you is, if you believe in your concept and idea, keep working at it. 

When they first had the idea to write and pair an animal fact with each of the existing 3000 emojis, Stephanie says she remembers her and Vanessa looking at each other thinking, “Okay no, we’re insane”.

Says Vanessa, “I think the moment we knew we had something was when we saw the look on Neo Mashigo’s (CCO) face, when he looked at us and was like jaw-on-the-floor, ‘Guys that is an amazing idea!’. We quickly had to put aside our worries and realised we had to write the 3000 facts, just do it, you know, because we have something here.”

They had to research and write every fact. It took them and their writing team two and a half years to complete. 

Lesson 3 – Grow a Thick Skin

If you want to make it in AdLand, you’ll need more than tenacity and grit. You’ll have to learn how to handle rejection gracefully. This is another lesson we picked up from them while talking about this campaign. 

It’s not just about dealing delicately with clients when they turn you down, even seasoned advertising professionals believe there is always space for improvement. Growing a thick skin will get you far.

“Advertising isn’t easy,” agrees Stephanie. “You pour your heart and soul into an idea and then the client goes ‘no’, and it’s devastating! But you pick yourself up and carry on. There are ups and downs but it makes you stronger, it makes you better. You have to be brave to be a creative.”

Says Vanessa, “My biggest piece of advice to young creatives would be, don’t take things personally. We’re all here to grow each other and to build on each other’s creativity”.

M&C Saatchi Abel is taking this one step further. In their accelerator program, aimed at bringing together young diverse South African talent, they encourage creatives to believe in tenacity, to believe in their ideas and see them through, as well as to foster individualistic thoughts while remembering the importance of collaboration’s power from the get go.

Lesson 4 – Find the Human Element

If you don’t only care about being creative, but also about being on point, good advice is to find the human element in each idea.

Vanessa says this top tip comes straight from boss Neo Mashigo. “When you’re thinking of ideas you’ve always got to have a really good [human] insight. Next, you’ve got to have a one sentence line idea. It’s got to be very easy to understand. You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Have I seen this before? Is it fresh?’”. Thanks for that inside scoop Van and Neo! We’re taking notes.

Stephanie agrees, saying one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned at M&C Saatchi Abel about creativity is that  “the most important thing with ideas, is people need to relate to them. Those are the ideas that stick. That people can really connect with”. (And that will probably win you awards!)

Lesson 5 – Sweat the Small Stuff 

“Never underestimate the power of craft and attention to detail,” says Vanessa. In her experience as a creative- and art director she says up-and-coming juniors often don’t sweat the small stuff and ignore the detail and it has an impact on the quality of their design work and the standard of design that’s put out there. Meticulous attention to detail always pays off and it can give a creative campaign wings.

Lesson 6 – Always be Curious

It’s not only in journalism, where curiosity is an important personality trait for success. In ad land the more questions you ask, the more avenues you try and the more research you do, the bigger your chances of refining your idea to one that works. 

Says Shai, “You’ve got to be open to curiosity in advertising. One brief is never the same, the process in which you get from A to B to C may be the same but the thinking and how you need to adapt to get to the goal is never the same. So if you’re not curious and you’re not open and accepting and willing, that will make it very difficult for you to be in the industry.” 

Thanks Shai, Steph and Van for sharing some of the lessons you learned at M&C Saatchi Abel about how to make it in one of the country’s top agencies.

If working on this kind of meaningful and boundary-pushing campaign appeals to you, inside Ad Land is where you belong too. So tune in again for Vol. 2 of Inside Adland.next month.

To find out more about the interesting work M&C Saatchi Abel has been up to visit their website at www.mcsaatchiabel.co.za.

* Responses edited for size and readability.

Get in on the challenge and send any emoji to @NSPCA_SA on Twitter, using the hashtag #AnimalsDoWhat. Or to make a donation, SMS ‘CARE’ to 38018. And let’s all give a little something back to the animals that do so much.



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