Chats Expanded: Somie Iwuoha

Interview By: Tshego ‘Red’ Mosiane


Somie Iwuoha is a young advertising professional based in Cape Town who is not afraid of voicing her concerns and experiences in the sector. We invited her to expand on the topic discussed in episode 2 of our talk show ‘Chats’ – the problem with South African branding, PR, marketing and advertising agencies.


REconnecteD: What do you think the biggest problem within agencies which leads to the disconnected content consumers see?

Somie Iwuoha: There are several issues:

1) The old guard that only lets in a select few into the inner-circle

2) Yes men

3) The lack of diversity and not only racially, but also itos of sex, sexuality, classes and age.

4) Expecting the select few to have all the answers and speak for every demographic they are trying to tick off.

5) Myopic POV. Most people can’t see past their realities, yes you can watch a doccie here and there to see how the other half lives and even be sympathetic enough to go and learn but you cannot ever have the range to tell those stories.

6) People are afraid of pushing boundaries they will rather have mediocre content that makes client happy that push the paradigms and start the new trend, instead it’s safer for the bottom line of the business to wait till client requests innovative content.


RE: Why do agencies rotate the same employees?

SI: Agencies rotate the same faces because, like every industry, when you get in dreams are sold to you and as you learn the reality of it you more than likely realize you are being used. Sometimes you are bored and move to another agency, realistically the only way POC can have growth career-wise is by switching agencies. It’s not that easy to be promoted as a POC within the same agency you started in. Most industries are like this, that is why if you want fresh blood, internships and getting committed juniors are the only way to switch this game up. To get a job within an agency, you 9 out of 10 times need previous agency experience. Brands can’t change who an agency hires, they just don’t have that power. The most they can do is change agencies or request a new Account manager etc. Often I have seen brands poach a Account Director that has been servicing their account for years and then brings them to lead their internal marketing team.


RE: Do you believe brands/agencies should be aiming for higher reach or higher engagement within the South African market specifically?

SI: I don’t think they have a choice but to aim for both, especially since the emphasis has shifted so much to digital where we can accurately track these metrics unlike TV and radio which are always estimates. Choosing between reach or engagement depends on the overall objective; if brand awareness or growing the brand the key performance indicator will have to be reach. If you want to know who your customer is or entice them to learn more about a product/service the natural KPI is of course engagement. Everything depends on what the overall objective is. Ideally you want several small campaigns throughout the year that allow you to increase both brand awareness (reach) and consideration (engagement).


RE: Who or what should be blamed for the creative redundancy in local advertising?

SI:  Agencies are set up in such a way that they demarcate who is deemed as creative or not, the AM team is supposedly the smooth talkers who can liaise with client but aren’t seen as creative while the creative department are snobbish and often treated with kid gloves to allow for their creative process without allowing any other outside input. But, if we keep it 100, creativity is not demarcated in real life. A mathematician can be creative, it’s not only the art director or copywriter. So currently SA has a copy + paste approach to creativity like “let’s see what they are doing in Europe or America, dumb it down and attempt to localize it”. Then you have the poor people who work in social + digital who are a great mixture of both creative and practicality since they engage with the brands core audience daily and have insights that neither the Account Management or Creative teams could ever have but are barely heard in the beginning stage of conceptualizing ideas.


RE: What are some of the internal struggles you and your colleagues go through that hamper your creative output?

SI: Dealing with people who don’t understand the overall creative process or the person that they have tasked to come up with ways to speak to their customers. Push back from people who aren’t about the culture, interested in besides the bottom line is a huge struggle. Often you come up with a great concept but know they don’t have the range to get it yet and receive so many reverts that you can’t even recognize your idea anymore. Eventually you stop bothering pushing the boundaries and give them something that is safe and boring but allows the brand to meet it’s objectives.



RE: In terms of fashion marketing, where do you believe agencies are going wrong from your personal point of view?

SI: First of all, I don’t think fashion marketing really exists within the borders of SA. I think overall agencies copy what they see overseas but originality doesn’t really exist. The SA market from a retail POV is so conservative but with influencer marketing as well as more of us having access to trends sooner than it was fed to us traditionally, brands are being forced to come up with innovative ways to speak to their consumer. The more digitally inclined SA’ns become the more pressure there will be from the consumer towards the brand to show them something they haven’t seen yet and make it edgy and cool.


RE: What do you think is the main thing agencies can and should do in order for them to create better content for brands?

SI: Listen to the kids, but at the same time the kids need to also learn the ad game as well as the corporate game so that when they come up with concepts they can package it in such a way that it keeps client happy or at least willing enough to take the risk. More importantly, stop copying Europe and America! We live in one of the most creative continents on Earth. Look at your neighbour, they probably have a cooler POV that speaks more directly to the African in you than Western countries who can’t see past their borders.


RE: What do you advise young creatives who are trying to get hired by agencies do to get these gigs?

SI: Create, Create, Create, do your own thing, show the different types of content you can create, think of concepts  that can live on multiple channels, create things with your mates, build your own following and try to become an expert  in one area while being competent in several others. This will mean that you can bring more to the table, also create a portfolio even if it lives on line but have a place where all your work can be accessed. Trust in your ability, 7 out 10 times you are probably ahead of the curve so just ensure that you can show how much you can bring  to the agency in terms of your abilities. Also don’t sell yourself short monetarily, you still need to eat.


Watch Chats Episode 2 here: