Africa is THE future. No doubt, right? You can’t think otherwise. It’s advertised everywhere.
Here you are, packing your bags for a business trip to Africa. Let’s say you’ll launch a venture: an ad & design agency to be more specific. You have everything scheduled already, this one way ticket is part of the plan.
Determined, your head is full of dreams and you can’t wait to see a brighter sun!
The weather is shitty in Paris in October anyway…
This is my story, I’m carrying a guitar in my back -xxl graphic tablet in the bag- leaving Europe: free at last!
Matter of fact, do you know how hard it is to convince airlines company to let you carry your instrument and not put it in the luggage hold? But that’s another story. I’m Lionel Thomas, illustrator designer and musician, artist and… I’m African. I take great pride saying that.
My continent gets so many compliments like:
“The fastest growing region
“Second growth rate after Asian market”
“A vast market”
“A land of opportunities”
“The last frontier for the advertising industry” (I really love this one! More in this article.)
And on & on it goes. After reading/hearing so much beautiful things, you start dreaming, who wouldn’t? We proud to be Africans, especially for things that don’t affect our ways of living. Hell! We wish they did! Economics rumors about Africa are true. But on the field, it’s a different story.
The thing is: problems never ring your doorbell on the day they come. In my opinion, these are 4 issues we need to tackle -quickly- in the communication/advertising/design industry, before we actually see some changes -and a warmer sun- coming.
1. Design fell appart
Design sells, and good design sells even more. Businesses need to learn this phrase by hearth: master design and show it. If they can’t they should hire professionals to help them do so. Typography, proportions, aesthetics.. everything needs to be perfectly set to attract customers. It’s paramount. For example, if a restaurant’s name isn’t well displayed or don’t tease you, chances are the menu will fail too and you will judge the food and the chef as terrible. Your money will stay in your pocket and your feet far away from this place. See the series of reactions that happened at the first sight? Loss of revenues.
Business owners don’t realize those subtle details. Design is here to solve communications problems. Aesthetics aside, It has to be functional.
“How can I bring me more customers through my door?” they asked.
“Finesse your design and EVERY touch points your customers might encounter.” I said
“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares?” they replied.
“Well…for business sake, we should care.” I said.
2. Lack of Creativity
This confirm what I said earlier: desing gone bad. Bad typography. Bad advertising at its best. This really saddened me, in a big way, and I needed to talk about it. I ran through this ad as I was driving back home.
Picture me in the roundabout, pulling my car over and taking pictures. My brother’s telling me “what we doing here? Let’s go home!” i’m sorry… I just couldn’t just “go home”.
This is an ad about a local optician brand. Badly articulated, poorly executed, ugly, and that obviously violate every copyrights under the sun.
The idea: “wear our glasses and you’ll find the genius you’ve always been seeking all your life.”
Now we should redefine the word genius. Don’t get me wrong but Steve Jobs was an “insanely great” effective person -I’m not writting these words on a Mac- I don’t believe that his glasses had anything to do about it. That’s obvious, but need to be pointed out: just because you wear glasses doesn’t make you a genius or an achiever.
Communication & technology walk hand in hand: every tools we, creatives, use are given (at a cost) by technology/software industry. Photoshop is one of them; In Photoshop you can genuinely select, modify, copy and paste and that’s it! You got your ad on its way to the printer: Wrong…
With the limitless creativity power we have today, we should avoid such common mistakes.
The “copy & paste” era in graphic design is over since the 70s or 80s. The world has changed and Photoshop too.
Creativity is a very powerful thing, because it allows you to be totally devoted to your vision. In that case, they could have:
- Used a great african leader’s/thinker’s photo (copyrights infringement free, of course).
- Shot a pair of glasses, and tell a story through the
- Used 3D to show a broken glasses, how uncomfortable it is, and tell the clients how they can have new ones delivered in no time.
- Used an open book with blurred lines, that can make the viewer come closer, and feel the need of new glasses.
- Sky is the limit.
You see how you can set your business appart with creativity. There are optician stores everywhere but how special & unique your brand is? What you do differently? That will trigger the interest of your customers.
“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares?” they replied.
“Well…because creativity differenciate your business, we should care.” I said.
3. Lack of Know-How and techniques
A Wacom tablet, a Macbook Pro-or a PC whatever might do the trick– , the Adobe Creative Suite running, a descent desk, a well–lighted space, some good music in the background. That’s the working environment of a creative agency.
That seems normal. But for most of people out there, it’s still an expensive dream. I told you about the 80s and the evolution of Photoshop. I’ve met professionals here still managing to do the job with some few clicks on the mouse, I find it amazing. Some old school guys are still going with the mouse, though. Much respect for them. Keep doing it if you doing it right.
For educational purposes, I’d manage to get a tablet and teach children how to make their way around an illustration software.
You can get a wacom bamboo for 65$. That’s enough. It’s still a challenge in some countries: we are poor. And I pc and Adobe suite yet.
The solution is to make them affordable or at least introduce creative programs in schools.
Needless to say, governments are very terrible dealing with that issue. We have basics education program: science, economics, literature. When you want something more “artistic” you need to go a different path, this concept is well popularized in western countries, and some parts of North/South Africa…can we go in the middle please? There’s nothing.
Most artists are self taught, and internet played a big part in that evolution. Here comes the access to knowledge: it have to be quick and easy. If you go on YouTube you’ll find every tutorials you need. How fast you can access that knowledge is THE problem. The speed connexion we have allows you to play a video, go out for 2/3 hours and watch it entirely once you get back.
Who to blame? Governments, Internet providers? Both actually. I can only salute initiative of leaders like Mark Zuckerber to bring Internet access to everyone everywhere.
“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares about connexion speed?” he replied.
“Well…because internet is a big factor of development, we should care.” I said.
4. Barriers in our minds
Ice on the cake. This could be the biggest of all the 4 issues: pessimism. Trust me. It’s everywhere but its power get very strong in poor countries. It hits you so hard you get insomnia. It goes like:
“It’s never going to work”
“Others did that already, it don’t work”
“You can’t make a living with that”
“Go to school and get a real job”
“It’s hard !”
Every artists heard it once in a while. “All artists end up in the gutter” Gutters are everywhere in Africa! Don’t get fooled by nay sayers, you’d left your money on the floor. Life is hard, writting is hard, drawing is hard, shooting a video is hard, playing music or producing it IS HARD. We love beautiful things: great movies, beats that knocks, Picasso masterpieces. I can’t tell you how much we like to take these for granted. At some point, somebody sat all night working on it, and get rich in the process. This could be you?
Get your art out there, don’t care about what they say, if they say something it’s always good! Art triggers reactions, good or bad This is the goal: doing things because we love our craft so much that it keeps us up at night. If the marketing strategy is good, money will come.
Africans need to work hard and grind hard, nobody will come and do it for them.
“We don’t care we in Africa, who cares about artists anyway we need lawyers, doctors, economists: ” they replied.
“Well…because our music/art hardly sell overseas, we should care.” I said.
Oh, I forgot…
This is my point of view on Design and Ad industry in Africa, i’m very optimist about it. Change is gonna come. We just need to work on it slowly, not being rough, or arrogant on our peers. Always share knowledge, and always give. It’s gonna be okay. I’ve used some materials to illustrate my point, some people would have liked more African pics, more black skinned people. I don’t want to fall in this. I invite you to focus on the real problem: how can we change the visual marketing landscape in Africa, one step at a time. It’s about identifying the problem and coming out with a solution.
The field below is yours! Join the conversation! Let me know if you disagree, if i missed some points. Would you take a one way trip to Africa, leave everything behind you? How you’d manage the difficulties that’d come your way?