Selling the Fact that We “Get It”

How a leading South African agency is navigating the challenges of artificial intelligence and using technology to carve out a new agency model

The flurry of panic that filled our timelines in the wake of the introduction of ChatGPT was inescapable. Are copywriters redundant? Has the industry been subsumed by artificial intelligence? Do we even need creatives anymore? This is just one of the monumental shifts in the advertising and marketing industries that agencies and clients are having to navigate in 2023. We’re at a pivotal moment and leading creatives at Johannesburg-based agency the Brave Group are more than ready for the challenges ahead. 

“There are a couple of paradigm shifts in the industry that we need to be acutely aware of,” says Group Chief Executive Musa Kalenga. “We’re going to see a maturing of the integrated approach, as clients are finally seeing its value and efficiency.” Kalenga also addressed the existential crisis facing agencies in the wake of more sophisticated artificial intelligence, explaining how this technology will push the limits from a creative perspective. 

But newly-appointed Chief Creative Officer Thibedi Meso isn’t too concerned about being replaced by a computer. He sees it as a challenge to accelerate creativity and go beyond traditional forms of advertising to create truly innovative campaigns. “When you speak to a lot of creatives the thing that they always say is they want to change the world or create impact,” he explains. “We’ve used words and visuals to do this before but what are we going to use next to create the same impact?” 

Meso also recognises the limits of AI, anticipating that the much-valued human elements of creativity – great insight, great storytelling and empathetic perspectives – will be around for some time. But how long until AI becomes sophisticated enough to emulate these uniquely human attributes? Meso isn’t sure. “We don’t know how far this technology will go and how much it will evolve. Will this technology eventually have the capability to create great writing? That’s the biggest question,” he muses. One thing that Meso is certain of, is that writers will have to up their game to stand out against human competitors as well as artificial ones. 

Clients may fail to see that ChatGPT cannot replace human insights in copywriting. So how can agencies show clients the value of creative partnerships? “I think what we’re going to end up selling is the fact that we get it,” says Kalenga. He explains that agencies will have to completely immerse themselves in clients’ businesses and daily operations to take in the company culture and know their brand inside out. “This isn’t just immersion to address a brief,” he explains, “it’s to be plugged into the client’s ecosystem to such an extent that when there is a brief that comes out there is no requirement to give the agency any context or sit and get creatives up to speed with what the client is trying to do.” Kalenga refers to “getting it” as a level of intimacy with the client that can be facilitated and grown in the time that creatives save by using technology like ChatGPT. This intimacy, or the ability to “get it” is valuable. 

However, in the rapidly shifting adscape, clients also need to offer agencies something in return. Kalenga and Meso agree that first and foremost clients need to recognise that things have changed and that both agencies and clients are embarking on a journey of learning together. Kalenga also explained that a lack of leadership when it comes to the agency/client partnership is a frustratingly frequent occurrence. Says Kalenga: “This typically results in misunderstandings and misaligned briefs among other issues. So I think there’s still a strong need for our clients to show up and be able to lead. This gives us the ability to be somewhat protected as an agency but also the ability to map out the internal dynamics of organisations.” 

It’s clear that Kalenga and Meso have thought things through in terms of the ever-increasing presence of tech in the industry and how it meshes with current creative models. As for the year ahead, both Kalenga and Meso are taking a more people-centric approach. Kalenga believes that hiring creatives who are acutely attuned to advertising paradigm shifts and are future-focused is the key to agency success. Meso has his eye on industry changemakers. “Young people enter the industry with ideas of what it should be and they don’t want old ideas imposed on them. I’m looking to embrace that talent. The people entering the industry with big ideas of what advertising could be in the future.”