Clients, Agencies Should Collaborate To Raise The Bar In Creativity-Steve Babaeko, X3M Ideas B | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Brands & Marketing

Clients, Agencies Should Collaborate To Raise The Bar In Creativity-Steve Babaeko, X3M Ideas B

Posted: Jun 16, 2016 at 9:35 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


Olamide Bakare



Steve Babaeko runs one of the fast rising advertising agencies in Nigeria, X3M Ideas. Recently, he had an encounter with Olamide Bakare where he spoke on issues bordering on creativity, his  experience at the recently held New York Festival and knowledge sharing in the industry.


You were recently selected as a jury to participate in the New York Festival; were you the only person from Africa and can you share your experience?

Yes, I did not see anyone from Africa at the NYF apart from one other guy from Guinea that works with the NYF as a staff. For me, it’s a very fantastic experience considering that we have Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival (LAIF) awards locally which I am also the Vice Chairman. It gives me an opportunity to just look at the things we can learn from that global level. You are asking yourself, what can we borrow to improve our own local awards? And there were a lot of things we can learn or borrow from them to make ours better.  These include the quality of the Jury and the process of judging. With what I saw, they went for the best they can get across the world, who are creative people, to serve on the jury. We have the executive Jury and the Grand Jury.

As the grand jury, you did remote judging, they created a micro site within the NYF website, they send you an access code and you can go there and see the entries and make your judgments. So, as a judge from my office, I access the site on my laptop and judge over 7 days.

There were two rounds of those kinds of remote judging that we did. They now passed on the topmost ratings – first three to the executive jury who were on location. They will now sit down and decide. So from the judging, there are a lot to learn even from the event itself.  NYF is not the biggest advertising awards in the world but the quality that I saw on the screen was very impressive. So, I think those are the three things that stood out for me. We are in an environment where one of the greatest draw-backs is knowledge sharing. In this part of the world, people like to hoard knowledge.

If I may ask, as a practitioner, how prepared are you to share this knowledge?

I think the process has even started and it goes beyond LAIF. That we are talking here is a process of amplifying some of the learning. As part of the LAIF organizing committee it is incumbent on me to pass on the learnings. In fairness to the executives of the AAAN, they always make sure that such happens. I know somebody from another agency who was on the jury of Cristal Awards last year and we borrowed copiously from his experience to improve last year’s LAIF. I do not see an exception here, I believe I will be able to do a debrief to the team and make the learning available to all.

As NYF jury, you were assigned some creative materials to judge, as a Nigeria practitioner who flew the country’s flag at the event for the purpose of benchmarking, can you compare what we do here with what is available out there considering the materials you assessed?

I won’t lie because some of those materials I am familiar with. It’s like doing track and field events – the track star that wins in Montreal could go on and win in other tournaments. It’s a circuit. Some of those works will win in NYF, Cannes, AD&D. If I want to do a strict comparison, it may not be so fair. Advertising does not exist in a vacuum, advertising exists within a political socio-economic worldview. The level of education in some of those countries is way ahead, more sophisticated than what we have here. As a matter of emphasis, I judged the mobile and digital creative. I see what they are able to do because of the advancement of their digital space. We can’t even do it because we do not have enough bandwidth to even make videos play with re-buffering. Therefore, you can’t do apple with apple comparison because of some of the differences in socio-cultural milieu. Give it to them because most of the works I saw were quite interesting.

This question was prompted because of the challenges of domesticating global ads. Will it be right for us to copy what they do black and white, without adapting to the local frame of reference?

I won’t advice that because that is what we have done over a long time. If you look at the history of advertising, you could say there was a time that most of the story we told in our communications were rooted in our cultural worldview. At some point, we lost that and so we were trying to be “funky and Oyinbo”. But what is making Brazil, India win is that they have found a way to tell their own stories. You may not even understand because an Indian commercial may even be done in Hindu with a sub-title but everybody is clapping because it’s a unique story that tells about the cultural existence of a part of the global called India. I think that is what we must do. I believe strongly that what we must do is to find our own narrative and tell our own story so that our advertising can then have some kind of identity.

How do you ensure that when an Indian, American or Brazilian sees our commercial, he knows they are conceptualised in the local frame of reference but packaged world class?

I think we are going in that direction, forget some of the political and economic head winds we are running against presently, If you flashback like 10 years ago, let say there’s a part in Unilag and they are playing music, they will play nine foreign artistes, you will be lucky to get one Nigerian artist make the playlist.

Now, fast forward to 2016, if there is a part in Unilag today, they will play nine Nigeria artistes you will be lucky to find one foreign artist make the playlist. And even that foreign artist, may be, he was smart enough to have featured a Nigerian. That’s why he will make the playlist. I see a reversal of fortune such that has happened in the music industry, that is why Nigerian music is being so much sought after globally.

I think our advertising would move in that direction as well. We have done it with Nollywood. In music, people have done it.  Within this creative enterprise, advertising cannot afford to stay back for too long.

The idea of changing the narrative to reflect local ideas has been on for a while, what is slowing down that pace?

What is slowing the pace is just being more conscious of that direction that we are all heading both from the client and agency sides. Once we all agree that that is the best way to go, we will get it right.  Everybody is scared that cultures die and how do human beings sustain cultures if you look at the hundreds and thousands years that humans have been in existence?  The most potent way of sustaining culture is through that oral tradition – it’s in your music, poetry and today advertising is part of the communication landscape itself – it’s in your advertising.  For us to be able to sustain our culture and make sure that the generation coming after us is still able to see and refer to them. We must include that in our narratives. Once it moves across board between the client and the agency, we will see that that is the surest way to go, then we will get there faster.

So, how do you get the client’s buy-in into the idea of changing the narratives?

It is not an easy task. If you look at advertising, coming up with the idea is 50% of the job. Selling the idea to your client is the other 50%. The onus is on you as an agency to sell the idea. You must stand up for your idea, fight for it until the client says “shut up your dirty mouth, I am your client” then you let it go and find something else.

The truth is that if you believe in the idea the onus is on you to stand up for it and sell it. For example, when we did the Francis Odega “Gerrara here” for Etisalat, that is as local as it can get and it took us a bit of selling. We had sold the idea before we wrote it.

The client has bought the idea, then he said give us a script, we sat down and wrote the script. Agencies need to more of that kind of vigorous pitch to clients because having an idea is like having a baby job is not done after pregnancy you give birth to the baby. No, you have to care and nurture the baby, it is the same thing with ideas. Generating the ideas, taking it to client, selling it and making sure you nurture the process and production is fantastic just the way it was conceived and making sure environment is right. Your job never stops until the final execution.

Are you saying that the client cannot dictate to you as an agency?

Most often than not when the client dictates, they are not going to get the right result. I tell agency that they should not be close minded because the best ideas can sometimes come from your driver. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Of course, when you say clients should not dictate, it doesn’t mean client is not capable of coming up with ideas. But the best format that works for me is that agency and client should collaborate, that synergistic effort at creating is what works best.

Outside the awards, what were those discussions about Africa especially being the only African member on the jury?

They were curious to find out what is African advertising is like. I told them African is a continent of almost 1 billion people. Most people out there still misconstrue Africa to be a country. Just the way you find different kind of works in Europe and in America – East Coast Vs the West Coast in America is like a totally different continent on their own if you like. I know the curiosity was there, they wanted to find out what it’s like practicing advertising in Africa. As soon as they found out that I am a Nigerian, they were so excited that I even could join them and attend the event. It was just curiousity, lots of questions. Lots of questions about the environment, politics and so on and I tried to break it down as honestly as I could.

At the last Cristal, there were insinuations of improper parameters for judging the entries from different countries, going forward how do we ensure these parameters favour or do not work against entries from Nigeria and Africa?

If I look at it, there are two ways to it. First, there is the politics of awards generally. Even at our LAIF here, we see small agencies complaining that it’s dominated by the big agencies either rightly or wrongly. It’s like a black man is accused of committing a crime in America and you set up a jury of 12 white men or women, he’s already dead on arrival. The same thing happens with the awards jury. Unless we begin to see Africans finding their ways to the Jury, much may not change.

The truth is that sometimes this Jury do not even understand the cultural context the communication is coming from. They are going to see like about 150,000 works, they don’t have time to begin to crack their brains asking what does this or that means? They’ve already moved on. So, a good idea is already thrown under the box because nobody understands the cultural context in which the idea is rooted. Unless we are able to get more of our people to be able to find their way to be on the jury, we will still be disillussioned with such perception. In Cannes for instance, you see a sprinkle of black faces which is just for affirmative action but I really don’t know if anybody from Africa has been on the jury of Cannes before.

So, how are we going to win? Again, for us as a people, let’s us not dwell on “it’s all politics, we are never going to win” because India still wins and Brazil does too. What we need to do more is the packaging. If they say there is a way you must package your case films, you better get it right. Putting in an entry is one aspect of it, packaging your case film in such a way that it’ll tell the case history and the narratives (backgrounds) of these ideas is the second part and it’s an act in itself.  If you have not done a decent work of it then it’s up to you. Mind you the entry fee is not cheap! I think that is where we are missing out from.  Unless we are able to do this, I think we’ll still be challenged.

X3M Ideas is one of the new generation agencies, it’s never been in the history of the industry to be quoted on the stock exchange, what is X3M Ideas’ position in this regard?

We run an industry (advertising) that is over a hundred years old, it is not in anyway different from banks. The banks have been existing may be for a slightly longer period and they are quoted on the stock market. In Kenya, you have an advert agency on the stock market! Why not here? Forget that the stock market as it is in Nigeria is going through this schizophrenic state, where nothing is sure because of the economic head wind that confronts us. What that is saying is that when the economic indices begin to show us the (right) direction in which the government is going, it will be a good direction to explore.

Believe me, I am very open. We’ll probably do a private placement first as a precursor to going into the stock market proper.

How do you ensure that the Nigerian advertising industry gets the creative that wins awards particularly with generations that come after yours? Where will the idea come from especially for these young ones outside the AAAN academy which is yet to take off?

To be honest with you, winning awards, as far as creativity goes, is just one aspect of the whole agenda. You must advertise that will still need to sell a client’s brand. The father of Advertising, David Ogilvy says “If it’s not selling, it isn’t creative”.

So why you are battling to win awards, do not forget the goose that lays the golden eggs, you must move the hand of the needle for the brands in your custody. Secondly, our society is evolving – If you listen to the music of the past like Ayinla Omowura, to paraphrase one of his songs, he says “If a woman is beautiful and does not have good character, I can’t marry her, but if a woman is beautiful and also has good character, I can spend N 1000 to marry her. In that song, he captured the snippet of a moment in time as at the time that song was recorded.

He captured the fact that N1000 was of so much value. It’s like talking about using N10,000,000 to marry such a woman. In music it is done decently. Because the society keeps evolving,   generations after us will always find something in our cultural environment that will trigger creativity. There will always be something.Steve-Babaeko