This piece first appeared in Open Africa, a custom digital publication by Ornico that features interviews, insights and business lessons from some of Africa’s leading CEOs, innovators and decision makers.
Download your free digital copy of Open Africa here or go to and share your feedback on social media using the hashtag: #OpenAfricaMag

Zibusiso Mkhwanazi on #OpenAfricaMag
Zibusiso Mkhwanazi on #OpenAfricaMag

The digital revolution has brought about a sea-change in the way that brands market. The web, multiple social-media
channels and smartphones have combined to create a media-savvy consumer who wants to be able to interact with the business, rather than be just a B2C ‘target’. This means that businesses need to embrace a two-way, integrated approach to marketing, based upon solid data — and this requires putting digital at the core of their strategies. Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, of integrated agency Avatar, shares his vision of integrated advertising with Open Africa, and talks about how technology will play a role in future African growth.


#OpenAfricaMag: How has technology changed advertising? What does this mean for how brands select the agencies they work with?

Technology has now become the core of advertising, with technology integrating the different communication channels for measurement and meaningful brand engagement. When a brand selects an agency, it should be an agency that seeks to understand the brand’s customer through data [and] then translates the data into engaging creative that uses the correct channels so that communication with the customer is more relevant.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: Technology enables agencies to do work across territories — what does this mean for agencies and brands?

It means that the method in which today’s agency functions has drastically changed; the agency is now dealing with people across different cities or countries, depending on the scarcity of skill required. This effectively means that the agency operations, project-management methodology and quality-management processes have to adapt for timeous delivery. This can be a big opportunity for brands, because ideas presented to the brand by the agency would be more diverse, tested in other markets and less likely to be a repetition of the same creative ideas.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: How important is appreciating market differences (culture, language etc) when working across borders in Africa?

One cannot assume that what works in one country will work in another, and local translations don’t necessarily mean that the work will fit hand-in-glove. From the outset, the concept must be created in such a way that it is versatile enough to allow adaptations in whatever market it is produced for from a functionality, visual and communication style perspective.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: Do you physically need to be in a country to do work that targets audience there?

It is an advantage, but not a necessity. What’s important is to involve people who understand the local influences and culture from the beginning to the end. That is where collaboration via technology becomes especially key in today’s world. One cannot just work with assumptions.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: What has your agency learned about doing work across Africa?

Invest more time in listening and learning, rather than coming up with solutions.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: What do big brands need to know about branding when they move into the continent?

When a big brand enters a new territory, it now becomes a challenger to existing and established brands in those markets. Being a challenger means being open to change, being flexible and having the agility of a challenger brand to challenge the incumbent brands for the leading spot.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: How quick is the pace of change of technology — how does this affect managing brands? What do brand managers need to know about technology to manage brands well in the digital space?

I don’t think that they need to know all of it because it’s almost impossible to keep up with innovation and change in the tech arena. I would say rather be open to learning every day on the effect/benefits that technology has on their brands.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: How is online customer engagement changing, given that content is so prolific? How do you capture people’s attention?

You can’t be everything to everyone. It’s defining and understanding who you are trying to talk to, what drives them to take action (using data), then presenting the content in a relevant and compelling manner so that they are comfortable in speaking back to you.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

#OpenAfricaMag: Anything you want to share that I haven’t asked?

Partnerships in unknown territories and spaces are better than going at it alone from a risk perspective. Co-branding is the next big thing for South African companies venturing out into different countries on the continent.
~ Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

About Zibusiso Mkhwanazi
Zibusiso Mkhwanazi  is a multi-award winning South African advertising entrepreneur, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and the founder/cEO of integrated advertising agency, AVATAR.

Follow him on Twitter: @ZibusisoSays

For more insights on growing businesses, organisations and brands in Africa, download your free digital copy of Open Africa here or go to
Please share your feedback on social media using the hashtag: #OpenAfricaMag