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The Bookmarks are the most prestigious digital awards in South Africa. Where other awards have, over time, added digital and integration as additional category, The Bookmarks have focused solely on returns on investment and great work in the digital space.

“This year has seen a record number of entries, which speaks to the tenacity with which our industry is approaching digital, and the increased budgets and focus clients are putting into digital at the core,” says John Beale Bookmark Judge and Managing Director of the Cape Town branch of MEC Nota Bene, a leading global communications strategy, planning and buying agency.

Beale, recipient of an individual Bookmark Award for Social Media Marketer of the Year for 2012/13, three Pixel Awards and several other accolades for stand-out digital and social media work, has the following observations off the back of a week of judging this year’s entries:

“The Bookmarks pride themselves on judging criteria of an international level, but some local themes and interesting trends prevailed in this year’s entries, starting with one which is a welcome addition that would make Sheryl Sandberg lean forward.

Female talent in digital is growing, and women are playing head to head with their male counterparts. Nearly half the entries in the Individual awards categories were from women, and the work was up to international standards.

Where we seem to fail on the people front, is in the use of influencers in our campaigns. We are lucky because South Africa is still relatively small in terms of internet reach, but that also means we default to the “good old trusty” influencers for any event, and having influencers tweet / post about your campaign to make it trend. Only a few brands took to the streets, and made it their mission to find new networks of influencers, that tapped into a true reflection of the African internet demographic – and hats off to them.

With agencies having less and less understanding of their target market, the brands that really dug deep into understanding popular South African culture reaped the benefits of quality content in terms of richness, but sadly not in terms of reach.

An ongoing problem with our industry, some of the best platforms and content I saw I’d never heard about. We spend a disproportionate amount of money on developing and creating, and not enough on telling people about these platforms / stories, this was clear in the results on most of the campaigns. For some reason (many of which I won’t discuss here), the 80/20 rule of media to production doesn’t hold true on digital platforms.

Similarly this year saw a huge increase in the ‘branded content’ and ‘native content’ categories, attesting to the forward thinking and progressive nature of our industry in terms of applying international trends here locally. Where the quality of most of the branded content was exceptional, the results for eyeballs on it were less so. Ironically a “buzzword” of our industry last year, native content, seems to be lost in translation across agency strategists, as only a few of the dozen entries qualified as actual native content, something we are definitely lacking some industry direction on.

Where we required very little direction, was in showing off our ‘integrated’ thinking. A record number of integrated entries were submitted this year, many of which you will see winning big this year, and not from your usual suspects. What was odd was that mobile integrated is still a separate category, and that it sported only a third of the total integrated campaign entries as a separate category. Sadly I think we’re still missing the boat on integration in SA.

Mobile should be central to ANY campaign, let alone an integrated campaign. There should be no campaign without mobile in a market like SA. I was rather harsh on campaigns that just plastered the same message on multiple channels and called this an “integrated” campaign – that’s a channel strategist using multiple channels. Integration is the weaving through of one story, with multiple messages per channel, and multiple actions into one cohesive experience on a platform of choice. We are still implementing customer journeys that make sense to the digital strategist, but not to the consumer. I think we still suffer from a lack of strategic integrated thinking, as the ideas are still formulated without digital centrally as the creative concept, but rather the TV script as the base and every channel gets that same message.

Sadly, I didn’t see one campaign that used many different creative executions per channel to optimise and run targeted messages to different groups of the audience. Digital creative costs must be the stumbling block, and clients need to demand more executions to ensure more contextuality in channel, and therefore better results.

Speaking of content, the rise of the use of video content in SA has been phenomenal. Facebook representatives recently told me that video content in SA on mobile has seen over 400% surge in the last year, and Youtube is now serving nearly 80% of its content to mobile. The rise of video content on mobile in SA beckons a change in the length and quality of content that matches the needs of a data sensitive market. Shorter, snackable video is still king, as drop off rates on all video content was high after 1m30 seconds.

Thankfully, many agencies realized the importance of a results based entry, which is the focus of the Bookmarks as ROI takes precedence over any other judging criteria. That said, you can see where digital hasn’t been fully integrated to the rest of the campaign, as results are still based on vanity metrics and non-business related stats. We need to focus our thinking on a client level, to all channels and platforms driving to one larger result, and if it isn’t driving to that result we need to be vigilant in making sure it does that or a secondary objective. Results statements varied from a plethora of results documents showing every Facebook stat they could get their hands on whether it be fans, post % reach, engagement per post (don’t care) to the fact that an online campaign (that was actually run in conjunction with a huge amount of ATL and BTL) was the only reason the brand saw a 112% increase in sales over the 3 month period. These discrepancies are easy to see. Rather show your full channel integration, and what digital did to uplift or help in driving the central KPI. Facebook metrics need benchmarks, don’t dump stats, unless %people reached on last post is our client’s actual KPI. We have a lot of work to do here, and I don’t think agencies or clients have enough skill to be vigilant and focused on the goals.

Will SA agencies and clients score big this year? Well, yes and no. The volume of entries speaks to the growth of the industry and importance of digital in SA, but we need to shift our focus to mobile, better integration of platforms, and true results-oriented campaigns that drive business value. Those brands that did will win big this year, and they put huge effort into their entries which stood them in good stead too.

What it did highlight is that we are not short on talent, which is fundamental to the growth of the industry.


John Beale has, for the past year, held the position of Managing Director of the Cape Town branch of MEC Nota Bene, a leading global communications strategy, planning and buying agency.

A graduate of both the University of Stellenbosch and the Red & Yellow school of Advertising, Beale has comprehensive through-the-line media experience under his belt.

His career highlights include spending 3 years as Nota Bene’s first integrated strategist, heading up the strategy division at leading social business agency, Cerebra, being the recipient of an individual Bookmark Award for Social Media Marketer of the Year for the 2012/13 period, as well as being part of the team that garnered no less than three Pixel Awards and several other accolades for stand-out digital and social media work for telecoms giant, Vodacom.

Under Beale’s expert direction, coupled with his thorough understanding of paid, owned and earned, vast digital experience and expertise, deep understanding of the role of brands in communities, content and conversations, and his appreciation for the potential of integrated media, MEC’s Cape Town office (MEC Nota Bene) has seen significant growth and success.


An operating brand of the GroupM stable, MEC Nota Bene is an agency focused on integrated communication in channel strategy, planning and buying.

MEC Nota Bene puts content and digital at the centre of the strategic process, without independent digital departments. Digital and data form a central part of the integration, both before and after, but most notably during campaigns in order to optimise against client’s core business goal

With a strong South African presence in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, the company has remained at the forefront of innovative media solutions for South Africa’s best loved brands.

Agency rating in the SA Market

  • 89 media specialist working as an integrated communication team
  • SA Billing: R3.2 Billion
  • Ranked no. 4 Media Agency in South Africa in RECMA 2013
  • First communication channel agency in South Africa – focus on strategy
  • First media agency to integrate activation team within agency, MEC Access
  • Actively involved in the media industry in SA: AMF Director, Board of SAARF, Judge of Loeries, Bookmarks, FM Adfocus, Lecture AAA
  • Powered by GroupM, the no.1 media buyer globally and in SA (globally purchase 32% of time and space and represent 36% of the market in South Africa)

To find out more, visit #DontJustLiveThrive

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