Intelligent, creative and African

These are the three utterly accessible secrets to incredible content creation on the continent, for the continent and the world

Intelligent, Creative and African

In the competitive world of television, how do you create authentic content that is good enough to keep viewers – and, therefore, advertisers – coming back for more? These are some of the questions I put to and discussed with renowned television producer Nonhlanhla Dlamini. And many of her comments may surprise you.

She’s known for producing shows like Khumbul’ekhaya and Date My Family, and more recently was the Edit Director of Young, Famous and African. This is the wildly successful first-ever African Netflix original reality series that, in March 2022, was again the first-ever programme launched by Netflix in 82 markets simultaneously. 

Anyone in the communications business is always looking for content that hits the audience right in the feels and keeps them coming back for more. We’re all chasing numbers: X amount of ad spend equals X number of eyeballs, which should amount to X number of new clients and X value of revenue… or some version of this. But it all starts with content.  

While the parallels between making compelling content and advertising may be obscure, there are many lessons for advertisers to learn. We began by talking about relevance, which is one of the critical success factors in reaching any audience.

I was particularly interested in learning how a woman who has honed her craft for more than 20 years continues to achieve such relevance. 

Go to the townships

Her first message in our discussion was to go to the townships. One hour later, in the end, she repeated the same message. And she’s right. Consumers worldwide are not only those who live in fancy suburbia. The mass market is everywhere, and it’s vital to know who they are and what they think. 

When Dlamini was making Khumbul’ekhaya she bounced ideas around with her grandmother. She went clubbing with her son when developing a concept for 18- to 25-year-olds. Hanging out with a broad range of ekasi (“in townships”) age groups helps her to understand what resonates with the masses. 

Go to the socials

Social media is another great source of insight. I’ve always considered it a gift to the comms industry, not just because it’s yet another channel but because it shows you exactly who’s looking at what. Never before have we had such a clear insight into the media and the content people consume at different times and stages of their lives. 

“What’s great about Insta reels and TikTok is that they show you what resonates with various audiences. It enables you to identify what will land. I pick up trends by looking for the people talking about the kind of content I want to create a show for,” she says.

Once she’s refined a concept, she goes back and sits down again with the people she spoke to initially and asks them what they think of it. This gives her a better sense of what will work. 

Dlamini adapts her concept according to their input, making sure that it is as relevant as she wants it to be. If such thorough research is the key to making programmes that work for huge audiences, it’s a lesson that advertisers and marketers can easily mimic. 

Go to the heart

Empathy is another watchword that I have in common with her. “People are going through a lot right now and want to be entertained,” she says.

I agree that if you give an audience half an hour in which they forget that their car is in danger of being repossessed or their rent might bounce, they’ll tune in to your next episode. It seems obvious, yet the corporate world is not in the habit of delivering its advertising and marketing messages in an entertaining way.

So what makes a show entertaining? Dlamini is unequivocal: it must look amazing. “This means colour, beautiful settings, high-quality production values, clever editing with movement and montage. 

“We’re also deliberate about music and sound. And with ‘emotainment’ it’s essential that if the content is dealing with heavy subjects, it doesn’t mean it has to leave you feeling heavy and sad.”

This last point goes back to what I said earlier about brands not consistently delivering messages in an entertaining way. Even if you’re advertising a dry and serious product, your audience will pay more attention and better recall your ad if you make it entertaining. 

Dlamini makes an equally interesting point when she acknowledges that much of the content in entertainment television is thin. “There is an art to accentuating certain moments, pausing in the right place, choosing the right setting. This is all the science the viewer doesn’t see, but is what keeps them glued to the screen, not necessarily a storyline,” she says. 

The similarities are apparent. Much of what is seen in reality TV shows is not what happens in real life. Not all of it and not all the time, but mostly it comes down to production. It’s about hiring houses, leasing cars and dressing both sets and people. Isn’t this precisely what we see in mainstream television advertising? 

Go home

Dlamini says that as South Africa becomes more digital, we become more local in our content consumption. Initially, the expectation was that the more social and digital platforms available, the less we would watch local shows. 

However, the opposite has proven true: The more connected we become and the more choices we have, the more we choose to watch our own content. 

Advertisers forget about platforms like YouTube at their peril. Certain television programmes upload episodes to YouTube because they know audiences increasingly view content on their cell phones. 

“Just because we’re moving into a digital space doesn’t mean we’re only watching Netflix,” as Dlamini puts it.

She says South African TV channels look for hyper-localised programmes. “We Africans love watching ourselves much more than we enjoy watching other nations. We especially like watching ourselves in a compromising light, pointing, laughing and mocking. But we also want to be touched emotionally. 

“We want authenticity, and we want it to look expensive because this is also part of authentic Africa. The joy is that we don’t have to explain ourselves to audiences. This love for hyper-local programming explains why Netflix hasn’t superseded Multichoice.”

Of all the gems from my chat with Dlamini, confirmation that local is lekker is my favourite takeaway. It lends heart to your creativity as we embark on 2023. Here’s to a great new year.  


This article was published in INC Africa

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