Can you share some of your background with us?
I grew up in Soweto and attended Leresche Primary School, followed by Altem High and ultimately attaining my matric at Nghunghunyane High. As a child my parents encouraged me to be active and it was in my pre-teens that I started taking dance classes. This exposed me to a existence very different to my township lifestyle. After attaining my Honours in Marketing at University of Johannesburg (then Rand Afrikaans University), I didn’t waste time. I gunned for working at the best of the best companies in South Africa.
Did you always strive to be a force to be reckoned with in the corporate world?
In the marketing world, the name Sylvester Chauke is synonymous with success and innovation. From the time he entered the advertising world as an intern at FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding)
If I said I planned all of this, I’d be lying!! All I did was embrace life and learn as much as I could. I was lucky that I was doing work that I believe I was born to do. At age 10, I knew I would spend a huge part of my life in marketing and advertising and I am so blessed to be doing exactly that.
Your introduction to the TV industry was at the age of 10; how did that come about?
I went to audition for a TV ad and I was one of the chosen youngsters because of my dancing and cute chubby cheeks! I arrived on set at 06h30 for my very first ever TV shoot with no clue how it would pan out; in fact, I thought it would be like a normal dance class in the studio. I arrived at The Turbine Hall and the cameras started rolling. I was amazed at the number of people on set and how organized it all was. It sparked my curiosity and I was hooked. That very moment changed my life forever and gave me something tangible to work towards to. I wanted to create ads or be part of this process for the rest of my life.
You first started out in the advertising industry, what lessons did you learn during that time about yourself and the South African advertising business landscape?
When I was started working Nkwenkwe Nkomo, one of my roles models, sat with a group of us interns at FCB and told us that there are approximately 4 500 people in the entire advertising industry and yet we influence millions of consumers every single day. That was incredible in that it highlighted to me the role we have to play in the advertising and marketing space. We are literally shaping behaviours and influencing a lot of minds. There were not a lot of black advertising executives back then and that reinforced to me that we need our fellow black people to pursue this industry so they too can place their mark in influencing audiences.
You are the name behind the success of Nando’s popular and very cheeky marketing strategy, especially the Julius Malema spoof. What are your highlights during your stint as National and Regional Marketing Manager at Nando’s?
The amount of engagement this campaign had was astonishing. Beyond just the interest in the ad, I learnt an incredible amount about managing crises and the importance of leaders in organisations. I was blessed to have had a few leaders at Nando’s who gave me space and support to shine during this campaign. As much as I ultimately had been the “one” responsible for the campaign, it’s the team that made the work come together so magnificently. I have always been brave, and I love taking chances and creating work that moves people – so working on a brand like Nando’s and the culture, you can’t do anything else but shine.
You were later appointed as Marketing Manager of MTVNA in 2008; did the success of the network in Africa come as a surprise to you?
MTV is an incredible brand and there are phenomenal young professionals fighting for the cause of a re-imagined and inspired Africa. MTV base is more than just a channel, so the success of the brand is indicative of a movement in the continent that I believe is still on a massive trajectory.
Your time with MTVNA exposed you to other African countries and nationalities. What is the one thing about Africans as a collective you learnt to appreciate?
My travels in Africa are always fulfilling. The one thing that I love about our continent is the amount of young people ready to drive us forward. Whether one is in Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique or Addis Ababa – there is a huge wave of energy and vision that the young people of this continent are using to take us forward. This is only the beginning and I see it in every country and every single visit – it’s inspiring!
What motivated you to take the leap to start your own marketing and brand consultancy company DNA Brand Architects?
I have always known that my own business was on the cards. In my role at MTV Networks as Head of Marketing and Communication it became more apparent that I had a lot to offer the business world and restricting it to just one brand was an injustice to my potential; so I set out to assemble a team of thinkers to join me on a journey to this new “think tank” of a business whose primary aim was to take brands to interesting places.
How have you found the transition from employee to business owner?
I was expecting it to be a lot harder than what it really was. You see, MTV Networks and Nando’s taught me to be present in whatever I was doing. The truth is that I still work as I hard as I did but I control a lot more than just being an employee. I need to make sure that my team is well looked after which allows us to create the best work we could ever think of. One big lesson is to never settle for the minister, ask for the president, choose your clients wisely and work with the best people who care!
What excites you about working with and developing people’s brands?
Brands outlive most people and that’s an incredible thing. We are building future assets and influencing culture - in some cases impacting society as a whole - this is very exciting!
In your opinion, has 18 years of democracy created a business environment in South Africa that is supportive to young black talent?
Unfortunately there’s a lot of talk but not enough action. There are so many young people who could be doing a lot more in this space. Small business is a sure way to grow our economy and fight unemployment and it’s us, the young people, who need to be opening those businesses. More can be done in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa.
There is an immense amount of talent on the continent yet we still struggle to tap into it. Why do you think this is?
Africa has an identity crisis. Our leaders are too old with a lot of old ideas and the young people are not engaged enough regardless of the fact that 60 % of the continent is under 30 years old! The youth need a platform to share and engage and help shape the continent. This is part of my mission as World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Our voice needs to be heard!
You recently sat on a panel discussing Africa’s Emerging Middle Class at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2012. What are the characteristics of this middle class in your opinion?
Across countries in Africa, the middle class is growing at rapid rates meaning we are seeing an “improvement” in living standards across the board. But the middle class in different countries is not necessarily the same, so it was tricky to get to a definition of a middle class that works across the entire continent. The discussion also highlighted that this middle class will continue to be more vocal and participatory in areas of government and policies that affect them. We want to hold our governments accountable and see change for the better in the continent.
Key points of the session mentioned there is a concern that this emerging middle class has the potential to be a liability. Do you agree with this viewpoint?
Totally! In South Africa, for example, we see someone driving a Range Rover as the ultimate measure of success, which is ridiculous. Conspicuous purchasing of goods alone is not a great measure of success because in most cases it’s debt and too much debt means you could easily slip back into poverty. We should invest, buy stock, shares etc.
What makes you celebrate and love Africa and being African?
This is the time for Africa to show the world what we have to offer. Africa is no longer just about poverty and suffering – we are innovating and pushing boundaries. The most exciting thing is that this is just the beginning. We are creating incredible brands that compare with the best in the world and much more is on the way.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
It’s my ultimate desire and goal to get to see our planet from space. I can’t wait!! When I return from that trip, I will be solving more brand problems with the most awesome team of DNA Brand Architects!