Absa is Embracing Africa’s Inherent Storytelling with ‘Here for the Ready’

Absa is shattering creative comfort zones with its ‘Here for the Ready’ ad campaign. The campaign promotes Absa’s newest initiative, formed to help young Africans take charge of their destiny. Absa strives to play a leading role in advancing African society, so not only have they put the initiative in place, but they are embracing it within their company culture.

For many years advertising, while using daring and innovative concepts, has stuck to the same ‘lights, camera, action’ production style. The ‘Here for the Ready’ campaign was produced in a revolutionary way by creative brand agency Grid Worldwide.

This is an ad that punches far above its weight and looks like it cost far more than it did to produce. Obviously, you think in the creative industry we push the boundaries and concepts, but from a technical point of view, we are very stuck in our ways, and we need to be challenged.

Kyle Schoeman, Creative Director, Grid Worldwide

The campaign needed to look and be African. Expensive and unsustainable Hollywood production had no place in this message. The minute-long advert also had to position Absa as an organization pushing for change while sparking curiosity in Africa’s youth. This was a tall order for 60 seconds of advertising produced under entirely new conditions.

Head of Brand and Design at the Absa Group is entirely behind the project, but nerves were high during production. “It was a calculated risk which forces you to rethink the way you do things because that’s the only way that change will happen,” she says. “It was a bit of a gamble, and there were some very grumpy faces on day one and two. The very real risk was that we’d end up with a second-rate campaign. We didn’t know if not having all the bells and whistles on set would impact our ability to achieve our creative vision and deliver content that’s world-class because, as a multinational bank, we can’t go out with anything that’s not top quality. And Grid Worldwide would not want to put their name to anything that’s not top grade either.”

Moore stresses that the production methods used were to test a new production approach and not cost-cutting.

If we can build a case for doing things differently, it’s a step towards a more sustainable, inclusive, just society, creating new opportunities to become the continent and the people we believe is possible. So, we took action, but being the first to start is uncomfortable and scary, and it requires a lot more effort.

Jenny Moore, Head of Brand and Design at the Absa Group

The equipment used was far more accessible, and the team forewent artificial lights, so natural lighting was crucial on location. The scouting team had to take all of this into account before selecting sites. They did a fantastic job as, while shot entirely in Johannesburg, the advert appears filmed throughout Africa.

The cast was drawn from across the continent and requested to come as themselves. “We didn’t want to change anyone, so we cast for who they were,” commented Kyle Schoeman, the Creative Director at Grid Worldwide. He went on to explain why no voiceover is used in the advert, as is characteristic of most bank advertising. “In bank adverts, there’s typically a voiceover speaking about success and the need to believe, and we decided to keep it more authentic by not having a narrator speaking to you about some fictional, aspirational future. We just let the music and the personalities of the cast speak for themselves,” Schoeman says.

The team further embraced the ‘Here for the Ready’ ethos by bringing young, upcoming photographer Basetsana Maluleka on set to shoot a series of stills for the campaign. The advert’s director, Justice Mukheli of Romance Films, mentored her. “It was an opportunity to really empower someone looking for a break,” says Schoeman. “We will continue down this road, and maybe in the next production, we’ll move from one mentee to three.”

Behind the scenes footage shows how Absa and Grid Worldwide managed to pull off a world-class result using accessible and sustainable methods. This footage will be shared on social media and offered to film schools to push upcoming creatives to think innovatively.

“Storytelling is an inherently African way of communicating – it’s in our blood and in our music. But for young people to get into this creative economy, into a space where they can hone that skill, traditionally needs big fancy equipment, a million people on set, and a lot of experience. And that makes it hard for young storytellers to get started. We created a test case by scaling back to show youngsters that you don’t need sophisticated equipment and deep pockets to succeed,” Moore says, “I’m incredibly proud of the team. As much as we were pushing and scaring everyone, no one said ‘you are insane’, and bravery is important. What makes this campaign a success is people getting behind the vision of what we are trying to do. They put their heart and soul into it, and magic happened.”