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Making your fav Ad takes more than meets the eye

Seconds of stitches: There are Ads we see on TV and totally relate, and then there are Ads that leave us in stitches for just seconds. But what does it take to pull off an outstanding Ad?  Edgar R. Batte writes.

A nice advert is like a good song or its music video. The artiste gets the shine for a job well done. But like enjoying a good meal at your favourite restaurant, there is a chef and team you might never get to see or know about. Similarly, bringing a nice advert to life takes a technical crew, and many times a rigorous process.

Today, Patrick Nkakalukanyi revels in newfound fame thanks to the MTN Freedom advert on television. Before he hit our screens, he was another actor who would comfortably stand by a rolex stand, order a snack and walk away. Today, heads will turn at the sight of him.

To his admission, long lost friends are calling and jokingly asking him to share some dimes from the Ad and fame it brought with it. You could say he was the lucky one.

A night before the MTN advert in which he appears was shot, Nkakalukanyi was contacted by Wilber Rugarama, the chief executive director of Xtrim Casting. The latter asked Nkakalukanyi to send him a video audition. He was to imagine himself on a dinner date with a lady and as he enjoyed his food, a waiter suddenly takes his meal away. He did just that.

“Usually, when I am doing video auditions, I submit two versions to favour me. I sent Wilber two videos on WhatsApp and the next morning I was contacted by Xtreme Casting informing me that I was cast for the advert,” Nkakalukanyi, an actor, recounts.

His artistic delivery in a non-verbal yet richly communicative Ad will tickle you and yet at the same time deliver the message. Eric Mununuzi, a creative director at TBWA, scripted the advert. He is the intermediary between the client, MTN and the production house, Swangz Avenue. Like his fellow creative directors, Richard Tuwangye and George Wabweyo, their work is clear cut.

They get a clear brief from a client articulating what they want to achieve, then they work closely with the production company to create a communication plan that achieves what they want to say and who they want to say it to.

“The magic then comes from picking on audience insights that help us land the message; what do they like, how do they speak and act, what do they talk about in their circles, etc. It is such insights that help us create Ads that spark interest and conversation,” he explains.

Wabweyo adds that copywriters and creatives like him sometimes initiate the creative process by designing concepts that will sell brands or products to customers. As such, a client looks at a concept and approves or makes additions.

Ultimately, Wabweyo, Tuwangye and Mununuzi agree that the ultimate goal is to create a good relationship between a brand or product and the customer.

Tuwangye adds that the process of making an advert depends on how short or detailed a brief is. “Company X that wants an ad will have a team under their marketing department that is responsible of making sure they attain the brand’s representation. As such they will give a brief to the creative. In the event that the brief was not detailed, there will be a lot of back and forth. It happens a lot,” he explains.

He adds that whereas many creatives are good, not all can create from a productive point of view.

Benon Mugumbya is the production director at Swangz Avenue. He explains that prior to the day they shoot the advert, there is a process they adhere to as a collaborative partner with advertising agencies, for example getting a proper brief to guide their production.

“When I conceive the script of an advert, I start seeing it in my head. I put myself in the position of the viewer. What is the viewer’s take-out? Are they going to appreciate it? But then, also, are they going to get the message? We are not just doing to feel good, we need to make sure that the advert is going to translate into numbers for the client,” Mugumbya explains.

Tuwangye adds that it is imperative that as a creative director, he is present during the shoot or as the productive crew executes its work to give support. Mununuzi also emphasises the need for teamwork.

“As a creative director, I am accountable for the final creative product so I have to participate in making decisions with the team,” he adds. Getting the ‘right’ actors and actresses that will deliver the anticipated message in an advert is never a walk in the park.

Moses Nsubuga, commonly known as Viboyo, is a fixer and production manager. He explains that many times, they cast hundreds of actors and actresses but the team might not be impressed or convinced, so the process takes longer than anticipated.

For example, the team that shot the ‘Freedom’ advert was not convinced until Nkakalukanyi’s audition came through.

“Many people auditioned for the advert and I even lost count. Getting the right person was not easy. We were meant to shoot the advert the next day but we were still unsure of the person who would lead as character on set. We had to push for another day. The success and delivery of the advert was the male character. He never disappointed,” Nsubuga explains.

Nkakalukanyi was the ‘lucky’ male actor for the advert. He has been acting since 2009, and it was the experience he has galvanised as an actor that convinced the team to hire him.

Mugumbya says some actors are fast at conceiving ideas while others might take a little while. “When Benon told me his expectations, I did my best. I swallowed a big piece of meat because he needed my cheek to bulge. Luckily, we never had to have many takes,” Nkakalukanyi recounts.

Mununuzi observes that respect of all elements that bring an advert to life is paramount. As such, it is not solely about cracking a great idea but also about how you bring that idea to life.

It takes a good script, a fitting choice of actors and excellent production values which include, among other things, capturing the right moments and using the right music. Cate Ayella, a stylist, explains that working as a team is very critical because the choice of one thing affects the entire campaign.

“The choice of wardrobe used was not only about the characters and helping to tell the story with clothes but also as a trendsetter for anyone watching the campaign,” Ayella says. Upon receiving a briefing from a client, she interprets it and comes up with ideas and gives options from her personal creative thought. When the team has played their part, the director of photography (DOP) will come in to capture it all on camera.

Emmanuel Gashumba, a freelance DOP who has worked on a number of adverts and visual works, is always thrilled when creating with ‘Director Benon’ because he gives him the liberty to use all tools at his disposal to make beautiful imagery.

He was contracted by Swangz Avenue as the DOP on the Freedom ad. “The agency-approved script was packed with humour so we had to figure out how to make it look comical yet still cinematic. We went for high-key lighting for our main cast and yet still treated the rest of our space with just the right amount of contrast for the cinematic feel,” Gashumba explains.

To achieve the bigger message, he adds that each of the team members has a contribution.

“The rest of the humour was the director’s touch to the story and how he wanted our actors to express those emotions of dissatisfaction at having their food taken away midway,” he adds. Being part of a shoot is an eye-opening yet entertaining experience. The cameras, the lights and action will leave a layer of glamour on your eyes and ultimately mind.

But Tuwangye cautions that the beginning justifies the end. He shares his two pence about adverts that are ‘brewed’ in boardrooms where more heads have to come together to come up with an idea.

His reservation is that often such adverts suffer a stillbirth as each of the members is intent on their strand of thought to be respected and executed. To him, such ideas can be harmonised and better still shared with a creative who can be supervised to bring them to fruition.

In the same breath, Mununuzi says they are not out to simply create adverts but stories that click with the audience. “Another key thing is emotion – that’s what makes ads stick, so we always endeavour to elicit a laugh, a smile or a warm fuzzy feeling. That’s why MTN adverts are usually on either side of the emotion scale – you either love them or you hate them, but you feel something,” he adds.

Wabweyo says the most challenging thing about contributing to an advert campaign in Uganda is the complex market, a thought Tuwangye shares. The two argue that marketing books don’t work but knowing our people does.

“As creatives, our work is approved by marketing professionals, some of whom are sworn to what’s in international marketing books and classes. Reconciling what is on ground and what is in the marketing books is a great challenge,” Wabweyo adds. Tuwangye says he has more fun as a creative if a client is open to going the ‘disruptive way’ as opposed to playing safe.

“Many companies like to play safe. That is why you will find competing companies having almost similar adverts. Today, I give credit to teams that put their feet in the deep waters to risk and disrupt the market. When you play safe, you get lost in the clutter,” he explains.

Two of Wabweyo’s favourite ads include the Centenary Bank’s Supawoman whose creative process he was part of. “It was highly effective at bringing unbanked women to the fold. Then, the Mukama Nayamba advert; While not of high production value, the ad suited its omuntu wa wansi audience and had people talking in 2020,” he explains.

To him, the most fulfilling thing about contributing to an advert campaign is seeing it achieve success and changing the lives of millions of people.

“A successful advert makes money for clients, agencies, and even positively touches the lives of consumers. It’s a humbling thing to be part of something that great with a transformational ripple effect on society.”

In his 46 seconds of fame, Nkakalukanyi recounts different takes, and different angles that had to be shot and captured, each with different still and motion cameras.

It needed a steadfast character and he was the one. He is optimistic that it is a strong stepping stone that will bring him more such opportunities of representing big brands and ultimately money in the bank.

Viboyo says…

“Many people auditioned for the advert and I even lost count. Getting the right person was not easy. We were meant to shoot the ad the next day but we were still unsure of the person who would lead as the character on set. We had to push for another day. The success and delivery of the ad was the male character. He made our job easy because he never disappointed.”

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