A HERO'S JOURNEY 2010

Carl Jung first observed  the same key story-lines emerging in storytelling across time and cultures. He called these “archetypes” and argued that they were a living manifestation of his [new] notion of the “collective unconscious”. Time now to apply the “Hero’s Journey”, as described by Joseph Campbell in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, to the development of extraordinary ad campaign storytelling that leverages the three main acts of departure, initiation and the return in every great story told.

The first act, Departure” typically opens with the hero in his “ordinary” world receiving a call to overcome some larger than life challenge. Initially he questions the mission but inevitably succumbs and the adventure begins. In Act Two the “roads of trails” are steep and reach a pinnacle when, the hero endures the “supreme ordeal” .This is the moment of truth when the hero is forced to confront and overcome his worst fear, that “darkest hour right before the dawn”, as Dylan put it. Act Three is about the return home. Sometimes the hero is reluctant to return. Inevitably this act is dominated by great “chase scenes” as the hero is pursued by vengeful forces, from whom he has taken the proverbial elixir. Importantly the journey would be meaningless if the hero did not bring back the elixir to transform and endow "home" with new found freedom.

Using the hero’s journey as the construct, this is the story of what we thought South African Tourism should do for FIFA’s World Cup to be held for the first time on African soil back in 2010.

If words are ideas, this campaign was inspired by three words: “call”, “champion” and “challenge”.  Each key word was imbued with multifaceted meaning. Take “call”. Firstly, it’s about a distinctively African call for humankind to come together in South Africa. Secondly the inner calling or “vocation” for each of us to be all we can be, and thirdly a calling to share in a rebirth or “African Renaissance”.

Job #1 was to call (South) Africans to rise to the occasion, to (again) defy expectation to make this the first World Cup held on African soil, the most magical, transformational event ever. Because nothing is impossible when (South) Africans find consensus and get going — we are ground breakers breaking new ground, we are all “alive with possibility”.

The second word used to inspire the campaign was “champion” as in #1: hero, warrior and winning athlete (the soccer idols); #2: endorser, evangelist (the fans). But we had to define Africa’s unique breed of champion. One way of framing this was not to differentiate between “champion” as a noun or a verb. The Western (American) conception is that individual achievement, represented by the noun Champion, automatically contributes to the collective good. The Afro- centric view turns this on its head as the philosophy of Ubuntu argues that the Championing (verb) of the group is the key to individual fulfilment. In sporting language: “If the team wins  then I win.

In the real game of life it is not only about the win, it’s about the game itself, the set-up, the preparation, the intricacies of the play, and almost incidentally how the win was ultimately achieved. Central to the positioning of this African World Cup was the notion that every single person (however seemingly small) plays a role and can play the winning role in the game of (football and) life.

This African brand of champion therefore embraces the vital concept of camaraderie: that spirit of brotherhood | sisterhood, fellowship and, espirit de corps. It’s about “ubuntu”, that timeless African characteristic that’s about a higher order level of humanity achieved through symbiotic growth grounded in a notion that says: “I am because of you”.

The third and final word the campaign leveraged was “challenge” as in #1: to overcome obstacles, hurdles, # 2: throwing down the gauntlet, facing off,  #3: inflame, ignite. For World Cup 2010 this meant motivating the people to rise to the challenge, to overcome every challenge along the way and to never stop championing transformation in us all; to bring new possibilities to us all for in the end brand South Africa stood for just one word: possibility.

The proposed campaign was to open with a couple of big commercials that surrounded the theme of the archetypal calling. In the first for example we see the prow of a boat nudge the rocky shore of a foreign beach. Then we see a foot clad in leather step ashore. A musical track starts to build, primitive, awakening, intriguing…then morphs allowing us to hear the textures of the city as we see the man more fully, dressed in a simple animal skin. He is an African emissary, a man we call “Isithhunywa”, the “messenger” running with an elongated trumpet in one hand. He runs past familiar landmarks, between skyscrapers in New York City, over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, down the Champs Elysees in Paris. Eventually, we see him poised high up on the Statue of Liberty as he raises a vuvuzela to his lips. Time stands still as the sound of the vuvuzela blares with a primeval resonance. Then we see him above Big Ben, silhouetted high on the Acropolis, the Eiffel tower, surrounded by a mass of electronic billboards in Tokyo. The sound stops everyone who hears it. A man is caught putting a fork to his mouth, a woman about to take a sip of tea, a policeman directing traffic, a fireman polishing his truck. They all turn towards the sound, towards the dawn with the light reflected on their faces…and leave their posts gravitating towards the eerie sound. Hundreds of people are running now from houses, offices…the track reaches a crescendo, then stops with nothing but their breathing breaking the silence. Super: FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010. It’s your calling.

The second big commercial “Spread the calling” opens on Isithunywa high on the slopes of Table Mountain, Cape Town blowing his vuvuzela. The call is picked up by a young boy herding sheep in the country that takes his horn and passes the sound along and so the calling is passed to a game ranger on the savannah to a woman drawing water by the river. Thus the calling spreads across Africa by tribesmen on the slopes of Kilamanjaro and city dwellers in Marrakesh and Cairo…along the way even an elephant trumpet in return. Then we cut back to Isithunywa with his vuvuzela slung over his shoulder about to board a train home, when he faintly hears the call then smiles as someone at the other end of the platform raises a vuvuzela and answers.

The call is spreading and is beginning to be heard. In another commercial it reaches the people of Africa and the world through every conceivable means of communication. So the vuvuzela resounds over a portable radio on a table of a street vendor, over the TV in a crowded shebeen, over the PA system in a packed football stadium, over the tracks on a seething platform at a train station…each time the sound of a vuvuzela is transformed appearing thicker, thinner, smaller and bigger… as a man opens a window to hear it. In each case the listeners stop dead in their tracks and turn their heads towards the source as a male voice-over asks: “What will you do when the call comes, how will you rise to the challenge, how will you prepare to show the world the warm embrace of Africa, how will you make the World Cup your own”?

To dramatize Africa’s breed of “ubuntu” champion, championing the cause during the games we created this commercial: Pull back from the fans behind the net, to the goal being scored, back to the pass that made it possible, the throw in, the kick off, the players on the bench, the coach and manager shouting from the side line. The voice over goes: “because when we celebrate the goal, we also celebrate the pass, the throw in, the kick-off, because we know that those who made the team exist because of those who made the squad and those who chose them, that none of them could exist without the fan who cheers them on”. Now as the story is told in reverse we see the fans disappear, leaving just the stadium, then the stadium itself deconstructs to see the foundations being laid, the grass, the seeds coming out of the ground to one man taking a spade out of the ground…and back to when he awoke that morning to the calling of the vuvuzela.

The longest and most significant of the phases “answering the call” celebrates all the extraordinary things ordinary South African will do in rising to the challenge and playing a role however small in making 2010 a success. These extraordinary stories told by ordinary people, might for example include Sophie, proud proprietor of Diepsloot’s (a suburb in Soweto) first five star bed and breakfast; posing in front of her little establishment that she’s so proud of, ready to welcome and delight visitors. Or it might be that Bongiwe has answered the call and is selling vuvuzela shaped “koek sistas” (fried cakes that look like an intertwined plat) at a busy traffic intersection. Or it might be Belina teaching tourists the traditional custom of carrying water on her head. The possibilities are endless.

We come now to “transformation”, the final stage of the hero’s journey. For this, we pitched a big commercial that opens on fans arriving at South Africa’s international airports. We see them streaming through like ants all dressed in different colors, a queue of blues streaming through arrivals, a group of reds at the carousel, a group of greens boarding the bus. They embody the “western fan” stereotype, they are here for war to see their team overcome because winning is really everything. Or is it?

For then we show the different colors interacting with each other and with Africans. During this process the colors symbolically smudge, wipe off and mingle as they rub shoulders in a taxi, embrace each other in the pub after a goal is scored, spilling beer, running through a thunderstorm, slapping color off while gumboot dancing, blowing colors on and off with their vuvuzelas in stadiums. It is a frenzy of excitement and wonder. Everyone is swept up in a heady celebration of a new African way, a way that celebrates others’ victories, a way that makes life sweeter, more collective and shared…

Enough story told. The campaign never ran. Rather it got debated to death around the boardroom table.  As I've said somewhere else: an adman's life is full of heat, dreams and dust (to be continued).