BY ALEXANDER MATTHEWS
King Adz is a veteran ad-man and the author of several books, including The Urban Cookbook. His journeys around the globe in search of youth culture — and the brands which embody it, resonate with it and are embraced by it — led him to produce The Stuff You Can’t Bottle, an inspirational guide to successful youth advertising that takes you from Moscow and New Delhi to Johannesburg and Rio — and far beyond.
How did the The Stuff You Can’t Bottle come about?
I have worked in and out of advertising for two decades and have always kept one eye on what works and what sucks. At the turn of the millennium I stopped working in the industry as it had become such a strange place. Mainly because the traditional agencies were in complete denial of the digital revolution that was coming over the hill. They stuck their heads in the sand and this reflected not only on the work but the environment in which it was produced.
How did you land up in advertising?
I studied advertising at St Martins School of Art in London. I always liked advertising, preferring the ads to the programs when I was a kid. I always wanted to be a writer and advertising seemed like a good route. You can’t just rock up at a publishers and say, “Here I am!” Working globally in the ad game has given me so much experience — the one thing you need to be a writer. That’s after having a bit of talent. Lol.
You’ve spent time working and living in SA. What brought you to this country, and what did you love most about working here?
I have lived and worked in SA since 1997. It is my adopted home and I love the place more than anywhere else, England included. I get more love back here which says it all. I came here after a relative who lived in Wynberg came to visit and painted a glorious picture of South Africa. Okay so he didn’t actually paint a picture that would have been messy, but afterwards I flew to Cape Town with my advertising portfolio under my arm and got a job. My next book out here — My Mzansi Heart — is a non-fiction novel about my whole journey through this amazing country.
What’s the most inspiring thing about SA?
It’s untapped street culture. Hands down the most exciting and fresh country in the world. The youth here are going to rule! They need mentoring and guidance and this is where I come in!
What was the greatest challenge about working on the book?
Finding good work! There is so much bad stuff being produced that when I put the call out I was bombarded with shit!
What was your most surprising discovery while you were working on it?
That the whole advertising model is broken, especially which anything that is targeted at the youth. End of story.
Are today’s young people harder to market to than previous generations?
The youth know instantly when they are being sold to and check out immediately — I don’t blame them! They have grown up with the digital skills that puts them streets ahead of the previous generation.
You profile a number of brands who have been amazingly successful in connecting with youth markets. Of these, which do you has had the most powerful campaign, and what was it about the campaign that made it so successful?
Stussy. It was and still is the most authentic brand out there. Globally. Even after it’s founder Shawn Stussy left continued to really represent the youth. Street culture personified!
As youth culture and commerce merge, is there a risk that artistic integrity and edginess is being undermined?
No. It just means that artists can survive by doing lekker work for brands, without having to survive by working some shit McJob! Brands have simply become the patrons of the arts.
Do you believe there’s more creativity in advertising in developing nations than developed ones?
This is true sometimes. There is still a ton of bad advertising being produced in developing countries.