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Creating ‘Champagne on a Beer Budget’ with Stephanie Mazingi



Machine Johannesburg’s creative director on mixing art and technology to make her work shine and why Black tokenism is something she fights against, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Creating ‘Champagne on a Beer Budget’ with Stephanie Mazingi

Growing up in Zimbabwe, Stephanie Mazingi’s family believed in the notion of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, embodied in her Sunday lunches and regular holidays with all of her relatives. Surrounded by an abundance of people, she remembers herself as a “very talkative and opinionated child. Very active, participating in any and all sports that I could, mixing with all sorts of different friend groups, taking a stab at anything that involved the arts and being a hardcore fan of the Disney princess life.” 

With her cultural background being what she describes as “semi-African (Shona) and semi-English,” she grew up with ambitions of creating her very own fairytale of life. “As a kid, I never saw colour or limitations so why couldn’t my dreams also come true? This aspect of ‘why not’ has stuck with me, as I have become someone who fights for what I believe in and stands up for myself and the people I love when I feel that we are being overlooked or taken advantage of,” she says. 

Perhaps this ambition to create an ideal came from Stephanie's parents, who both exposed her to African traditional values, food, music and more, but also opted to send her and her twin brother to a private school in hopes to better their prospects. She says, “My family was more focussed on giving my twin brother and me a good Christian upbringing and making sure we understood where we came from, but also what was available to us in the “better life” they had worked so hard to expose us to.”

When it came time to decide on a career path, it was a course in brand communications that she embarked on at the AAA School of Advertising in Cape Town, a city to which she then made her home. “I went to uni but it wasn’t the usual ‘uni experience’ that was filled with on campus parties and buzzing social activities,” she says, “anything social at the campus was planned by us the students without much investment from the institution.” Despite this, she enjoyed “every bit” of the course she studied, combining her artistic high school skills with new knowledge and she saw a career path that fit. “I always knew I wanted to do something that involved my passion for art but I could now see all the various possibilities my future in advertising could open up by studying at AAA. The curriculum prepared me better than other colleagues who had studied at a typical university in South Africa.”

Through a few internships in her final year, Stephanie was able to delve deeper into the industry and see how things work, as well as see where was best for her to wind up. “They [the university] set up walk-throughs for final-year students at various advertising agencies which allowed us to meet key people in the industry and open doors to working at those companies. I’m a person who likes having options so after having done three internships at three different agencies in my final year of studying, I decided to go after a job at the last company – and I got it!”

Once she had the confirmation of her position, the day-to-day of her role didn’t disappoint: “It was the best entry one could hope for into the working world… cool brands to work on, a cool agency that knew how to party and create an environment that made you WANT to be at work and friendships developed over late nights working as teams cracking campaigns.” She built her craft as an art director and digital designer by incorporating modern art and technology into her ideas and executions. Stephanie found that through her work, she could strike the middle ground between art and advertising – and that’s where her work shone the brightest. 

While working, she figured out the aspect of the role which aligned best with her, Stephanie says, “My favourite part of what I do is that I get to influence how people perceive and experience brands that we all come into contact with on a daily basis. Being part of making magic and literally having the possibility of dreaming something, then being able to have it made or come to life is not a bad job at all. I love being able to say I worked on a campaign that friends or family have seen and liked.”

Having the ability to create is also what empowered her: “I love having skills that at some point everyone needs in order to accomplish their vision for a goal of theirs.” However, there are still aspects that she wants to hone, such as in digital design, fine art, conceptualisation and copywriting – “as greedy as it sounds I want to be able to have success in all!” Part of the reasoning behind her wanting it all is that she wants to “solve problems that Africans face and help them have the conveniences and access that many countries overseas have.” 

“I want to be able to have my artwork in famous galleries and in the homes of people near and far because they connect with and enjoy adding something I created to their lives. I am a creator, blessed by the ultimate creator, so it’s in my DNA to want people to enjoy things I create and have them add value to their lives.” She’s also not shy about wanting to win awards for her work, and that aspect boils down to one thing: “after putting in a great deal of effort into work, who doesn’t love a pat on the back!”

Reflecting on the industry as a whole, Stephanie mentions the thing she’s constantly having to deal with, that she’d rather not. She says, “things like the age-old ask - client ‘wants champagne on a beer budget’, or when we have to play nice with other agencies who also work on a brand/ client that we do, yet they don’t play nice or communicate properly with us.” With the industry still being largely male dominated, part of the challenge is getting ideas to be taken seriously when she says them, "I’ve had to remind myself to remain professional or bite my tongue a few times knowing that sometimes I should speak up, and other times it’s best to have peace and let people think they have won.”

When Stephanie comes to the end of her working day, you’ll find her dancing, exercising or spending her time outdoors to decompress. “I make sure that I have a balance between ‘work and play’ because if I die tomorrow, I want to know that I was able to do interesting/thrilling things that gave me joy.” With a ‘live your life to the fullest’ motto, it’s her passion for fine art and fashion that influences how she sees her culture and culture in general, using it as an enhancement to everyday experiences. 

“I’m also passionate about helping people be better because my natural instinct is to look at my environment or what people around me do and think, ‘How can this be/look better?’”

Stephanie says, “I am motivated and driven by the desire to multiply my gifts/talents and by the need to be able to provide for my family and do what I want for them, myself and others. I want people who look like me and who are from backgrounds like mine to know that they can also take up space at important tables (not just as the ‘token Black’) and have an impact if they don’t back down and accept ‘no.’”

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Publicis South Africa, Fri, 18 Nov 2022 16:25:00 GMT