This July marked what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, and among the celebrations and remembrances is a quietly powerful film that invites South Africans to meditate on and embody the values that the great man stood for.
Shave to Remember
conjures up memories of an iconic photograph of Mandela taken before his arrest in 1962. This famous image shows him with a distinctive parting shaved into his hair – and the film encourages ordinary South Africans to adopt the shave and find their inner Mandela.
The film has been a four year passion project for the team at Ogilvy South Africa, according to Mariana O’Kelly, Executive Creative Director at Johannesburg.
“Four years! The team on this is so humongous, because some people have left [in that time]… and some people have left and come back again!” says Mariana. The team first approached the Nelson Mandela Foundation four years ago, but it’s an organisation that is inundated with requests and ideas, and at that point, while they liked the idea, they had no reason or platform to proceed. But as the big 100-year anniversary rolled closer, they got back in touch.
Ogilvy got Philips onboard to fund the campaign. The agency had to balance the needs of both clients, and it was imperative that they managed the brand involvement in a sensitive and tasteful way. “There was a to-and-fro of how much branding we were going to put in because we didn’t want it to overshadow him at all and what he stood for; how does it become not a sponsorship but an integral part of the messaging?” says Mariana.
As for the creative idea itself, the particular photograph of Mandela to which the campaign refers was chosen for a very specific reason. Following his arrest, Nelson Mandela became a symbol of South Africa’s liberation struggle and this photo found its way into the homes of many South Africans. Anyone caught in possession of the image by the police were punished as supporters of Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC).
“We’ve heard stories inside our agency from people who remember their parents with a little crumpled up photo of Mandela that they were holding onto. They would share that with their children and explain what South Africa needed to be and what he stood for,” says Mariana. “So after 27 years, when he came out and chose peace and freedom, he remained a symbol of equality - but all of a sudden was a far larger and all-embracing one. That image of him with his very iconic haircut has remained a symbol for 27 years in jail. We said if that image is so iconic and we can recreate the haircut, it can remind people of the power that they can have as an individual to stand for what he stood for.”
The film was created thanks to a lot of impassioned volunteers and was shot in downtown Johannesburg. It shows a diverse array of South Africans sporting the shave as they replay his words in their minds. Many of those cast had never been on screen before, and the shoot took place around some of Johannesburg’s dodgier areas – the reason being that the team wanted to take the film to the streets and acknowledge that there are parts of the world that equality has not yet reached.
Perhaps it was because the project relied on favours and freebies, the crafty crew were given a fair amount of creative freedom. For example, when director Kim Geldenhuys passed the footage onto editor Gordon Midgely, he didn’t brief him with a storyboard – instead he simply told Gordon to cut together a film that would move people emotionally and convince them to take a stand. Seeing the first cut was, says Mariana, an emotional experience that left her in tears all day – and the team made no changes to that cut (something that never happens).
“It’s the freedom of creation I guess. If everyone can do, in their craft, what they feel the best job is, sometimes it does deliver the best results. The process of execution was not tight, it was very open and organic. It was: ‘do we feel it? Do we not feel it?’” says Mariana of the production process.
The resulting film is a slow and skin-tingling watch – a far cry from the fast cuts and in-your-face hyperactivity of a normal call-to-action film. “The one thing we kept saying to each other in the production of this film is that we need to become invisible in the film. If you feel the director or the agency or the creatives inside of it, then we’ve overpowered the person we want to bring honour to,” says Mariana. “I think that was the reason for the restraint behind it. We wanted his words to shine – all the words in the entire film are his. Whatever we did, it needed to reflect his personality – and he was an incredibly graceful man. I don’t know if you’ve seen Long Walk to Freedom, but he became a gardener while in prison. I think that says a lot about a person’s soul; it’s not brash, it’s not in-your-face. He wasn’t convincing people with words and action he was convincing people through his manner and his heart and the love that he had.”
Working on a tight budget, with the only media spend coming from Philips, the Ogilvy team had to be inventive about how they got the message out there. Thankfully, the satellite TV network DSTV is one of Ogilvy South Africa’s big clients, and they volunteered TV slots for the film. Additionally, they recruited four local celebrities to star in and share short teaser films across their social networks.
Ultimately Mariana and the team want the film to spread and touch as many people as they can because they believe the personal impact of taking part is so profound. Moreover, while the idea has been four years in gestation, the state of things in 2018 make Mandela’s message more important than ever. “Hopefully we can spread it as far as we can. It’s not about the PR, it’s about: we need this! The world needs this!” says Mariana, her voice cracking.
“We decided quite early on that the process of getting your hair shaved had to feel a little like a baptism: once you go under the water you think about what you’re going to emerge as,” she adds. “The film needed to feel like a little bit of baptism, to show that this is serious, this is not just a shave for fashion. When you get that shave, you need to think about what it stands for, you need to think about the values you want to adopt.”
It’s early days for the film, which was released in July, but Philips have their own metrics and KPIs that they’re keeping an eye on and the data is looking good. But more important is the visceral reaction that audiences are having. Even for the team at Ogilvy South Africa, the project has affected them on an unexpectedly personal level. When the Philips barber truck rocked up to the Jo’berg office, the atmosphere was surprisingly sombre as each person considered how they could embrace the values of the man affectionately known as ‘Madiba’.
“The funny thing is, it wasn’t a big affair; people were quiet when they got the shave,” reflects Mariana. “Everybody was introspective. Everybody thought about ‘does my life have impact? How can I have more impact?’ Because the only impact I really have in the world is how I treat people. If we find our value in advertising and awards, it’s going to be fleeting. If we find value in how we’ve treated people and how we’ve grown, then it’s going to something that no one can ever take away from us.”