Ad Chat: Jonah Otieno - Executive Creative Director 5ive Ltd Nairobi

Adgrunts, meet Jonah Otieno, here's he is towering at least a head over everyone else in this Cannes Creative Leaders Programme interview back in 2010. He's the Executive Creative Director and founder of 5ive Ltd, witch offices in Nairobi, Kenya & Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

db: You've worked in South Africa, Tanzania, and now you've founded an agency in Kenya - you seem to move about a lot, like so many creatives, where else have you been?

Otieno: I've worked in India and Ghana and recently did a short stint in Nigeria where I was invited as one of the foreign jury members for their advertising awards in 2012. More than it being a great opportunity for exposure to a new culture, I saw some really great work. Wherever I've worked though, what constantly surprises me is that similarities in experience across the industry are inevitably more than the differences. We're also starting to figure out that being African is what makes our work unique. There is a slow but steady shift from Western influence in our approach to advertising and I figure when we get to that point, then our work can stand out enough that we can start winning more awards in international competition yet still be relevant in our respective local contexts. Our insights and nuances might not be globally understood, but a great idea is recognized as such wherever it's experienced. We won't just be emerging markets much longer.

db: What book, film or music has inspired you the most in life?

Otieno: City of God. I've made excuses to watch this with various friends more than I care to admit. My music is all over the place, Avicii, Modeselektor, Wiley, Just a Band, Stromae, Major Lazer, Oskido, Professor, Ice Prince, whatever works for me at the time. The first Ad book I ever read was George Lois' 'What's the big idea?' Last of the legit ad legends according to me.

db: Who is your favorite mentor, and why?

Otieno: Locally, Alvas Onguru, original rebel, father figure, copy deity as vouched for by Trevor Beattie and before me, the youngest creative director in East Africa. He taught me the basics and would reciprocate the amount of work you put into a project but would also very swiftly tell you when it was crap. Internationally, Paul Lavoie of TAXI. He gave me a little booklet (the only copy he had) at the Cannes Creative Leaders Programme that became the catalyst for my starting my own agency.

db: What triggered your journey into advertising, and what advice do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out in advertising?

Otieno: I was cast, from the knees down, in a commercial when I was in high school. Before that, I wanted to be a Dentist. I think the short-lived celebrity and being able to reference 'my ad' in regular conversation were a high I wasn't willing to let go of. So I tried and failed miserably to get cast in another one. I then figured if I couldn't be in them, I could write them and that was that. The advice that I wish I would have been given is to compete with yourself first before you start competing with other people across the industry. We work in a unique context and when you can stand out within that, it should be a given that you stand out in an international one. Best example of this is the rise of the industry in Brazil. Initially, I was also taught that you should focus on just the one discipline. Writers should write. Designers should design. Worst advice ever... have a discipline that you are strong in, but keep learning about all the other elements that come into play in our industry. It's going to prove your relevance sooner or later to have even a basic understanding especially with digital/new media. (How long will new media be 'new'?)

db: When you get stuck in a creative rut, how do you shake it?

Otieno: I procrastinate and let it stew in the back of my head up until the very last minute while I work on everything else, do errands, watch anime or make something to eat. I've written some of my best radio work in the car on the way to the pitch. It's terrible practice but it's worked for me.

db: What's the unexpected thing that we don't know about you?

Otieno: I initially was looking for a job as an art director when I got into advertising. When I presented my portfolio (No interview set up by the way, just walked into TBWA and asked to see the Creative Director), the senior art director quickly flipped through 16 or so layouts and asked if I had anything else. I had two pieces of copy work, just to see where that would go. I got taken on as an intern on the merit of the copy work and haven't looked back since.

db: Since Jonah likes Just a Band, as do I, I'll take this opportunity to share their video for Ha-He, which I know I've previously shared here on the Advertising week playlists that I did a while back.

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