A tour of the eye-catching bespoke building that is The Creative Counsel (TCC) on Corlett Drive is highly recommended before you meet its 39-year-old co-founder and co-CEO Gil Oved. Past the lime green foyer and candy-colored boardrooms, we come up to the ‘thinking’ floor, where creative-types, mostly women, mull over next-generation marketing concepts.
This is an activations company, South Africa’s biggest, with a Rs600 million ($52 million) turnover this year; the office spaces engage the senses and activate the mind. It’s a fitting prelude for any business meeting.
Oved is running late; his make-up artist has arrived before he has. Attested by GQ magazine as one of South Africa’s best-dressed men, he arrives in a natty shirt and trousers, speaking as he gets made up. His thoughts come thick and fast, but nothing, not even the story of his humble beginnings, which he says he is now tired of relating, can compare with his studied interpretation of the future. Oved’s marketing mind has already raced ahead, occupying that space in time when robots and drones will be both medium and message.
But before that, we will dwell on Oved’s beginnings. His parents immigrated to South Africa from Israel when he was six. Brought up in a conservative home, he became a TV actor at age 15, and found himself in a setting with people of all hues and hobbies. “Really, the arts is a melting pot of society, and to be flung from one side of society to another where you are intimately involved with this cast of characters, it opens up your mind and breaks prejudices,” says Oved.
‘Act as if and you become’
He soon stumbled upon an important life lesson. “Act as if and eventually you will become…I doctored it at a fairly young age,” he says of handling difficult situations. “To be honest, I do that even today. Just before I walk into a meeting, with all these scary people in suits and ties, I ask myself, what I am going to do, I am only a little kid. Eventually, I put my game face on, and act as if and I become.”
While still in school, Oved, dressed in his father’s oversized jacket, and with his classmate and current business partner Ran Neu-Ner, knocked on the doors of hair salons and pharmacies to sell vanity make-up cases – “the burgundy ones with the little mirrors”. That’s when they realized their penchant for business.
‘The director of my life’
At age 19, Oved started a TV production company. He was tired of taking directions, now he wanted to be the one giving them, behind the camera.
“I wanted to be the master of my destiny, I wanted to be the director of my life,” he says. “It’s very similar to being an entrepreneur, you have a vision, and it’s about inspiring the actors and the crew. I used all those lessons in running my business.” How much capital did he have? “Think of the number zero and then look down,” he laughs.
After three years of dabbling with TV, in 1998, he decided to start a financial portal for online day traders, spending over two years with Neu-Ner kick-starting the business. But with the dotcom bust, they lost everything: time, energy, confidence and reputation. “I was 25 and depressed. I had nothing on my CV but two failed businesses. Daunting as it was, after the failures, we were looking for something to do.” And TCC was born, in a 12sqm office in Parktown.
More than 80% of TCC staff is women; Oved is a great advocate of women in business. “It’s difficult in our industry for men to succeed. And I say this with great humility that we will never be able to do the kind of things women do. I really do believe women are more advanced than men…[but] there still is incredible sexism. And the irony is there is a trick waiting to happen for everyone who hasn’t tried [promoting women] yet. Do it and get a better bang for your buck,” says Oved. Part of TCC’s transformational strategies for 2015 is to source what the economy calls “unemployable” black women, upskill them and offer opportunities.
The topic makes him sit up. “The term ‘digital in advertising’ needs to cease to exist,” he begins. “We have intrinsically accepted that digital is the oxygen that drives every part of our business, both behind the scenes and in front of it. Because of technological advancements, we are capable of thinking out of the box…It also means that you can no longer afford to have a monologue with your consumer. It’s a dialogue. Technological advancements have also meant that now, every day, you discover new mediums. All the old mediums can be used in a completely new way. For us as an activation agency, it’s a very exciting time to be in advertising…I get all fired up talking about it.”
“I can tell you some of the trends I have been exposed to in terms of artificial intelligence, drones, robotics and 3D printing. It’s predicted that a third of all employment in this world will be replaced by one of these technologies by 2025. So let us understand, 10 years from now, every single one of us will be replaced by a list of [the following]: drone technology, robotics, mass energy storage, robotics, contour printing…It is unfathomable where technology is going. We have access to things going on, we are already living in a semi-virtual environment and that’s exciting for me as an agency involved in activations.”
It is clear Oved has set his sights firmly on technology that will drive future marketing. He can’t wait.