Brand vs talent: the new way to make it in Mzansi

Boity. Picture: Instagram

Boity. Picture: Instagram

Published May 28, 2022


The new age of social media has made it easy for a person to be “famous” in South Africa without being talented, creating the rise of many celebrity faces at a fast pace that sometimes we as the public cannot keep up with.

Have you ever wondered what a person’s claim to fame is? Well, I have, and with so many famous faces, old and emerging, I wouldn't blame you if you shared the same sentiments.

Talent may have been what landed people in the spotlight in the past, but I have recently begun to notice a shift in the entertainment industry. It seems that many are able to make it without being talented in sports, singing, acting, presenting or dancing.

People are now becoming famous for simply being brand magnets. Brand value has become the new commodity. Being able to attract audience numbers is the new drawcard and how can you take your career to the next level.

I spoke to Yonwaba Pangeni, managing director and strategy lead at Zena Brand Builders, a full-service strategic brand-building and communications agency, about this trend in showbiz.

Public figures are being positioned by their management and public relations teams in ways that make it hard for us to overlook them. Whether we think they are talented or not, they are so much in our faces that we end up becoming fans.

“Currently, we are experiencing an influx of people in traditional and non-traditional work-streams owning their work, building their platforms online to relate to different types of audiences,” she shared.

“These individuals are creating additional streams of income and attracting niche brands which are looking for particular types of audiences. This digital fragmentation is continuing with the idea of the evolving consumer that brands are constantly chasing,” Pangeni explained.

Blood & Water star Ama Qamata. Picture: Instagram

Actress Ama Qamata’s “Glamour” May issue cover got me thinking, what is it about her that makes her such a magnet? I have only seen her in two roles, on the local telenovela “Gomora” and the Netflix original series “Blood and Water”.

On both, she portrays a high school girl with interesting family lives, to say the least, but these roles are yet to show her range as an actress.

This has not stopped Ama from gracing the covers of top magazines such as “GQ” and ambassador deals from adidas. I have to credit her success to how her brand has been built.

From the moment she landed on screens in 2016, she was proclaimed as a “rising star” and “one to watch”. For this we can give kudos to the team which is marketing her and presenting this image to the public.

A good brand team is essential to any star as they bring the glue and support that is needed for the talent.

“Investing in the business aspect of your brand it also essential to ensuring that the foundation is right and carries all the right elements to ensure that the more cosmetic aspects are developed as well,” said Pangeni.

When presenter and model Maps Maponyane first blew up on the Mzansi entertainment scene, he was everywhere. It seemed that the well-groomed personality was making appearances at every A-list event.

This positioned him in the right place to start bagging the right gigs, ones that aligned with his “brand”, such as “Top Billing”.

While Maps is gorgeous with his charming smile, his presenting skills are not award-winning, but this has not stopped his rise in the entertainment industry.

It’s hard not to like the “Tell Me Sweet Something“ actor – he's got that thing that draws brands such as Mercedes-Benz to him.

“A public figure can position and package themselves as brands based on their talents and with others this may be based on other qualities that allow for a brand to exist. This allows for the person to be able to generate other sources of income.”

Maps is certainly not the only one who has managed to build a career out of their brand power. Let’s take a look at his former bestie, Boity Thulo.

Boity may have talent and has also the ability to reinvent herself with the times, but if we are being honest her power is in her brand.

“More personas are positioning themselves as brands largely because the digital age has thrust us into a more dynamic era where the expectations of consumers have evolved,” explained Pangeni.

With an Instagram account that holds 5.6 million followers and growing, the rapper, actress and presenter is raking in the coins with deals from Huawei, Moët and Chandon, and her business deals BTS Signature and Boity Pink Sapphire.

But when last did she bag an on-screen role? However, I’m sure many of us are able to recall her brand partnerships and we have all seen her continue to rise.

“The biggest part of assessing a talent’s value is based on the numbers that they are able to draw in audiences which largely equate to a financial value.

“With the existence of digital platforms, the power of being able to draw the audience’s attention to those who are interesting enough to do so has shown the talent that this is a difficult job on its own,” shared Pangeni.

In no way am I hating, but having a strong brand value does put you in a better position. The entertainment industry is small, and with influencers on the rise, anyone can make it.

If you are able to drive engagement and deliver top-notch content, paid work is bound to follow.

“For those who have undertaken the journey to participate on social media, the process has allowed for them to be more analytical about their talent and become conscious about the number of factors which are required to build their careers,” Pangeni added.

So it is possible to make it without having talent, but it takes strategy. Positioning yourself as a brand doesn't happen overnight.

Pangeni says that it’s important to work on understanding your essence as a brand. Anyone can trend, show us what more you can do.