Vive les sapeurs: The powerful

Vive les sapeurs: The powerful new Guinness ad and its SA visionaries

A visually compelling ad campaign for Guinness, conceived by two South African creatives at a London ad agency, introduces a new level of storytelling to the world of advertising

Vive les sapeurs: The powerful

A new campaign for Guinness is taking the advertising world by storm, moving the Irish dry stout beverage away from its stereotypical shamrock and Riverdance image and into the heart of Africa, a growing market for the brand.

“Sapeurs”  features a league of extraordinary gentlemen from the Republic of the Congo, who – despite struggling with the aftermath of civil war spilling over from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and post-communist poverty – treasure elegance as the highest form of human achievement.

Created by advertising agency AMV BBDO, the advert follows several men, who celebrate “La Sape”, an acronym for “Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes” (The Society for the Advancement of Elegant People).

This flamboyant extension of colonial-era dandy fashion has been undergoing a major comeback in the Republic of the Congo since the end of the civil war in 1999, with a few of its adherents now also becoming poster children for Guinness’s ongoing “Made of More” campaign. Presenting these gentlemen in colourful suits and carefully tailored kilts in the contexts of their everyday lives, the narrative of the powerful ad culminates in a voice-over reciting the final stanza of William Ernest Henley’s much-cited Victorian-era poem, ‘Invictus’: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul” (which inspired the title of the 2009 Clint Eastwood film chronicling certain aspects of South Africa’s transition into democracy)

In interviews from the accompanying documentary it is further underlined that the illustrious characters in the commercial hold equally elegant standards when it comes to their ethics as they do with regards to the quality of their dinner jackets and black ties.


Art director Nadja Lossgott, one of the two London-based South African masterminds behind the advert, explained that they weren’t looking for an African story when she found the Sapeurs: “When we looked at the values the commercial wanted to espouse, such as goodness, strength and communion, we just felt the Sapeurs embodied them perfectly. Central to who they are and what they do is a deep-rooted sense of pride. They are all about defying your circumstances through inner conviction – something which, though small, is totally unique and utterly extraordinary.”

Copywriter Nicholas Hulley, the other South African heavyweight creative on board of the project, added that they wanted to demonstrate “the strength of people and Guinness’s brand values such as power, communion, and goodness by finding a powerful human story that would embody both. It’s an ad which features extraordinary people in an extraordinary situation but, at the same time, it’s also saying: these guys are just like everyone else. As South Africans we are proud that an amazing group of guys from Africa are the heroes and role models of a campaign intended for the Irish and UK markets.”

The South African duo had previously worked on AMV BBDO’s Guinness/Diageo account creating an outdoor campaign called ‘Surge’ which likens a breaking wave, shot in French Polynesia by world-renowned surf photographer Brian Bielmann, to the pouring of the iconic stout. Hulley and Lossgott may make some of their waves this year in their own rights, as “Sapeurs” is earmarked as a frontrunner to be nominated for advertising awards. The two ad experts have celebrated such successes before, having picked up international awards both while working in South Africa and more recently in the UK, where some of the campaigns they have worked on include clients such as the Metropolitan Police and Gillette.

Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley

But despite their exposure on the international scene Hulley and Lossgott remain truly ‘Saffa’ at heart: “I love living here and have a typically London set of friends:  South Africans, English, Australians, the lot. But South Africa remains home,” said Hulley, asserting that he tries to visit his home in Cape Town at least once a year. Lossgott is also true to her Jo’burg roots despite her love for London: “I am lucky to be surrounded by a mix of friends where English, French, Afrikaans and German gets bandied about in the same room. But going home to visit family and friends in South Africa is something I look forward to every year.”

In spite of international success and celebrating the London lifestyle, the creatives emphasise that the advertising industry back home is just as strong as other key players in the world: “Our industry is highly regarded and I think it is comparable with anywhere,” said Lossgott.

Hulley added, “All agencies from all over the world enter the same creative award shows and every year they all see the same thing – brilliant pieces of winning South African work.”