Creative Report Card 2021: Go behind the scenes of ‘Go Back to Africa’

How the creatives who worked on the campaign overcame the risk of confronting hate head-on.

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This story is part of a series exploring the ideas and strategies that helped propel the 2021 Creative Report Card winners to the top. Be sure to check out other coverage of the CRC, as well as the full rankings across brands, agencies, creatives and strategists.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of strategy.

“Go Back to Africa” almost didn’t happen. For both Black & Abroad and FCB/Six, the pan-African tourism campaign – one that would hijack a racist slur and turn it into a positive call to action – was risky. Here’s how three creatives who were involved – including Andrew Bernardi and Frederick Nduna (#10 and #11 CDs), and Curtis Chapman (#1 CW) – worked together to navigate hate.

On finding inspiration through lived experience

Nduna: I was born and raised in Zambia – a beautiful place – and had an amazing upbringing. Having left Africa, it was a culture shock to see how the continent was depicted on screens and in conversations. I thought, “This Western gaze is wrong,” and the phrase that best articulated that was: “Go back to Africa.” It’s a very hurtful slur that puts Africa as the butt of the joke. But it’s a beautiful continent, so I thought, “Going back to Africa should always be a great idea.”

Frederick NdunaOn safeguarding the campaign’s positive message

Nduna (right): [We relied on] relentless positivity. Because we wholeheartedly believed one thing – that going back to Africa is a great idea. We made sure that existed in the interplay between the idea, [the client] and the agency approach. The execution and the redaction image – even that had to be positive.

Chapman: The copy had to give context to the idea, back it up, make it bulletproof, and be positive – paint everything in a good light, so that it couldn’t be taken the wrong way – from the website to the tweets and the launch video.

Andrew BernardiBernardi (left): But it’s the internet, and things can go wrong. So there were a lot of calls made along the way. For example, we decided early on that we would never have anyone in the images of the tweets we hijacked, because that creates a different meaning… This might have been the first campaign I worked on where you need the whole context. So we launched a video to set it up. We were very cognizant of the danger the entire way.

On revisiting the work after 2020’s racial justice movement

Nduna: We understand that we haven’t fixed anything permanently. But we like to believe we have contributed to the conversation, and if that comes across in growing intent to travel to Africa among African Americans – among all people in this world – that’s a great thing. There’s still a lot of [negative] out there. But, if we can say we contributed to that social conversation, then we can walk away and say that, as advertisers, we did something.

Bernardi: I recently searched the hashtag on Instagram, and it seems to be different [than before the campaign]. I don’t know if that’s just the algorithm for me, but I feel there’s almost a bit of a contradiction for people who use [the phrase “Go back to Africa”] in a bad sense [now].

On earning global recognition

Nduna: The results have exceeded our wildest dreams or ambitions. It’s a reminder that – at risk of sounding cliche – being brave, persevering and championing an idea you believe in, the consequence of that can be great.