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Creative Guru Christan Boshoff Embraces Storytelling for Woolworths South Africa

Experience as an ad man informed his design sensibilities

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Creative Guru Christan Boshoff Embraces Storytelling for Woolworths South Africa
Christan Boshoff
The Creative Director of Woolworths South Africa embraces the idea of storytelling, especially for the good of the community and the planet.

You’ve described your role as “experiential retail design.” What does that mean to you?

We’re striving to make sure that what we do in our windows is not a flat, one-dimensional experience, but rather an experience of many senses – something memorable and pleasing that leaves shoppers feeling good about the store, the products and themselves. We want to incorporate all the senses, like music and bells in our Christmas windows. Of course, in the pre-Covid era, we could more easily address the sense of touch in our fashion stores, or of taste and smell in our food halls.

Yes, Covid has been a game-changer, hasn’t it?

A particular challenge was getting people out of the house. Shopping had become a risky adventure. It was so much safer to stay home and shop online. It was a time for visual to step up, provide the experience – an escape from realism, the human connection – that online can’t provide. Particularly for a Christmas experience, whereas people normally shop around at the holidays, last year they had to choose more carefully where to spend their time. Not only did we make it fun and seasonal, but they knew our stores would be safe and sanitary. One of the perceptions about Woolworths is that we’re trustworthy. We care about our shoppers, and we care about the planet.

Creative Guru Christan Boshoff Embraces Storytelling for Woolworths South Africa
From Ad Man to Visual Visionary

Your background is in advertising and branding agency work. What skills did that provide for your current work? The agency was a great place to learn about communicating in print, radio and TV. It all starts with telling a story and enlisting a response. The challenge there and here is the same: to capture your audience’s attention. Every story needs a quick spark to engage [the audience’s] emotions.

My approach to windows is the same as with a print ad or radio spot: We need to start with a point-of-view, to say something, to stand for something, to embrace the shopper and have the shopper embrace us. I think our windows are beautiful and colorful, but ‘beautiful’ is not enough, certainly not these days.

That’s evident in your windows, all about sustainability and responsibility.

We take sustainability very seriously. So much of visual has become developing an idea and having it made in China. We didn’t want to do that. The last few years, we’ve worked only with local suppliers and using local workers. One of our themes has been, ‘Waste to Wow.’

Last year, we collaborated with local crafters to make Christmas ornaments from plastic waste. They were women from under-privileged communities, some affected by the AIDS pandemic, and they had remarkable hand skills. This gave them something meaningful to do and get paid for. It was ‘Christmas’ in the true sense.

This Christmas, our theme focuses on ocean and water system health. We’ve designed a seascape, making coral and sea creatures out of recycled plastic. We had school children make fish out of plastic bottles, which we used in the windows. Most of these kids are inland and have never seen the ocean. But they got the chance to do their part in keeping their ocean healthy, to think and dream of things bigger than themselves – and also to develop their skills for problem-solving, creativity, imagination, the pride of creation. This will be an ongoing educational craft project in school long after Christmas, hopefully for years to come.

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