Stan van Zon started as a junior copywriter at FHV/BBDO in 1998. During his wanderings through several agencies, seasoned copywriters such as Reinier Bresser and Willem van Harrewijen taught him the tricks of the trade, and in 2007 he joined Etcetera/DDB, where he eventually became Creative Director and Partner. Over the years, Stan has flown around the world in search of inspiration. One of those trips took him to South Africa, where he’s been working as an independent creative halfway between Graskop & Appeldoorn (South Africa) for a couple years. With his return coming up in a few months, Stan reflects on his time in South Africa. 

In our Pioneers series, collaborating with Nils Adriaans, we catch up with members of the Dutch creative community living abroad and ask them to send back personal “messages in a bottle” about life away from the Netherlands.

Traveling gives me a lot of energy, and actually, living in another country even more. I think it’s a very valuable experiment for everyone to be away from their home country for a longer period of time.

In South Africa, my senses completely opened up. I was overwhelmed by the enormous diversity of scent, nature and people. But also, by the lack of water, electricity or even security. Life is very unpolished, but this also leads to a great sense of community. And a high degree of self-reliance as well, as you can’t expect much from the government. Which, by the way, also seems to give entrepreneurship more room to develop. At one point, for example, I saw a painter building a life-size giant display of paint rollers next to the road. To draw attention to his one-man business. In the Netherlands, law enforcement would be standing right next to you within five minutes.


My morning ritual usually starts with an African language test. As a copywriter, Afrikaans is one giant playground. This test provides both recognition and inspiration every day. With all kinds of old Dutch words that we as Dutch recognise in one way or another, but no longer apply. Take, for example, kuiergat, skottelgoed or sprokiestroue. Gorgeous. Place names also appeal to the imagination. Wegraakbosch (Get lost woods), Heuningspruit (Stream of honey), Beskuitfontein (Fountain of biscuits)… I could go on and on. I like to imagine the story behind those names, when our ancestors made them up. Verneukpan (Fuck-up plain) is also such a beautiful one. The name for a dried-up plain, which you couldn’t estimate how immense it actually was due to the constant bright sun.


Because local people have very little, they are dependent on their creativity and the available resources. This often leads to very surprising creations. Paintings on old shutters, calligraphy on cactus leaves, crafts from shredded soda cans. A swarm of butterflies dabbed on the wall to disguise unsightly electrical wires. It has a certain ‘joie de vivre’ feel to it that exudes so much positivity. On the mirror of my gym, the owner had written (during COVID) that you should wash your hands while humming the complete version of “Happy birthday”. It’s so much more fun than just mentioning the mandatory 20 seconds, right? All small gifts that I’m collecting here, like a happy Pacman.

Image: Craft Art Africa


I like simple ideas that unlock a domain. For example: in the Western Cape, there’s great competition between the wine farms. Some have very deep pockets (investors) for their marketing, but there are also wineries that simply cannot afford the very best chefs or the most beautiful websites. At one point, the winery ‘Vergenoegd’ hired Indian Runner Ducks to eat the snails and beetles on the vineyards. To start with, this was a huge improvement in terms of sustainability, because they didn’t need pesticides. In addition, the Indian Runner Ducks were treated as fully-feathered staff, who literally marched from the barn to their work area every morning. The result was a daily duck parade, turning out to be a huge draw for visitors and PR. This success eventually resulted in the ducks having their own wine label: Runner Duck.

Image: Washington Post


I think the ‘Rainbow Nation’ concept by Desmond Tutu is a genius idea. Conceived at a time when Nelson Mandela had to create unity in a country that was deeply divided. I find it enviable, how someone can come up with a thought so beautiful, for such an immensely difficult briefing. 


I’ll be back in the Netherlands in a few months. I’m actually looking forward to that. Being able to work on beautiful things together with a team again. It’s sometimes difficult for me, not being able to fully participate in certain projects because of the physical distance. But what I definitely want to take with me from South Africa is the artisanal love for detail. That keeps amazing me. All those nice texts, illustrations and unique ideas in unexpected places.