Ogilvy South Africa CCO’s Profanity-Laced Video Addressing Work During the Coronavirus Crisis Didn’t Land Well

By Doug Zanger 

Let’s be clear here. This is an extraordinary time. It’s also incredibly stressful. Yet, everyone fully understands that the work still needs to be done, clients need to be serviced and it’s crucial that everyone comes together to keep things moving, all while ensuring that people may need to adjust to what is becoming the new normal for agencies.

However, it seems like Ogilvy South Africa’s Johannesburg CCO, Matthew Barnes, might have missed the memo on empathy during a worldwide pandemic.

We’re going off of a post by Herman Manson over at MarkLives.com (though the video’s existence has since been confirmed), but it isn’t what one would call a good look for the agency.


In a since-removed-from-YouTube video to staff, Barnes, who was elevated to the CCO role in the Johannesburg office nine months ago, chose this phrasing, focused more on the business than people:

“It is serious, guys, really fucking serious, not necessarily the health risks, ultimately, thankfully, but the impact here is that this virus is going to kill more companies than it will individuals, so … Just have a look at the international, global business news, if you are confused about the business impact of this.”

Barnes, who was flanked by creative directors Molefi Thulo and Peter Little in the video, then went on to say that staff needed to work its usual amount of hours and will need to do extra, which seems a reasonable ask, but was positioned as such:

“The opportunity for a massive fuckup is greater than it ever was in terms of missing deadlines, missing rollout, missing details. This is not a semi-holiday. This cannot be, ‘Cool, I’ve done my job for the day and now I’m going to play golf.’”

Predictably, the reaction was swift and what one might expect … not great.

According to an Ogilvy spokesperson, the matter has been addressed internally and a statement read:

“Throughout this fast-moving situation, our top priorities have been the health and safety of our people as well as our responsibility to mitigate the impact of the virus on our communities. In line with other WPP agencies, Ogilvy moved to a policy of managed remote working on a global basis this week. We’ve shared guidelines across the company to help our people adapt to this new way of working as we work to meet our responsibilities to our clients and each other.”