Copy Opinion: Mami Wata


This is a surf brand with a heartbeat. The name Mami Wata comes from the African water spirit who draws surfers to the ocean and takes them to be her lovers. It’s not at all what you would expect from a surf shop – no crisp landscape images or surfing remote waves. The entire look and feel is rooted in African culture. There is an abundance of colour, energy and rhythm. There is city noise. There are smells and tastes, and a sky that looks nothing like the one here in England. It took me all of five minutes to fall in love with Mami Wata.

Copy Opinion: Mami Wata

First, this is a creative team that is self-assured and know what they are doing. Instead of looking to category leaders and taking a small shuffle to one side, their inspiration came from the surf scene in Africa and the local culture. Why not create a global African brand? Why not put our town on the map as a destination and celebrate its surfers? Why not draw on our language rather than the usual surf terminology? This is not a place you end up in by accident. This is someone’s vision, backed up with a compelling story and a brand strategy.

By speaking to ONE PERSON, Mami Wata appeals to many. The same is true for any brand looking to stand out – don’t ever be afraid of alienating people by speaking only to your ideal customer. It has the opposite effect. This is what makes their tone of voice powerful. From their “Them Say, Them Say” newsletter to their “Woza” film (a word that means “come” in Zulu) the effect is hypnotic, humorous, and actually quite soothing to the ear. Coupled with the design, it wakes up the brain, tunes us in and makes us read on.

Mami Wata

I particularly like the focus on local surfers and old African wisdom. They write in the vernacular, introducing us to this fascinating dialect and culture. Every story must be grounded in a time and place and they do this well in the piece on Mfazazana (The Zulu point break known locally as ‘The Spot’). They bring out the details – another essential element to story – like where to park to make sure the local skelms and tsotsis (toughs and thugs) don’t break into your car, and use colloquial expressions like “if you’ve got the balls…” when describing a big swell.


Mami Wata Swing Tags

In my opinion, they are missing an opportunity to carry this over to other areas of the site like the product descriptions and FAQ pages. The tone is lost here, drifting back into pedestrian copy in its attempt to cover the product features. There is a semblance of story, a hook to the descriptions, but it feels less intimate and the sentences run longer – less like I am learning it straight from one of the locals. It’s not easy creating a new voice, so I am sure this will come together in time. It doesn’t detract from what they have accomplished.

Mami Wata 1

I’m going to leave it there and invite you to watch this video. It tells the story of 22-year-old surfer, Avuyile Ndamase, who has been taken by the spirit Mami Wata. It’s beautiful. It makes me feel like I’m lost in the womb, falling into a drug trip, or like I’ve taken a wrong turn in a place far from home.

THANKS to Ernest Capbert and Ashley Watson for being curious enough to find Mami Wata, and kind enough to share it with me.

Posted by: Seth Rowden

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