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January 18, 2019

SHUJAAZ Youth engagement wins Emmy


 Do you know of any business in Africa that has received an Emmy? (That is a global award for excellence in televisual or digital media.) No? Me neither.

But I have just been introduced to an East African business that has won two!

One in 2012;one in 2014; and a nomination in 2013. That is three years of being recognised at Cannes for creating the most outstanding digital programme. In the world.

The company is called Well Told Story. But the brand it markets is well-known in Uganda and Kenya as Shujaaz FM. It is due to launch in Tanzania in August this year, making itself a full-grown East African brand. In a region where half the population is under the age of eighteen.

Shujaaz FM is a very strong youth brand, which engages its audience daily on broadcast media, supported by printed comics and energised by active social marketing. Funnily enough, it is not a real radio station. That is a secret joke it shares with its loyal public.

Shujaaz was born in the violent aftermath of the 2009 Kenyan presidential elections. It was a time when everyone was worried about young people – what they felt, what they knew and how they would act. Then, looking ahead, how to influence their future actions.

Which was a challenge, because at the time no media channels talked to young people. They talked at them. And who was doing the talking? Middle aged people, in media, who set the agendas and decided upon the tone and manner of the conversation. Much like bankers designing youth products, they were so far removed from the realities of their audience that there was no point of connection.

As an aside, I wonder who designed the first youth product for a bank? Whoever they were, they should be recognised, because banks have been copying the idea ever since, with scarcely a hint of innovation!

The challenge was made harder by the conventions of market research. Even researchers themselves acknowledge that there is a fundamental problem researching youth opinion. You get the right answer, but not the real answer. Right in terms of correct. Right in terms of what young people think you want to hear.

Shujaaz set out to engage young people in a discussion about the big issues in life. How to find work, and build a career. How to relate to the opposite sex. How to become rich and loved.

But they had to find a way of packaging the brand that broke through the wall of indifference young people present towards active marketing.

Shujaaz FM is a story, based around a cast of young people, who appear on radio and in comics and on social media. The chief protagonist is Boyie, a young man who finished school and has no job. So he has set up a pirate radio station in his bedroom. And he uses it to ‘hack in’ to real radio stations – 26 of them in Kenya alone. When Shuzaaz FM breaks through the airwaves, Boyie becomes DJB, and interacts with a cast of followers in a series of adventures. The Shujaaz crew are on national radio daily, and appear in 750,000 comics every month distributed in press and through mobile money agents. That is nearly 400 million copies in four years.

Then what really brings Shujaaz to life is its social media engagement. Click on to see what I mean. In the last 12 months they have received 600,000 SMS’s, and stimulated millions of exchanges between young people on Facebook, where they have over 100, 000 regular correspondents. There is a YouTube channel, there are Shujaaz Clubs in schools. And every development the brand makes is carefully researched – pre, during and post. Not by formal research companies but by young in-house researchers know collectively as Ground Truth.  Every issue raised is discussed, storyboarded and researched before being released. And Ground Truth has discovered that the real answer is often the exact opposite of the correct answer.

Shujaaz FM has been recognised for communicating one evolving storyline in multiple channels over four years. It has built a community of young people, stimulated by the challenge “Usi-miss chance yako” (do not miss your chance). It has collected success stories of young people who have taken its advice and ventured into entrepreneurship. One young fellow set up a chicken breeding business and has been invited to speak at an entrepreneur gathering in Brazil.

Shujaaz is now ready to explore partnerships with other brands. But those brands must be fit for purpose – ready and able to engage with young people. Not warty old corporates salving their consciences with corporate social responsibility.

If you are a marketer who is prepared to commit to a shared value business, you could do worse than talk to Well Told Story. Send me a tweet and I will connect you.

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside; an international company that helps organisations deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

To comment on this article, send a Tweet to harrisoncj on or visit his blog 







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