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February 17, 2019

marketers in africa lost a global opportunity

A month ago we talked about the World Cup as a powerful and engaging brand. A brand that truly lives in the hearts and minds of consumers. A brand that generates a powerful emotional reaction. A brand that is perhaps nine parts emotion.

And this provides a real challenge for marketers, because if you really want your brand to benefit by association, you have to place emotion over thought in constructing your messaging. And by and large, marketers in Africa are not good at that yet. They often struggle within their companies to articulate and defend any proposal that does not major on the rational. Perhaps they do not have the confidence, or the experience to persuade their peers or seniors to buy into an advertising concept that is based on emotion. And that is why I suspect that advertising in Africa has hit a ceiling. Worse than that, I think it is bounced off the ceiling and is heading back towards the floor.

Has anyone seen any brand communication from Africa that really captures the spirit of the World Cup? I have not, and I have tried. Even back in 2010, when the tournament was actually held on this, the most enthusiastic of all footballing continents, the greatest advertising was created by the big brands. Puma; Nike; Pepsi; Coke; Carlsberg, Bud and Visa. Just Google ‘ Africa and World Cup ads’ and you can enjoy them again. Or perhaps for the first time, as most were not aired here in East Africa.

There is a fundamental problem with the African approach to advertising that the World Cup case clearly highlights. The reason why we can all enjoy watching great African footballers but we do not get to enjoy great African ads. Neither issue lies out in the marketplace; they reside inside African businesses and their marketing departments.

African marketers are past masters at patronising consumers. ‘ They won’t understand that.’ is, in my experience, the prevailing attitude. Now, I have no issue with people in positions of control wishing to ensure that the lowest members of society can participate in a campaign. Especially if one is sure that the lowest members of society are the primary target audience. But frankly, they often are not because their ability to participate in the consumer market is limited by their circumstances. So if your brand addresses basic needs – clean water, affordable food, sanitation, security, then by all means make your message as pragmatic as you can.

But here is something I truly believe. You can underestimate a human being’s knowledge, but you should never underestimate their intelligence. Or, more importantly, their emotional intelligence. That’s where the ‘they won’t get it’ school of marketing falls flat on its face. Ironically it is they who are unable to comprehend the possibility that there is an alternative to telling people a very basic story.

‘This is soap, use it and you will be clean.’  ‘ We are a bank, you can trust us (not to run away with your money).’  ‘ Drink this beer, it makes you bold.’ ‘ Look how fat and healthy this family is after eating food fried in palm oil.’

I mean come on guys, this is 2014 and most of the customers you will ever need have just participated wholeheartedly in the most emotive event on the planet. And believe me, they got it.

Kihu Mwai just tweeted me a link to a brilliantly emotive World Cup ad. No it did not come out of Africa. Nor does it tell you anything rational about the product. Indeed, if you do not watch carefully you will  not realise what the brand is for perhaps two full minutes (it’s a five minute ad). Go on to YouTube and search ‘Beats by Dre: the Game before the Game’. Show this to any man, and many women under the age of 50 in Africa and I do not think they will have a  problem ‘getting it’.

Allow me to close by kyboshing the last defence of the unsuccessful African marketer: ‘ We don't have the budget.’  

Go to YouTube and search ‘Germany - World Cup Winner in Brazil (Bayern3) ’ to see a TV commercial that can’t have cost more than $2,000. And let us all hope that by 2018 we might all see one great TV commercial from an African brand.


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 to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.





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