So Much For Brands To Learn. So Little Time

Chris Harrison looks at how Africa’s marketing pioneers are beginning to engage consumers on the Internet.

I have encouraging news to report. Africa’s marketing pioneers are beginning to engage consumers on the Internet. Not many are brave enough to do this yet. But there are encouraging signs from Cadbury, and Del Monte, a few banks and one or two telcos.

Salute these pioneers, for they are the first marketers to engage consumers in a dialogue since the early days of sponsored radio programming in Africa. And before you all jump up and down, remember that being in dialogue is very different to standing on a box and shouting your opinion at people. A lesson politicians across the world might learn.

Real dialogue encourages response. And permits response that may be unpalatable, and well as response that builds a relationship. Kenyan telco Safaricom recently showcased an impressive new corporate TV commercial on its website. It was a beauty, the kind of job creative people talk about in bars. Landscape work from helicopters. Huge, rolling vistas. Choirs perched on jagged peaks. Cast numbers to compete with ’ Lord of the Rings’. An anthemic song that could bring tear to a glass eye. Lovely jubbly.

Trouble was, within hours, some well-informed wags were posting derogatory messages about creative rip-offs, and linking the world to a 1980’s corporate ad from Qantas. Shame really. All those ‘shillingis’ spent and the wrong impression made, certainly in e-word of mouth.

Recently in the US, Dell sustained damage to its brand image because the bloggers became cheerleaders for the poor reputation of Dell’s customer services. Bloggers exercised their power and authority at the expense of the conventional media sources such as the Washington Post and The New York Times.

Part of the impact of those blogs was the “my story” phenomenon. People reporting something that has happened to them positions them as an authoritative source – at the cost of the corporation’s dwindling influence. If you think this threat is far from African markets, just ask your friends in tourism. They have been dealing with it for years.

Blogs can be very influential and sometimes highly negative in their impact. Bloggers tend to operate in packs, so their continual references can result in huge amount of Google listings. Try “Dell” and “problems” at Google and you’ll see how this can easily happen.

Many marketers will continue to ignore this. So they will be blissfully ignorant about any crisis … until the CEO’s teenage daughter draws Dad’s attention to some negative dialogue. But any serious marketing company in Africa that is entering 2011 without the bare bones of an Internet strategy is heading for trouble. Smart phone prices are plummeting, and the popularity of that little ‘large‘ screen is rocketing.

A recent study by mobile ad firm Mobi sampled consumers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Here are some interesting facts they uncovered.

Men are more accepting of mobile ads than women. And before our ladies laugh at how easily distracted their men are, let me tell you that female acceptance is higher in Africa than anywhere in the world.

In fact Africans are much more accepting of mobile advertising than people in Europe and the US. So it’s time for marketers to get into this medium, and to do it well.

And when it comes to content, we are already a discerning public. African consumers who have been exposed to mobile or Internet advertising say they prefer helpful information as opposed to discounts or supposedly ‘added value ‘ content. I have two mobile phones at present, on different networks. I must receive and ignore at least six incomprehensible promo messages a day. Even if I click to accept an offer, I have no idea what effect it has on my phone bill. So the principle of ‘confusion marketing’ practiced by the earliest telcos has far from disappeared.

To intervene in Internet dialogues about your brand, you first have to know they are happening. Right now, leading US Internet Agency VML is monitoring Internet conversations about brands in Africa. Now, wouldn’t you like to know what’s being said?

You’ll learn it first in this column…

Chris Harrison is Chairman of Young & Rubicam Brands, Africa. This article has been republished with his kind permission

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Image by ckittel

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