Sustainable marketing on the African continent

11 Jun 2010|Added Value

The world’s eyes are on South Africa as the biggest sporting event in the known universe kicks off at the tip of the continent.  The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ is also undoubtedly one of the biggest branding extravaganzas on the sponsorship calendar.  Theoretically, this is an ideal time for brands to engage with African consumers and invest in the continents developing markets in more sustainable ways.

For most of the developed world, Branding for Good has environmental and ethical connotations.  Green is the new black as companies’ battle with the wide reaching implications of their carbon footprint, the ethics of their sourcing strategies and the sustainability of their business practices.

For some consumers in those markets, choosing products and brands that evidence some kind of sustainable or ethical standpoint, has become a way to express their own ‘green’ credentials.  As the latest Trendwatching report on the ‘Statusphere’ says, one of the five ways consumers are getting their status fix is through Green Credentials & Unconsumption.

Developing world opportunities

But in the developing world, and Africa in particular, things are a little more complicated.  A small niche level of society is buying organic and putting blankets on their hot water cylinders.  But the vast majority of consumers are facing issues like extreme poverty, rampant HIV/AIDs and high unemployment.  Brand consumption is a matter of price rather than choice.  That said, these consumers are often fiercely loyal – there is no room to take risks and brands that deliver consistently often own significant market share.

We believe there is huge opportunity for brands in Africa.  Many businesses are already investing in sustainable projects in African countries to offset their carbon emissions in others.  And a reassuring number of multinationals are choosing to partner with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund or Fairtrade to ensure that their sourcing from Africa is more sustainable and ethical in the longer term.

But for brands actually looking to build market share here, we offer two key insights: firstly, Africa is a continent built on community; and secondly, sustainability issues in Africa are daily issues, making it a breeding ground for innovation as businesses are literally forced to find new ways to do things.


The uniquely South African concept of ‘ubuntu’ talks directly to a communal sense of responsibility that is woven through all levels of society.  I am because we are.  And brands are not excluded.  Although there has been a lot of debate over whether social upliftment is the remit of business, the reality is that in countries like South Africa, public private partnerships are often the only feasible way to effect change in the country.

An example is local insurance services company, OUTsurance, who sponsor pointsmen and woman to direct traffic during the frequent outages of traffic lights.  This is great brand building amongst motorists for OUTsurance, with a bottom line bonus of (hopefully) less accident claims.  And the traffic department’s limited resources are given a bit of a reprieve.

Nedbank, a local banking group, is another example.  They have put a lot of weight behind finding ways to support the issues that matter to their consumers through a series of above and below the line campaigns.  Their most publicized campaign* won local and international awards, including a 2007 Cannes Outdoor Grand Prix,  by turning a billboard into a solar panel platform for a local school.  The message?  ‘What if a bank could really bring power to the people?’  This small action – with huge reach – has really set up Nedbank’s commitment to social development.

Watch Nedbank’s “Local Hero” ad:

Watch a short video on Nedbank’s ‘power to the people’ campaign:

Vide e Café, a local coffee chain, is another great example of a brand who’s built equity through community.  Not only have they created a great vibe in their shops, and used social media to connect their consumers, they’ve also got a grass roots reputation for really taking care of their staff through subsidized housing and transport as well as training for their baristas.  Invaluable for their staff and something which has become a reason to believe – and support – for their consumers.  They also use old coffee containers as planters for pot plants.

So, how can brands tap into this?  We recommend they see their consumers as members of their community, and find the touchpoints to support that community, with transparency and honesty.

Sustainable innovation

As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.  And throughout Africa, it is often necessary to invent new ways of doing things.

A classic example is Coca-cola’s answer to a notoriously unreliable distribution system.  Instead of using traditional routes to market, Coke built a network of smaller, local distribution centers, run by entrepreneurs, who often used bicycles to distribute product to the myriad small shops and retail outlets in an area.  The solution both helped to deliver Coke’s ‘always available’ promise and to provide a network of employment to the community.  Muhtar Kent, President & CEO of Coca-Cola International, attributed Coke’s’ 2008 14% third quarter earnings growth to the company’s adaptability to local markets.

Likewise, large portions of Africa’s poorer communities, have found ingenious ways to turn waste into profit.  Combing dump sites at worst and working in conjunction with recycling plants at best, creative groups have found ways to turn plastic bags, tin cans and old wire into objet d’art.

Township Patterns, a French run NGO working in the Cape Town township (or shanty town) of Khayelitsha, recently caused a European fashion scramble when Parisian first lady and fashionista, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, was spotted sporting one of their handmade bags.

Added Value South Africa partnered with Township Patterns’ French founder in 2009 to uncover insights into the essence of township life.  The 13 insight platforms were used to inspire a stronger and more culturally relevant positioning for the fledgling brand; one that help focus the marketing, the design and the manufacture of the brand towards one goal; uplifting the community of Khayalisha through creative expression.

SABMiller is also using sustainability issues as a springboard for innovation.  The brewing giant recently conducted a study in conjunction with the WWF to understand the water footprint of its beer production.  The report revealed that the total water footprint in South Africa is equivalent to 155 litres of water for every litre of beer. About 98,3% of this comes from the cultivation of both local and imported crops.  In response, SABMiller has initiated a company-wide project, employing water engineers to assist suppliers in finding ways to reduce their water usage.

There are all kinds of uncapitalized innovation opportunities that can lead businesses to a more sustainable future in Africa.  The country’s limited resources, unreliable social support and challenging infrastructure represent an ideal testing ground for brands to experiment, innovate and build their businesses in the process.

Follow the P.A.T.H

Research in neuroscience has proven that brand choice is as rooted in emotions as it is in rational functional benefits.  So it stands to reason that there is an opportunity for brands to connect with their consumers on matters that are of emotional importance to them.  But the caveat is to do so in a way that is true to each brand’s core positioning, to avoid being perceived as fake or condescending.   Brands also need to be careful that their efforts are not perceived just to be a PR stunt.  A local fast food company, for example, was recently criticized over a local social initiative when it was revealed that the company spent 4 times as much advertising their good deed as they did on the deed itself.

Leslie Pascaud, Added Value’s director for Responsible Marketing Practise in Europe, talks about following the P.A.T.H.  And her advice is as true for Africa’s brands as it is for the rest of the world.

Create a Positive message: focusing on what the brand and consumers can do together to make a real difference.  Make sure your conduct is Authentic, which means speaking and acting in a way that is true to your brand equity. Your promises should be Tangible, concrete and verifiable and your dialogue with consumers and stakeholders must be Honest; don’t ignore your mistakes and transgressions, instead admit when you’ve done something wrong and try to learn from it.  Brands that can do this, will be far better equipped to thrive in Africa.

To paraphrase the official slogan of the 2010 World Cup, Ke Nako! It’s time.

By Alison Tucker and Andrea Ellens

*The campaign was the brainchild of Net#work BBDO.  Read what their Chief Creative Officer, Mike Schalit, has to say about creativity for good in this month’s Expert’s column.

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