Angolans learn to talk the talk of advertising
LUANDA has none of the advertising and communication clutter that is a feature of the rejuvenated economic scramble for Africa. Where Lagos, in neighbouring Nigeria, overwhelms the visitor with signs and symbols of every imaginable commodity, the streets and shop-windows of downtown Luanda remain devoid of much overt or really meaningful branding. But the end of a decades-long war and the advent of a nascent free-market economy in Angola suggests this is about to change. Freedom and choice is bringing with it a growing number of products and offerings, which can be baffling for Angolan consumers, who are having to learn the language of advertising.
Many Angolans are bewildered by the way newly arrived brands discriminate between themselves. For instance the notion that one product can have a different identity or image to another is novel to them.
Take whisky as an example. A few years back when many Angolan men were armed members of the MPLA, people drank what they could get hold of – most of it home-made hooch. Today, many internationally recognized brands are widely available. The stylish Chill Out Bar and Café del Mar sell bottled Whisky Novo at around 100 USD a pop to Luanda’s expanding moneyed classes.
But a lack of local product knowledge has hampered even the biggest of global brands because their self-referential, ‘international’ images are difficult to decipher. As a result, fake Jack Daniel’s and Chivas Regal – sourced from Africa’s largest and wildest open-air market, Luanda’s La Roque Santeiro – now regularly sit alongside bottles of South African wine, Amarula Cream and Smirnoff Spin.
The famously recognizable Johnnie Walker ‘striding man’ is designed to symbolize the pursuit of personal achievement. But in Luanda, where the pursuit of personal achievement should elicit recognition in a society increasingly hungry for the socially stratified status cues that premium brands help leverage, ‘Keep Walking’ means… just that. Drink. And walk.
Johnnie Walker has learnt the hard way that you have to help people with little experience of the language of advertising to understand your brand, before you tell them why they should buy it. And in an idiom that people can identify with. If you don’t get that right you risk becoming, in a market characterized by increasing choice, one among many similarly priced and packaged bottles promising product parity.
It is here that consumer research organisations can help corporations to enter African markets. They can pick up valuable insights into how ordinary people interact with the commercial world. At the Consumer Insight Agency (c.i.a) for instance, we go out into people’s worlds, where real life happens, and conduct in-depth conversations with them. And we capture what’s in their hearts and minds on unobtrusive digital video cameras, so our clients can see and understand it too.
Angola’s social context reminds us of how things were in South Africa a decade ago, when the c.i.a. first started field-based research into consumer behavior. Back then the language of whisky was as foreign to ‘emerging’ black movers and shakers as it is to Angolan consumers. Most people didn’t know where it came from, how it was made, or why it was being sold to them: whisky was for old folks, fly-fishers and golfers.
The reality is that freedom and choice inspires a new language, that Angolans are having to learn in the same way as South Africans had to. As one whisky drinker puts it, “An advertising language doesn’t exist here. This violence of information… it’s another language. You have to teach us to read it… We are virgins to the language of brands.”
Aside from heralding the prospect of a growing consumer base, Angola shows us why global brands still need to think and feel local to really succeed.
Author: The Consumer Insight Agency
The Consumer Insight Agency is a market research agency that offers a refreshing alternative to conventioanl qualitative research by using a video medium and getting out on the street into people’s homes and into the shopping aisles to get raw insights into issues.