Brands and Peoples Way of Life
My Brand pilgrimage took me through various parts of the country to discover the effect that brands have on peoples’ lives and the relationship people have with these brands.
The journey made a lasting impression on me. The “pilgrimage” went beyond the mere observance of consumers and how their culture influences their relationship with brands. The brief I gave myself extended to helping develop a new national communication ethos, creative delivery, methodology and language, both in the literal and figurative sense.
For too long, communication in South Africa and other parts of the African continent has been defined in a Western context. Some of us may remember a film made by Jamie Uys called “The Gods Must be Crazy” and its running theme of colonialistic ridicule of Khoisan people. One of the most poignant scenes was centred around the Khoisan discovering a Coca-Cola bottle and turning it into some sacred object. It has to be said that perhaps Uys could not have been expected to go beyond seeing the Khoisan way of life as a farce. He was outside peering into what he saw as a bizarre tribal way of life. So the best he could do was laugh. It seemed to make up for his lack of knowledge of the people he was parodying.
The marketing industry is not different in any way. One can safely say that there was a ‘one size fits all’ approach in the industry. A research, advertising strategy or creative concept that worked in Cannes, London or Berlin had to work in Empangeni, Polokwane or Mafikeng. All you had to do was find translators to put it in a local language so that the natives who couldn’t understand English could be regaled by the creative wonder in their own tongue.
The situation has not changed much. The main body of advertising researchers, strategists and creatives are white. They have a limited understanding of the majority of the market they are trying to communicate with. While in the past, they would have simply had the material translated into Sesotho or Zulu, now they try to give the scripts a new touch. They will request that a black person takes the script and add in some Tsotsitaal, Loxion-speak, Scamto, slot in some Kwaito music and declare the creative fit for what they call “the emerging market”. There is a common anecdote that has done the rounds in black advertising circles about how some white creative directors continue to shove creative scripts, written by a white creative, into the faces of black creatives and say: “Make it black”. This is nothing new.
In the 1980s, there was a new kind of market researcher on the block. These were Northern Suburbs types who suddenly discovered the townships. They went to places that were then elite in the townships, such as Diepkloof Extension in Soweto, Spruitview in Vosloorus and Hospital View in Tembisa and came out with new insights that seemed to overwhelm them. One would be cornered by such types at an event of one sort or the other and they would gush out excitedly: “Did you know that in the townships, a plastic shopping bag is called a Checkers?” One would feel a yawn coming on, but this would almost inevitably escape the attention of the researcher. He would press on: “And they call a toothpaste a Colgate!” He would declare that children in the townships preferred English to indigenous languages. Little did such researchers know that their township market research “guides” took them on what amounted to tourist trips, getting them to speak to people they felt reflected what the researcher wanted to see.
Yet, armed with such nuggets, the researcher would rush to strategic planners and creative directors and manage to astonish them with his insights into what was then called the “black market”. New campaigns would be founded on the basis of such half cooked information.
I do not disapprove of the traditional research method, where researchers ask questions and record the responses and pool these into a research report. However, it is my belief that there are elements of consumer behaviour that escape the researchers operating in that mode. People tend to say what they think they are expected to say. Usage of brands in households may not be easily recorded on the basis of a set of questions. Social dynamics which govern how people use brands, how they receive and interpret advertising and marketing messages, the language they find most accessible (both literally and figuratively), the idiom they apprehend easily, the social and linguistic nuances that help filter their ingestion of information and the humour that appeals to them as a softener for such information are key factors that determine whether or not campaigns can achieve the desired effect.
These are factors that I had been aware of, but as I travelled to various parts of the country during the pilgrimage, the reality of the situation assumed an increasingly dramatic picture. For one thing, I had to redefine to myself the parameters of rural and urban environments.
When I was growing up in Alexandra Township, any place outside what is now Gauteng was seen as “maplingo”, absolute backwaters. Yet as I went around, I noticed that townships such as Nkowankowa, Lekazi, Makwarela and KwaGuqca had housing infrastructure that would put many Gauteng townships to shame. It was not so much what had been done in terms of the provision of the original structure as it was what people had done themselves to improve their houses.
The approach I took during the pilgrimage was to live with people in their homes. These were families that were not known to me. I made contact with radio stations and other media in the process of identifying potential hosts. In turn, radio presenters made requests on air asking their listeners to provide me with accommodation. In a western context, listeners would have wanted to know why I did not go to a hotel. This was not the case. An interview on Ligwalagwala fm, an IsiSwati radio station, resulted in 189 calls from people offering me accommodation. I was spoilt for choice.
The families that I lived with treated me with great warmth. In some of the homes, new blankets were taken out of storage to provide me with warmth and a good night’s sleep. Dishes that had never been used were taken out to give me a treat.
It was interesting to see how people had enough trust to allow me to live in their homes. The iconoclastic western way of life, which guards privacy as a great treasure, was simply not an issue in this case.
I lived in a variety of homes with families across a wide range of income levels and lifestyles. I had the opportunity to observe household members as they went about their daily lives, selecting and consuming brands, and I observed how the brands affected their way of life. This method became very reliable in the sense that members of the households had no prior knowledge of the focus of the observations. They simply saw me as someone doing a study on “culture”. A number of opportunities were presented to me to look into the grocery cupboards, bathrooms, wardrobes and fridges to see what brands were bought and consumed. In a way, one could say I was almost voyeuristic in my pursuit of brand insights. I was trying to observe without being observed in the quest for new ways of defining our vast marketplace.
One of the most edifying parts of my pilgrimage came about during my stay with a family Pienaar (Msogwaba), near Nelspruit. I spent three nights with the family of six. It was interesting to note that they had chosen to purchase a refrigerator and two chest freezers and yet lived in a home without carpeting or tiling. They live in a brick house, with a tiled roof. The house has three bedrooms and a small kitchen with an electric stove. They also have a TV and a VCR. The family told me that it has taken four years to build this home.
This is common among rural and peri-urban households. A home is the most important possession in a family’s hierarchy of acquisitions. In both township and rural communities, income is not always a pre-determinant of the size of house one would like to build. There is a tendency in many communities to start by building a foundation for the size of an ideal house. The rooms are then added on as and when money becomes available. Some families take up to five years to complete their dwellings.
I do not believe in the LSM consumer categorisation system. But within that system, the family would be in the 6-7 categories. The father is a cleaner at a local library and the mother is a domestic helper. They do not use English in their vocabulary. They have one child who is at the University of Cape Town, one in matric and one in grade nine. The children speak IsiSwati amongst themselves and their parents. They are staunch Christians and one Wednesday evening I attended a Bible Study with them. The Bible was debated robustly and in a very educated manner. This was all done in IsiSwati. It was refreshing to see how educated the language was, if one may put it that way.
Yet as I took a stroll in the community, it struck me that there was not a single billboard in IsiSwati. To me, this is indicative of the dominance of a non-African way of seeing things and the failure of the advertising and marketing industries to acknowledge all manifestations of language, culture and value systems within society.
There were common areas of brand usage that I observed among the various families that I lived with. For example, it is common to find in the detergents cupboard VIM 99, Handy Andy and Mr. Muscle. The VIM 99 would be used to clean the sink and the grime forming on the stove. Handy Andy is used to clean the pots, dishes and other eating utensils. Mr. Muscle may be used to clean the cupboards, glasses and microwave ovens.
Sunlight soap and other competing green bar soaps are used in different parts of the house without using the same bar for the various uses. A bar soap used in the bathroom or toilet would never be used in the kitchen. There is also a bar for washing laundry or scrubbing the floors. The Sunlight bar soap is probably the most popular product in households. It features in the bathrooms, kitchens and the laundry rooms of many homes.
The selection of products for the bathroom reveals interesting patterns. Shampoos and conditioners such as Sunsilk, Sof n’ free, Black Like Me and Jabu Stone are found and Radox Herbal bath is found alongside common bath foam.
Toothbrushes such as Jordan, Aquafresh, Colgate, Reach, Oral B and others can easily be found together in a cup in the bathroom. Facial washes such as Oxy, Galia, Gill and Revlon can also be seen in the bathroom.
I did not come across a perception that any of these products where designed for whites and not blacks. People search and find products that they believe are good for them and then use these as they see fit.
Some households keep products like powder soap, bath soap, body lotion, fabric softener or shower jell in the bathroom, while others keep them in the kitchen or bedrooms.
The growth of the hair business has been phenomenal. The 1970s and 80s experienced black hair care and styling within black communities shifting from natural hair to Afros, perms and waves. The 90s introduced a variety of hairstyles ranging from braids with extensions, to dreadlocks and shaving one’s head bald.
Hairstyles seem to vary as one moves from community to community and province to province. In some parts of Limpopo, in the areas of Tzaneen, Phalaborwa, Nzhelele and Lenyenye braiding and extensions are an order of the day. Whereas as one moves closer to the town of Polokwane, in the areas of Lebowakgomo, Seshego and Mankweng, the trendier hairstyles emerge.
The popularity of human or synthetic hair is clear to see from the number of women that are caught up with the trend. The newer trend among younger men, 25 to 45 years, has led to them keeping their hair shorter. Methylated spirit is used on the scalp after shaving. The reasons for this varies. Some say that it stops sores developing after cutting and others believe that it eliminates dandruff. It is also used to clean shaving clippers. This has become more common in the advent of the belief that clippers can transfer HIV.
Product extensions such as Vaseline Petroleum Jelly to Vaseline Soap and Sunlight Bar Soap to Sunlight Washing Powder as well as Sunlight Fabric Softener have been a success in some areas and a failure in others.
Tomato sauce and mayonnaise are two products that form part of the eating patterns of many communities. Used individually or mixed together as gravy, these products have tastes children enjoy and are often used to entice them to eat their food.
Within the FMCG category, food brands occupy a position of great relevance. Preferred maize brands, preferred tinned food brands and other items play a major role in people’s daily lives. While, among some market groups, no name brands would be preferred on the basis of price, among many rural and township markets it is important to be seen to be using Iwisa, Tastic, Lucky Star tinned fish and other brands. An unknown brand is seen as “cheapline” and people will only use it as a last resort. The “trust” that the brand will deliver on its promise is central to people choosing to create enduring relationships with brands.
In African homes food and its preparation has a symbolic meaning. In most rural households, the consumption of rice is still reserved for Sundays or special occasions. Dining on rice on weekdays is seen as a sign of upward mobility.
The importance or status of an event like a funeral or wedding is reflected in the food prepared. The serving of rice and chicken with a variety of vegetables tells of the level of prestige associated with the event. Beetroot, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, pumpkin form some of the most popular vegetables consumed.
The preparation of African traditional food such as morogo, masonja, ting ya mabele, mogodu, phuthu, samp and beans is still very common in rural homes.
Product sampling plays a major role in marketing brands to diverse markets. The sampling of new or improved products is a good opportunity for introducing consumers to products and their attributes. However, it is a method that requires careful scrutiny. The way in which the product is offered for sampling can have undesirable responses from the consumer. Some promotions and product sampling tactics reflect disrespect for the target market. Promotional items such as T-shirts and caps are the most common items. Road shows are also seen as an easy way of assembling crowds and exposing them to products. During my travels, I saw a good number of promotions and product sampling sessions. It is my belief that while these methods are good, there is a need for marketers to find more creative ways to reach their target markets.
I have seen, in several parts of the country, promotions where products were thrown into the air for crowds to catch them. The scramble for these products often leads to confrontation and jostling by the crowds, which may lead to injuries.
I came across a number of promotions run by a popular soft-drink pro ucer. There is a tendency to get consumers to compete for a T-shirt or cap by encouraging them to drink the product as quickly as possible. It is interesting to note how uncomfortable the experience usually is for the participants.
There are better ways of introducing products to communities. One of the banks introduced a banking product by employing an interesting strategy when it first rolled out its services. The bank made contact with chiefs and other traditional leaders. They slaughtered a cow in a village, acknowledging the local rulership and the dignity of the local people. During the ensuing feast, they ensured that their signage was prominent and that their messages were amplified from the local communication mechanisms. Similar creative ways of communicating with target markets, acknowledging their culture and synergising it with product communication strategies and tactics, should be explored.
It would not be possible to write about language as a tool of communication today without referring to our recent past. In apartheid days, language was used as a brutal instrument for domination. Radio stations broadcast news that had to pass through a strict censorship system. The problem, in many cases, was that the system could not trust translators to not insert revolutionary messages into the news. For this reason, there would be a person shadowing the translators, ensuring that every word was suitable for the promotion of the state’s agenda. Often, the result was news that followed the original word for word, but had little meaning in the language of the targeted listener. This has greatly influenced the literal translation that one often finds in the industry today. This tradition has in some cases, spawned sad results.
Take the old “Maze Generation” advertisements. Many people remember how ridiculous those adverts sounded in Zulu or Sesotho. The direct translations “isizukulwane sombila” or “moloko wa poone” were a source of much amusement in shebeens and taverns. One may say that it is never easy to translate an idiom or a slogan. The real problem, however, is that people who are part of the large maize product consuming mass were not part of the process of making those advertisements. They were simply brought in to translate a concept and creative that came from people who knew little about the nuances and idiom of the people they were targeting. There is not much pap eaten in the northern suburbs.
During my pilgrimage to Mpumalanga, the first community I visited was Matsulu in Nelspruit. IsiSwati and IxiTsonga are two dominant languages. The people of this community originally came from Mozambique and Swaziland. The Ndebele people also live in this community.
IsiSwati is the only language taught in the schools. The language is also reflected in the names of businesses such as hair salons, tuck shops, bottle stores and schools.
New languages are emerging in communities. The mix is a combination of the various locally spoken languages. This is largely due to the different cultural groups living together and sharing their languages. People who speak these languages are able to distinguish between strangers and those from the community. The speed at which these new languages are emerging is more pronounced within the younger people. It was interesting to see how in such areas as Mpumalanga and Limpopo, the popular new language used by young people was very similar to what one finds in Gauteng. Yet the local newspeak would have elements of local languages. The new lingua franca has elements of Tsotsitaal, yet is not quite Tsotsitaal. It has elements of what has been referred to as “black English” yet is not what you would find at some “model C” school. The newspeak clearly has its roots in the language that is spoken by older people.
In traditional societies in areas such as Mpumalanga and Limpopo, there is a clear understanding that while young people may use such newspeak amongst themselves, in conversation with elders, only proper language can be used. I visited several schools and colleges around the country and noticed that while the newspeak is popular, there is an understanding that it is a colloquial language that does not belong in institutions of learning.
For advertisers and marketers, this presents a challenge. A lot of advertising produced in recent years has reflected the lingua franca of the youth. One hears this newspeak on stations such as YFM and METRO. There is even a smattering of it in indigenous language stations. This is a reflection of the freedom of expression that has taken root over the past ten years of democracy. No radio announcer or marketer would be allowed to use Tsotsitaal on radio or television during the old apartheid days. These stations had a false sense of respect for African languages. The idea was to keep black minds pure and traditionalist in the belief that this was the personality that was easier to dominate and to fit into the tribal homeland mindset.
The challenge is to use such lingua franca without assuming a level of flippancy that may detract from the messaging. Several factors come into play. Using such language on YFM is quite safe. Clearly, the nature of the phrases used would have to be taken into consideration. In fact, not using colloquial language on this station could result in the audience falling asleep in the middle of a 30 second advertisement.
A marketer needs to be more careful in using such colloquial language in indigenous language stations. This is all the more so in rural environments, where tsotsi or thuggish tendencies are frowned upon, whether these are in language, dress or bumping (streetwise bounce) in one’s style of walk. What passes for streetwise talk in urban areas can easily be classified as thuggish talk in rural areas. In rural Limpopo, among the Pedi, Shangaan and Venda, if you fail to sit down as you speak to elders or greet them with the typical township “heita”, you would be marked as a disrespectful man or woman who does not deserve to be in the company of real men or women. The same goes for the Zulu and all the other indigenous peoples. Such behaviour can result in the decision that “ufunuk’shaywa umthetho wakho”, which could herald a beating. A radio advertisement that has too much Tsotsitaal might not go down very well with such audiences.
As with language, the youth are very experimental in their use of brands. The understanding of popular brands and what they stand for or symbolise usually takes a few years to grasp. The immediate indicators to adopt are the styles, shapes and cuts of the brands. This presents an opportunity for inferior brands (Fong Kongs) to thrive. As long as it looks like the original All Star Converse sneakers or the Lacoste shirt then it’s fine. As income improves so is the judgement by the local peers and pressure to buy the “real or macoy” brands. At this point, the ability to distinguish between fakes and authentic labels is enhanced.
The freedom to choose what to wear and how is relative. The power and influence lies more with the peers and the environment than with the individual. The comments made by one’s peers count for more.
There seems to be no association with or knowledge of the countries where these brands originate. For many the fact that a product is from “overseas” or is an “import” seems to endow it with special value. There is a perception that products made in countries abroad are of the highest standard and quality.
Young people themselves determine the symbolic meaning of the brands selected. The meanings attached have no real connection or relationship with what was originally intended by the producers of these products. The All Star Converse sneakers have a close association with the gangs, “tsotsis” and “amagents”. It is also becoming very common for fashion conscious people who now live in the suburbs who are not gangsters to wear these sneakers. Many find a sense of belonging or connection with the communities they come from. It also provides a sense of individuality within a group that sees itself as upwardly mobile and successful.
The youth market is far from being brand loyal. But, there is no doubt that it is a very brand aware or conscious market. The preference for popular and very upmarket brands is very high in this market.
They do not seem to be committed to one beer brand or one brand of sneakers. At one moment they will select Windhoek Lager over Carling Black Label and at another choose Amstel. Perhaps it depends on the availability of money at the time or simply the brand consumed by peers at the time.
Young people pride themselves in possessing different brand names of sneakers. Friday might be the day for Nike, Reebock would be worn on Saturday to visit the malls and movie houses. Adidas might be a brand of choice for Sunday.
Television and other media forms have huge influences on this sector of the market. Programmes like Yizo Yizo and others have been received with varying meanings and influences. There is graffiti galore with words lifted from such programmes. It is common to find young people re-naming themselves after the characters in the programmes.
While television has become a major influencer, radio continues to be a crucial medium, particularly in rural communities. Popular talk shows are listened to until late at night or even early in the morning. Radio soap operas are also very popular. Entire families listen to these.
One would have thought this audience would have created great opportunities for community radio stations. While their relevance cannot be disputed, they seem to have lost the edge many once thought they would have. There are a number of community radio stations like Moutse fm in Mpumalanga, Alx fm in Alexandra, Bushbuckridge radio in Bushbuckridge and Radio Mafisa in Rustenburg that have demonstrated the crucial link community radio stations can have with their local listeners. These radio stations broadcast in the language and style that is in line with the cultural makeup of their audiences. Advertising revenue comes largely from local businesses and companies like Uthingo with the Lotto, the Department of Health and the Department of Labour. Local advertisers are broad spectrum, including traditional healers, local charismatic churches, welders, panel beaters, tire fitters and furniture shops. Intervention is required to ensure that the existing ailing community radio stations can be revived and repositioned for growth.
Television is watched in the lounge or dining room depending on the size of the house. The changing of programmes happens in a very organised fashion. A tacit understanding exists around what programme to watch and when. The attack on Iraq on the 20th March 2003 was witnessed and attracted the attention of many people that I visited. I was amazed by the levels of comprehension of the issues that led to the war. The fact that radio made the issues clearer in the local languages made the television visuals well understood.
DStv is gaining popularity in the urban and rural areas of South Africa. A number of regions that battle to receive a clear SABC and e-TV signal have opted for DStv to access these channels. The townships of Mpumalanga such as Lekazi, Msogwaba, Pienaar, Matsulu and others have a great number of DStv subscribers. DStv is a status symbol in some communities. Houses with DStv attract community members who come to watch programs and sporting events that are not available on other channels.
In terms of both radio and television, sports, particularly soccer, remains one of the greatest drawcards. Soccer is one subject that one can use to strike a conversation with anyone from Cape Town to Musina, from Mpumalanga to the North West. People support their local teams, but it is the big national teams, particularly Pirates and Chiefs, which command the attention of the people in the villages and townships of South Africa. When there is a Pirates/Chiefs match, shebeens and taverns are packed with ardent fans who watch the game with much concentration and passion, then drink to drown their sorrows or to celebrate.
It is no wonder that these two teams have managed to capture large chunks of sponsorships. They continue to represent great marketing opportunities in their high level of popularity and their positioning as teams that have support across the country.
The popularity of soccer can also be seen in the innovation that surrounds the sport. Children in the villages and townships can be seen kicking plastic bags filled with paper and other material in the shape of a ball. Roads are turned into soccer fields, with the goal posts marked by a set of bricks on either side of the “field”. Some rural areas have soccer fields that are fenced off with corrugated iron. Some are not fenced off at all, but teams have proper kits and play with passion. The rules of the game are observed faithfully.
Newspapers like the Sowetan, Sun and the Citizen sell largely on the strength of the soccer news they carry. These papers are usually read from back to front, starting with the soccer news, then the rest of the paper. Radio still forms a very strong link with its listeners through the broadcast of sports, mainly soccer. Radio soccer commentators are well known among audiences around the country and their style of commentary has the capacity to earn them a great degree of popularity among soccer lovers.
Yet there are changes even in these areas. One of the factors influencing this is the advent of services such as running water and electricity. These services have been made available to many households, rural and informal settlements. A lot of work needs to be done to provide access to water for rural households that otherwise depend on water from rivers to wash, drink and cook.
The availability of electricity to urban and rural households has provided many with choices in the type of appliances they can use as and when they can afford to do so. The result has been a greater number of electronic items in use. Refrigerators, stoves and music systems are now becoming common in many rural households where they were a rarity in the days when people had to use coal stoves, paraffin refrigerators and battery operated music systems.
But it has been interesting to note that some households have elected to use wood and dry cow dung for fuel to cook and heat their homes. This practice for some is seen as cost saving, while others still prefer the traditional way of cooking their food and heating the home. They will insist that food prepared from an open flame cooks and tastes better.
The Telkom project of bringing telecommunication to all people of our country, even in the outlying areas is commendable. In many areas one can find public telephone booths in the dusty streets of many of the rural communities. Telkom needs a strategy to ensure that these facilities are not vandalised and can continue to serve the communities that need them the most. A sense of ownership of these facilities needs to be instilled. The advent of the cellphone has also improved communication.
The pre-payment for services like electricity and water is gaining acceptance in many communities. The challenge is going to be that of assuring communities that the payments they make exclude the free basic amounts provided by government. It costs between R200 and R600 to have electricity connected to a household.
Training systems such as ABET, Skills Training and the broadening of educational opportunities, combined with a more equitable employment environment and improved salaries have led to a ise in rural people with incomes that are higher than ten years ago. In addition, new opportunities related to public works programmes have seen a new type of entrepreneur emerge in these areas, people who secure Government tenders. Ten years ago, many rural communities built schools or clinics out of their own resources. If the Government built such facilities, the construction was seldom carried out by local people. Today enterprising rural people are able to become involved in the building of roads, installation of electrical networks and the building of schools and clinics. This is contributing towards the creation of a new aspirational class.
The acquisition of cars, designer clothing and “international” music CDs is becoming par for the course in these areas. Pringle shirts and jerseys, Nike trainers and Levi’s jeans are assuming a high profile in rural areas. In some of these areas, in the past, washing of clothes and personal bathing was done with a cheap, all purpose soap known as “blue soap”. This has changed. In my travels, I observed that people in rural areas use the same washing powder brands and bath soap brands that are popular in the townships. The same goes for other basic household goods, such at toothpaste, shoe polish and margarine.
However, there are some critical differences. Items such as all purpose household cleaner, furniture polish, air freshener and fabric softener are used by the relatively well-to-do in these communities. Also, food items such as frozen vegetables, cheese, cold meat and ice cream dessert are used by a limited number of rural people. People in these areas tend to use their refrigerators to store bulk meat.
Rural people who consume the sort of “luxuries” mentioned above are a select few. These include people who have relatively well paid family heads working in urban areas, people in the teaching profession, Government workers, entrepreneurs and suchlike.
The “urbanization” of rural communities can also be seen in furniture buying patterns.
Appliances such as fridges, stoves, televisions and music systems are popular. Up to ten different furniture shops can be found in a single shopping centre. Brands such as Hisense, Defy, Panasonic, Frigidaire, General Electric, Super Deluxe, LG, Samsung, Telefunken, Sansui and Sony are popular. There seems to be little preference for specific brands, safe to say that people speak of the importance of quality and price.
The above products are bought largely on credit or instalment; therefore availability and the terms offered by the chosen furniture shop influences the choice of purchase. Furniture is bought on the basis of a list of priority items. A complete cycle is followed until all needed furniture is purchased. This cycle will usually last the life span of certain items of furniture. These would then be replaced as and when the household decides to buy new items. Furniture does get replaced as and when extra income or large sums of money become available from savings, stokvels or society payouts.
Furniture shops run a number of promotions that encourage consumers to buy an item of furniture. The promotions range from giving cash back to supplying “free” groceries with items purchased. Furniture stores have also gone as far as offering live sheep, goat or cattle as prizes.
Yet the biggest new challenge facing these communities is not erosion of family life through urbanisation or unemployment. It is HIV/AIDS. There is no doubt that the messages about HIV/AIDS have reached many homes in South Africa. Confusion still reigns about the causes and “existing cures”. The fact that it has ravaged and transformed many families is not clear to some, because the cause of death is usually ascribed to some other cause, even witchcraft.
The influence that traditional and faith healers have on the black communities of South Africa needs to be recognised. Traditional Western medicine and institutions like clinics and hospitals are not the first points of contact between patients and medicine in black communities.
HIV/AIDS is creating a crisis in many communities and continues to break many families. Stories of men leaving their homes and blaming the existence of the disease on women are rife. When teenagers are infected with the disease, women are in many communities blamed for not having “properly” educated the children.
The HIV/AIDS messages that are presented in foreign languages like English, even in areas where only African languages are spoken, are not as effective as they could be. The advertising concepts generated in English and translated to African languages have been ineffective, with meanings lost and rarely understood by the target audience. The loveLife “Tell them sex is worth waiting for” billboard message has been open to varying, at times conflicting interpretations by learners in the schools that I have visited. Both young and old people did not understand the Chocolate “and” Clothing label campaign. Many could not relate the chocolates and the label to the intended message.
The loveLife Games and the Ground Breaking programmes have been a resounding success. These have allowed people to learn and understand HIV/AIDS in language and cultural forms that they understand. The games have created an opportunity for learners and children to engage in activities that keep them off the streets and visiting undesirable places such as shebeens and taverns.
The success of the Ground Breakers campaign is that young people have been trained to communicate and teach their peers about HIV/AIDS, in a language that is clearly understood. The positive aspect of the programme is that the Ground Breakers live in the same communities as the targeted groups. This means that the opportunity to educate and spread information is ongoing in all spheres of the community’s life.
The distribution of condoms is not as effective as it should be. The majority of people are embarrassed about taking condoms from public places such as local shops, taxi ranks and clinics because they do no want to be seen to be sexually active. It is more difficult for women to be seen to be collecting condoms than it is for men.
Is the world becoming one global culture? There is a school of thought within the marketing and advertising fraternity that the world is becoming one global culture with similar values. My experience during the brand pilgrimage reveals that many African cultural values are the opposite to those of Western cultures.
Advertisements that show children behaving impudently towards their elders are seen as disrespectful among the majority of the South African community. In western cultures, it is often seen as impish, but amusing behaviour.
An advertisement that shows a man wafting into the air due to the force of a good stew can be seen as trading on an amusing fantasy in western terms. An indigenous audience would be inclined to dismiss that as nonsensical. The humour behind the advertisement would be lost on them.
Part of the brief that I gave myself as I went through the pilgrimage was to establish how consumers understand advertising messages and images. If the comments people make when they see a television advertisement with a character growing a huge Afro in a few seconds because of the taste of some chicken is anything to go by, then it would be fair to conclude that advertisers have to come to grips with how advertising is understood by a bigger sector of consumers. The comments range from “Ba bua maka” (They are telling a lie) to “Ba nahana hore re ditlayela” (They think we are fools).
Humour that is derived from English and other cultures that is not relevant in the culture of the target audience has no meaning.
Marketing and advertising are tools that are utilised to communicate brand value to consumers. If these values are not in line with the mental make-up of the people, the brands lose meaning and identity.
Advertising and marketing have a major role to play in creating a new way of communicating. It is also not quite a high form of art, yet it can have a significant impact on forms of definition to the way a people’s creative images and expression are reflected. In South Africa, developing a popular advertising edifice, bearing images and expressions that reflect a national ethos and collective nuances will ensure that the industry taps into the riches of the collective national culture, history and language.
For this to happen, the industry has to develop a new way of seeing its audience. The industry has to recognize the unique background of the people it wishes to address. From that, a seamless channel of communication will flow.
Louis Itumeleng Seeco
Founder and Director
The Brand Pilgrimage Consultancy.
Seeco is also the founder of Elements Advertising and Marketing and has been in the advertising and marketing industry for 14 years. He is currently involved in running brand strategy development workshops under the banner of The Brand Pilgrimage Consultancy, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.