War, Famine, Corruption, or Pinstriped Suit, Mobile Phone, Rolodex

In South Africa on July 26, 2011 by P Grant

We always hear the negative news about Africa -war, famine- and specifically this week in South Africa, a new report of government corruption, criminal investigations and dirty tricks.

Equally as troubling, for the first time, Freedom House, a Washington DC think tank, has lowered South Africa from a country with a free press to one that is partly free.

So you wonder if social media can be used effectively in South Africa?  The answer is Yes.

“Communicating Africa: Transcending Borders with Digital Media,” presented by Georgetown University in 2009 featured a distinguished panel of experts who discussed the role of social media in telling the Africa story.  As a first semester graduate student, my take away came from the last speaker, a Nigerian student named Jennifer Ehidiamen, who disputed the negative stories she constantly reads about Africa, saying there’s more to Africa than hunger, poverty and corruption.

I will never forget her inspiring comments about how normal it is for the young people in South Africa to attend a meeting wearing their pinstriped suits, carrying their mobile phones and rolodexes.

For brands wanting to reach a major audience in South Africa, it’s still challenging but the one constant – the mobile phone-remains the primary communication tool.  In fact, there are more mobile phones in South Africa than taxis, TVs and radios combined.

Out of a population of about 48 million people, only a little over 5 million have a personal computer. However, by 2014 it is estimated that 20 percent of the people will have internet access

In short, yes, these numbers support the optimistic outlook of the young generation of South Africans like Jennifer Ehidiamen.

For a prime example of a social media success story in South Africa, look to last year’s Soccer World Cup. Most of the major brands were marketed via YouTube, although Facebook and Twitter were used too:   

Coca Cola sponsored a social media event where you could upload your own goal-winning celebrations on YouTube and win video awards;

Sony offered a “Twitter Cup” pitting tweets from opposing teams or the most amazing coaching strategies;

Budweiser presented a YouTube TV type reality show featuring 32 fans representing the World Cup Countries

It was the World Cup’s first use of social media.  Sony, Budweiser and Coke are only a few of the companies who used social media.   It was so successful that marketers and advertisers believe the World Cup brought the use of social media to a new level.  I can’t wait to see what happens with social media at the 2012 London Summer Olympic games, 2014 Sochi, Russia Winter Olympic games, as well as the 2016 Brazil Summer Olympic games.

Mascots for 2012 London Olympics

For Jennifer Ehidiamen, who wants the world to see there is more to Africa than the negative stories covered in the traditional media, social media’s heavy use at the FIFA World Cup did just that.  If you’re going to do business in South Africa, put on your pin-striped suit, bring your mobile phone, rolodex and look to social media to sell your products.



One Response to “War, Famine, Corruption, or Pinstriped Suit, Mobile Phone, Rolodex”

  1. I liked the fact that you shared a personal experience that led you to this post and your point about how Africa is often misrepresented in the Western world is a good one. There were several directions I found in your post this week. At the start it felt as though you were going to focus on how South Africa was downgraded from having a free press to only a “partly free press.” Then I thought you might be writing about the rise of the professional class in Africa and how social media enabled that. Then you shared some interesting stats about mobile usage, so you might have explored that further. And finally you noted several large marketing campaigns from big World Cup sponsors that were actively using social media. Clearly there were a lot of topics you were trying to bring into your post. Too many, in fact.

    There were a couple of challenges this approach led to. The first was that it wasn’t really clear which angle you were focused on for this post and which story you would tell. The brand examples were large brands, but many of their efforts were not focused on South Africa but rather seemed more incidentally to take place in South Africa because that was where the World Cup was held (like Budweiser’s campaign, for example). The others were harder to evaluate because you did not share links to those campaigns in your post. More broadly, there were a few big inaccuracies in your post. At one point, you talked about the “optimistic outlook of the young generation of South Africans like Jennifer Ehidiamen” – although earlier in your post you correctly noted that she was actually from Nigeria. Later you note that the marketing examples were “the World Cup’s first use of social media” – which is not accurate, as many brands have used social media in previous World Cup years for marketing.

    Ultimately, your bottom line of sharing that brands usage of social media during the World Cup in South Africa to reach a global audience seemed to be stretched if you were also trying to use this to prove that social media has evolved in South Africa. (3 – 1 for late posting = 2)

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