Stone Town, Tanzania. Picture: ISTOCK
Stone Town, Tanzania. Picture: ISTOCK

Marketing in Africa poses its own set of challenges, as those who have experience working on the continent will attest. The key to creating a successful product is understanding the uniqueness and cultural nuance of each market, says Cobus van Zyl, COO of Aggrey & Clifford, an East Africa-based full-service advertising agency.

It’s an approach that has served Aggrey & Clifford well – the agency was recently recognised as one of the world’s leading independent agencies for 2017 by thenetworkzone, in association with Campaign magazine in London.

“International brands tend to believe that world trends apply similarly across all markets, and this lack of adaptation can hamper effectiveness,” says Van Zyl. He cites the example of Internet penetration to illustrate his point: “In June 2016, Tanzania had 14.5% Internet penetration, while neighbouring Kenya had 68.4% penetration – the highest in Africa and above the world average.” With connectivity comes strong media savvy, so a campaign with a strong social media plan and message would be more effective in Kenya than in Tanzania.

Van Zyl says consumer confusion often arises when global campaigns are translated directly into local markets.

Aggrey & Clifford has learnt that campaigns need to be localised, and one campaign may have eight regional versions in one country. “We apply different cultural nuances to the visuals – so we would, for instance, use more Muslim symbols for campaigns that run in Zanzibar than we would for [campaigns in] mainland Tanzania,” he explains. Different music is also used in the same campaign, depending on what music is popular in a specific region at the time. Media buying, too, is done on a regional level, even if it means buying spots that serve only very small areas.

A key to Aggrey & Clifford’s success is that the agency encourages clients to work with it to understand the strategy and ethos of the brand and what it means to the consumer in a particular market. “Once we have come to grips with this, we tell the story in such a way that the brand becomes meaningful to that market,” he says.

Opportunity abounds in Africa if you have the correct understanding and perception of the continent’s markets and consumers, says Van Zyl. “We need to change the way we see the market, and this change should be seen as a long-term project, not a quick gain to prop up results in tough financial times.”

Getting to understand 1.2bn people – who speak different languages, and understand and value things in different ways – is not easy. “It’s a journey with many pitfalls along the way,” says Van Zyl, “but I believe the true opportunity lies in investing in how to understand these customers, so that the long-term success can be enjoyed far beyond any immediate gains.”

The big take-out: Aggrey & Clifford’s Cobus van Zyl says succeeding in Africa requires long-term vision and an understanding of the uniqueness and cultural nuance present in every country. 

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