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While SA’s gaping digital divide is a substantial challenge, it’s also an opportunity for purpose-led brands to have a sustained effect by helping to bridge this divide while reaching a wider, previously inaccessible audience.

The term digital divide describes the gap between those with affordable access to technology and the internet and those with limited or no access to essential online services. For those without access, the digital divide means diminished quality of life, economic opportunity and social interaction. Covid has further accelerated the rate of digital technology adoption and deepened the digital divide worldwide.

Only 56.3% of SA’s population of 60-million was using the internet in 2020. This figure is expected to increase to just 62.3% by 2025. Some estimates suggest that only 10% of SA homes have fixed, affordable internet, and that lower-income earners are paying 80 times more for internet access. According to the “State of ICT in South Africa” report, the main barriers to getting online for South Africans are data costs, lack of internet-enabled devices and low digital literacy. Last year, the Competition Commission instructed local mobile operators to adjust their pricing across pre-paid monthly bundles, and to provide additional discounts, free daily data allocations and free access to educational and public interest websites. Another alternative is free public Wi-Fi, provided by government at public buildings.

However, there is an innovative approach to deliver a fast, measurable and sustainable solution: free Wi-Fi provided to underserved communities, funded by an advertising model for purpose-led brands that ensures everyone wins.

Tried and tested by many of SA’s best-known brands – including Absa, Avbob, Bokomo Weet-Bix, Coca-Cola, DStv, FNB, Iwisa, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Netflix, Selati, Shoprite, Raid and Vodacom – this purpose-driven advertising model provides brands with saliency in township economies while delivering the industry with performance-driven metrics and positively measured community impact, which in turn funds free, uncapped Wi-Fi that uplifts underserved communities and narrows the digital divide.

A recent purpose-driven advertising campaign by one of the largest local banks is a good example. The bank partnered with Think WiFi through 365 Digital to educate users in underserved communities about money matters and online banking, using high-impact video.

Think WiFi’s ThinkZone Wi-Fi hotspots provided access to audiences to engage with the campaign via 208 ThinkZone venues in underserved communities across the country, including Guguletho, Blikkiesdorp, Thembisa, KwaMashu, Soweto and Vosloosrus, to name a few. The bank reached 409,000 users, with a 96.44% ad viewability score and a 90.68% video completion rate.

Funded by this purpose-driven advertising, the ThinkZone Wi-Fi hotspots simultaneously provided free, uncapped internet access to these communities for three months.

By directly contributing over R7m worth of free, fast and uncapped Wi-Fi and 182,000GB of free data, the bank ensured significant monthly savings on data costs for these communities. In addition, everyone in range of a local ThinkZone Wi-Fi hotspot enjoyed free access to the digital economy.

The bank’s campaign directly involved uplifting people’s lives and delivering equality through technology. Such a relationship with an audience delivers strong customer loyalty, and enhanced social licence to operate.

​Using the Think WiFi purpose-driven ad model and its “hope index”, based on five of the UN sustainable development goals, purpose-led brands can measure the impact that accessible, free, high quality Wi-Fi has on a community. “Access to free uncapped Wi-Fi can help remove barriers and provide equal access to the internet for quality education, employment opportunities and other essential digital services, to help bridge the digital divide,” says Janine Rebelo, CEO and co-founder of Think WiFi. “Think WiFi’s purpose-driven advertising model gives brand owners the opportunity to reach a wider audience to promote products and services, and to educate, inform, create awareness or encourage action.”

Think WiFi is reaching more than 3.5-million South Africans through more than 320 ThinkZone free Wi-Fi hotspots in Gauteng, the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape.

Rebelo says: “We’re also a purpose-led brand. Driving digital equality is our core ambition. We are laying the foundation for the fourth industrial revolution for underserved communities by increasing universal access to reliable high-speed uncapped internet via a free public Wi-Fi platform. Simultaneously, we are creating opportunities for other purpose-led brands to reach previously inaccessible audiences in a direct, measurable and engaging way, while contributing to bridging the digital divide by reducing socioeconomic inequalities and driving impactful social change.”

The big take-out:

Think WiFi’s purpose-driven advertising model gives brand owners the opportunity to reach a wider audience to promote products and services, and to educate, inform, create awareness or encourage action, says Janine Rebelo, CEO and co-founder of Think WiFi.


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