South Africa becoming more brand savvy?
06:00 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

African consumers largely skeptical about traditional mass-media advertising

"Zonal champions" used by multinationals to promote brands through word of mouth

They are locals who are trusted by their communities to recommend the right product

This form of advertising gives employment opportunities to unskilled people

Johannesburg, South Africa CNN  — 

South Africans in the emerging middle class are becoming savvy consumers, now concerned with brands. They want information about products and they want it now. Skeptical about the messages of the mass media, they crave one-on-one interaction.

That’s where “zonal champions” come in. It’s a phrase coined by South African marketing agency The Creative Counsel, describing individuals who live, breathe and promote a brand in specific zones of South Africa.

This is marketing turned upside down, but it works in Africa. While the rest of the world is utilizing social media to advertise commodities, The Creative Counsel is utilizing what it calls the “traditional” type of social media – word of mouth.

Magdeline Mataboga is a zonal champion. She walks from home to home introducing members of her low-income community to a range of consumer brands.

This is called below-the-line marketing and the target market is the lower-end consumer. In the African market you will find millions of these customers, who might have been overlooked in the past by big multinational businesses.

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Zunaid Dinath, chief officer of sales and distribution at mobile communications company Vodacom, says: “I think typically we’ve always catered for the formal market and the upper end of the spectrum, but I think when you go to the lower end of the market … there’s a huge opportunity there and they are the next value chain and the next million customers will come from there.”

The Creative Counsel is a $50 million company helping multinationals to reach these million consumers; through doing so they are pioneering African marketing solutions.

Gil Oved, co-founder and co-CEO of The Creative Council, says: “Multinational brands are coming from all over the world and they want in on Africa as is obvious, and agencies like ours are helping them engage a consumer in a new, inventive way, which is actually a very old traditional way. It’s one-on-one conversations.”

And these conversations are taking place at every social event – be it after church on a Sunday, after a sports match, at ladies clubs, or at stokvels or shisa nyamas – unique South African social gatherings.

Zonal champions will inform and educate members of the emerging middle class in South Africa on what to buy, and why they should buy it. This marketing strategy works in Africa because, as Ran Neu-Ner, co-founder and co-CEO of The Creative Counsel explains, African consumers “will use something a friend has recommended or a sister or a brother or a parent or any relative has recommended.

“They’re quite wary and skeptical to try new things,” he adds. “You need to bear in mind one thing – their disposable income is very, very low, so they can’t take chances, they can’t buy something and if it doesn’t work go and replace it with a competitor, they don’t have the means, so they’ve got to be 100% certain that the purchase that they make, they’r