BETWEEN CULTURE AND BRANDING: PERSPECTIVES FROM AFRICA

Tomi Ogunlesi
May 10, 2011 — 1,555 views  
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Having interacted with a number of brands and their custodians in this local market, I have come to the realization that one of our fundamental challenges lies in that African (and Nigerian, in particular) markets are, in many cases, underestimated and grossly misunderstood, almost tantamount to the perception that the consumers in these parts are not sufficiently enlightened or are lacking in requisite cerebral capacity to grasp and appreciate good creative work!
 
Contrary to prevalent thinking that many times subtly manifests in the way communication for our local markets are conceptualized and structured, many Africans are highly aspirational, educated, sophisticated, well travelled and discerning. As a result, they equally desire world-class brands and world-class standards, meaning they will only patronize products and services that they believe in.

In recent times, we have continued to witness burgeoning desire and ability among African nations and entrepreneurs to create homegrown African brands that not only satisfy the requirements of local markets, but also essentially are exportable and also compete favorably with global brands.

Sean McCoy, brand strategist and co-founder of the brand consultancy Harwood Kirsten Leigh McCoy (HKLM), posits that the key to success for multinational companies wishing to invest in Africa is a partnership approach, underpinned by a sincere commitment to the market. According to him, a true passion for Africa and a desire to see her and her people flourish are vital, as much as local relevance of all communication and branding efforts.

This also stems from the realization that Brands are a cultural phenomenon, which means that they should be expected to behave in a similar manner to culture itself. Consequently, just as culture is never static, successful brands cannot be static otherwise they will be left behind and will die. In the same way culture also adapts to its surroundings, brands are expected to adapt to their environments - even global brands need to adapt to the local surroundings of their host countries, National brands need to adapt to regional surroundings within the country and so on.

As such, all brand, marketing and communication strategies must necessarily take all of these into account, and by so doing, will guarantee easy promotion and advancement of their brands.

In reality, those very factors that appear like the seemingly "intangible" elements of a brand are really very precise sets of contextual values, emotions, aspirations and projections that can quite easily be not only identified but plotted, graphed, and inserted into a brand's identity. A key to this lies in the actual archetypes of the brand(s) in question and a very clear understanding of the pivotal role they play in the psyches and expectations of those folks whose culture you are trying to intertwine your brand with.

To further underscore the relevance of local cultural considerations in branding efforts, I just recalled a particular issue escalated by a particular group of concerned citizens in Benue state a couple of years ago bordering on lack of attention to detail on the part of one of the leading indigenous tacos in the course of its massive and aggressive roll-out drive across Nigeria. The crux of the agitation was that a billboard erected in the predominantly Idoma populated area featured a model fully attired in the trademark black and white fabric that characterizes the Tiv people.

The Idoma populace in those environs appropriated this exposure as a slight on their cultural sensibilities, and even went as far as expressing their displeasure in a number of national dailies, criticizing the purported insensitivity of the authorities of the telco in question.

Now, the casual observer may be dismissive of the foregoing as a somewhat trivial issue or mere tribalistic sentiment, but in reality, it brought up vital issues relating to cultural considerations in branding. One negative eventuality, notwithstanding how remote it is, again is that as far as the desire to gain market share and loyalty within those particular precincts was concerned, brand equity of the telco in question might have suffered a situation that effectively negates the essence of the marketing effort in that area after all.

The foregoing underscores the important role of extensive and incisive research targeted at obtaining deep consumer insight - the knowledge of what motivates your target and makes them tick, within the context and flavor of their local culture, which is key.

A number of highly successful brands (and their memorable communication campaigns) bear testimony to this. Icons like Star, the leading lager in the Nigerian market, represent very apt examples in this regard. The brand has been remarkably successful at being able to refresh itself and thus maintain an unassailable leadership stance in its category over a 60-year period by remaining culturally in tune with the market.

It is also instructive to note that Star as an emerging ‘Superbrand' has made strong inroads into other West African Markets, having emerged as the flagship lager brand in Ghana. According to statistics, it ranks eighth in brand stakes in that country, with an estimated market share of 23%.

In that market, a two-pronged brand communication approach was adopted, with focus largely on festivals and tourism - both being integral elements of country's cultural framework. These two platforms afford the brand an opportunity for brand activation throughout the most important communities across the country, with young to middle-aged adults being particular targets. Star beer is reputed to be the most preferred lager in Sierra Leone also. The making of an emergent global brand with Nigerian origins in the offing, if you ask me!

Many Nigerians will also readily remember with nostalgia the much referenced ‘Where is my tally number' TVC of those days, as well as MTN's ‘Mama Na boy' commercial, which was an integral element of the now rested ‘Life is beautiful' campaign.

The bottom-line realization is that the culture of a brand needs to be carefully fostered and aligned with its consumers so that they can have a sense of belonging with their brand. If brands can be built on this relationship, they will become part of people's lives and thus grow and evolve with them. The first step however remains seeing brands as cultural objects and leveraging on this appropriately.
 
Tom Ogunlesi is a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK) and a strategic planner at Bates Cossé in Lagos, Nigeria.


 



Tomi Ogunlesi

Bates Cosse

A consummate marketing communication professional with experience spanning diverse brand categories ranging between corporate, FMCG, financial services and aviation, among others. A member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM, UK) He is also an alumnus of both Vega, the Brand communications school and the Wits Business School Product Strategy & Brand Management Programme. He is currently a brand strategist at Bates Lagos, where he works as Brand Manager responsible for Segment and Product marketing for a leading African Financial services brand. He is also presently an MBA candidate at the Lagos Business School.