Marketing to young people online: South Africa’s ‘born free’ example

South Africa Flag

South Africa Flag

The advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 was celebrated around the world. It was something that many believed they would never see. Another unique thing it has provided is the phenomenon of the Born Free Generation — those born after 1994 and who never experienced apartheid. One unintended consequence of this phenomenon is gifting a unique challenge to anyone looking to sell something to them.

As South Africa’s democracy approaches the end of its teenage years, businesses are increasingly being confronted by a fast-maturing and consumption-savvy generation of individuals. These young consumers, although from a mostly Westernised background, carry with them cultural values that have the potential to challenge assumption-based marketing principles.

It’s important to understand that this new generation of African spenders is driving the growth of small to medium enterprises through their new-found-wealth-inspired entrepreneurial spirit. So how can someone looking to sell something to this generation do so while remaining competitive?

Here are five things to keep in mind:

Spending power

While the increase in wealth among the previously disadvantaged has been marginal in most parts of South Africa, there is a visible increase in young people who are in a position to spend. This, however, does not mean that traditional marketing methods will encourage frivolous spending. Hitting the right price-point, in relation to a local understanding of quality, is the only way to get these whippersnappers to part with their hard-earned money.

Domestic pride

Wow what a loaded term, and seemingly painfully broad. Well, it is and it isn’t — favourite term of mine, adopted it from a departed colleague. So you see, while pride in ‘the nation’ is a deep-rooted, psychological manifestation born from generations of struggle and the eventual ascension to democracy, it can also be looked at as the simple pride in one’s accomplishments in a socio-economic framework.

Take into consideration the tones of communication, the symbols associated with pride and especially those that are not taken to likely. Identify the triggers in society and incorporate them into strategies for building quality engagement.


This one was bound to make its way on to the list. Direct marketing methods like email and mobile are still the biggest driving forces behind sales-based activities and the rapid expansion of digital marketing budgets. However, the technology with which people access content is changing at break-neck speed and anyone putting stuff out there has to ensure that it renders effectively across a range of mobile devices.

We’ve already identified that this liberated generation of consumers is money-wise, but this does not mean they don’t spend. Technology and specifically mobile hardware not only represents status, but in a culture of constant communication, gives the user a permanence of interaction that embodies the African approach to communication. So, taking this into consideration, ensure that your communications are responsive, concise and with clear reference to what it is you’re trying to say.

Crowdsourced buying

As technology grows ever more integrated and spheres of communication overlap more and more, our behaviour increasingly affects other economically active individuals. This ‘crowd-sourced’ mentality in respect of consumer behaviour constantly challenges the marketing and external communications cycle, but also has the potential to boost B2C engagement. Think about it: I buy a fantastic product at a great price, with efficient service… boom, everyone knows and your brand’s a winner.

While the pre-generation might not necessarily be as susceptible to this group mentality – they tend to show more brand loyalty than us – crowd-sourced purchasing decisions are the way forward, as the born-frees have almost no vested loyalty towards any business in particular, but have vast networks of experience to draw from almost instantly.


Whether you’re a corporate, an agency or an SME; gone are the days of matchbox marketing based on mass-colluded statistics where you paint everyone with the same brush. The environment we’re operating in has no place for this school of thought anymore and it’s easy to see why.

As the post 1994 consumers ripen in an artistically free environment where their creativity and ingenuity is challenged on a daily basis; they internalise values based on a liquidity of thought rather than trained patterns and the marketing space as a whole needs to adapt to that.

Marketing to the born-free generation has quite possibly become one of the most challenging AND rewarding activities you can be engaged in right now. It tests almost everything we’ve been trained to believe about branding, content and B2C relationship management and, as an industry, we’re evolving more along psychological that mathematical lines and that’s pretty damn exciting.



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