Marketing in Africa: a fresh set of insights from Ogilvy & Mather

Marketing in sub-Saharan Africa is a complex and difficult skill to master. Digital is seen as the next great opportunity to tap into this burgeoning market, and companies have been throwing their weight behind innovative online campaigns for a while now, with varying degrees of success.

Hannah Law, a VP at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, spent a few months in Africa last year trying to get a clear picture of branding in emerging markets and what the trends are. Her insights are a useful reminder of what’s important when driving campaigns in Africa and how dangerous it is to view the whole of Africa as one market. Hopefully, we in South Africa recognise this, but it’s good to be reminded of it every now and agin.

You can find the full report here, but here are some of her findings to take away and digest.


By now, we all know that penetration into the African market via mobile devices is unprecedented. 67% of people have a mobile device. What do they mostly use them for? Taking pictures and video, sending messages, consuming information and mobile payments. The majority of mobile internet activity comes from web pages, not apps due to cost. “There is a “”consumer aversion to downloading apps even if they own a smartphone.”

As a result of low data bandwidth, services such as Twitter and Whatsapp tend to be more heavily trafficked than the data rich ones like YouTube and Vine. Even Facebook is quite costsly, although the company recently introduced a 2G news feed to cater for users with a slower connection that focuses on text and links as opposed to video and photos.

The bottom line is, if you want social media success in Africa, you still need to keep it simple. “A key aspect of the user experience is to recognize the high cost of data in Africa that limit’s people’s desire to engage with data-heavy content and campaigns. Optimize your mobile website because your app won’t be that heavily used.”


The hype around social penetration in Africa is probably not quite yet justified but it’s growing exponentially and in a few years, if internet penetration continues at the rate it is, the numbers will be impressive. Kenya, Mauritius, Egypt and Nigeria have internet penetration rates of over 50%, while South Africa and Zimbabwe are right on the cusp at 49 and 47% respectively. But then the drop-off is quite severe, into the 20 – 25% range for countries like Uganda, Ghana and Botswana.

Right now, social media is still for the young and wealthy. Here’s a staggering figure from the report: In Africa, the price of broadband is 178% of the Gross National Income per capita! Yet there is a hunger for the kind of content which social media serves up. In Africa, despite the high cost, YouTube videos rack up a collective 2.9 billion views per month.

The major internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are keenly aware of Africa’s potential for exponential growth. While they have mostly saturated the rest of the planet, there is major room to grow in Africa and hence the desire to provide better connectivity through blimps, drones and whatever else they can come up with.

Back at Facebook HQ, the company has implemented 2G Tuesdays, to help employees better understand how the developing world experiences their products.


Young Africans are very receptive to online advertising. “Nielsen reports that nearly half (48%) of consumers interviewed said advertising has significant influence on their purchase decisions.” A mix of online and social advertising with more traditional methods is seen to be the ticket to success in Africa.

It’s quite refreshing for marketing people to find consumers who are not totally jaded with regard to advertising and are not looking to download ad blockers to thwart everything they do. But brands need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. She writes that “brands which value transparency and live by their values will win in pan-Africa, ’’ and there is plenty of opportunity for campaigns that are not afraid to think outside the box and create lasting value for areas where scarcity and hardship are often the lived experiences of the community.



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