One element of the urban landscape in Africa that’s fast evolving is advertisements (not so much the infrastructure, but that’s another debate). As huge billboards – ever bigger, more flashy, more present, more inevitable – accompany me across my field research, a question becomes inevitable: how representative of the reality are they? How in-sync with fast changing lifestyles are they?
So let’s look for an answer when it comes to the hyper-connected, active, urban young woman. Both pictures in this short piece are situations in the Congo region (two countries), one is a billboard in a main avenue in DR Congo, the other shows an entrepreneur at a conference in Congo Brazzaville.
From September to November 2016, I toured Europe for speaking in conferences and events from London and Brussels to Zurich and Berlin. Europe is where I cut my teeth as a road warrior, travelling constantly for work during more than a decade. Therefore, in the build up to the tour, as I’m contemplating the itinerary on a desk in an apartment in Nairobi Kenya, I sense a bit of deja-vu. Given the dominating narrative in the news coverage about Europe in 2015-16, where the continent is painted as old, monochrome, moribund, I might conclude that I will experience the same contexts, dynamics, interactions. Nothing could be further from the reality.
In fact, on the ground, Europe has a new face.
As cities are entering the fall season with a heartbeat upping its tempo and a wardrobe embracing darker colours, massive advertisement campaigns with African faces are rolling out everywhere. The Amsterdam Netherlands headquartered denim brand G Star Raw is running a big campaign covering bus stops and metro stations with black models. The company said they include members of its personnel.
In Belgium, the supermarket chain Delhaize is campaigning for seasonal local fruits. The ambassador is an African pre-teen sporting a wild afro and brandishing a chubby pear, which is a traditional symbol of Made-in-Belgium products.
The clothing brand Mango is advertising a new collection with a young, colourful, curly haired twenty-something year old black woman. The billboards are highly visible in Switzerland as ad space is in limited supply in the local urban landscape. Also, across the country, as soon as you enter a store of the clothing brand Esprit, an African gentleman standing on a human-size cardboard display invites you to become a Preferred Customer.
The list goes on and on.
Is this news? After all, campaigns starring African celebrities from the realms of sport, fashion, music and television have become a mainstay in the European media for at least two decades; from Liya Kedebe of Ethiopia, one of the world’s highest paid supermodels, being the face of H&M, L’Oréal, Louis Vuitton; to South Sudanese model Alek Wek, one of the fashion industry’s most recognized names, representing Benetton, Saks Fifth and Kenzo; to Ivorian football player Didier Drogba fronting Turkish Airlines campaigns.
Yet, two elements lead to the conclusion that what’s happening today belongs to something bigger than seasonal campaigns. First a survey conducted by Shutterstock, the international online image library, in association with the research firm Censuswide reveals striking trends in the use of images of diversity by marketers in the UK. Secondly, based on my weeks-long research in the streets, retail stores, airports and train stations in four different countries, I’m examining the new roles that European marketers are assigning to Africans in their campaigns.
Shutterstock and Censuswide found that when it comes to selecting images for campaigns, the great majority of marketers in Great Britain opt for those that represent modern day society over simply promoting a brand message.
Specifically, 71% of marketers choose racially diverse images, rather than messaging about a brand (30%). Overall, the survey reveals that around half (49%) have used more racially diverse images over the past twelve months.
As a side-effect, marketers are using fewer images of white models in their campaigns, with around a third of marketers saying they now use fewer images of “Caucasians” (34%).
“Marketing, like many other fields, has a diversity problem” says Robyn Lange, Shutterstock’s Curator. “The people chosen to represent campaigns have an obvious and visual impact on public life. Therefore, marketers need to be more inclusive through their choice of images”.
According to Ms Lange, diversity and inclusion, far from being buzzwords or quotas for businesses, are the driving forces behind recent campaigns from Heineken, Oreos, Kellogg’s, Tiffany and Co, Doritos and Absolut.
“Our research shows that marketers are shifting their attitudes. [They] are influencers in their field who understand that marketing needs to reflect the diverse range of communities which are present in the UK.”
But precisely how are Africans depicted in advertisements? Are they used in an essentialist approach where the message plays with their skin colour to gain credibility for, say, pure cocoa dark chocolate, or to create contrast with flashy paint colours for instance? Or are Africans part of a “total market” approach where, rather than being confined to messages targeting specific consumer groups, they are included in broad messages aimed at the general market?
I found five new roles marketers are assigning to Africans in mainstream campaigns. Some roles are part of innovative, unconventional discourses, others come with greater expectations in terms of starting a conversation and engaging consumers.
1- BRANDING NORMALCY
The great majority of the Africans fronting current campaigns are non-celebrities, no-names, average-looking people. Most of them you would not recognize even if they feature in multiple campaigns. This is a notable departure from the avenue often travelled so far by marketers as the few African brand ambassadors were movie stars or fashion supermodels.
Over the years, the must-be-celebrity tactic had even fuelled the argument advanced by many observers that Blacks were visible in the European media only once they were perceived as bankable and risk-free options by advertisers and marketers.
Today, in numerous campaigns the notions of normalcy, every day life, current affairs are embodied by Africans. When it comes to give the realest possible picture of today’s Europe, brands’ message is: on any given day, most likely you will share a cup of coffee, an office space, a train ride, an emotion with an African. From this picture of Europe with its African component emerges credibility and relevance.
2- BRANDING LOCAL
In a Zurich shopping district, I randomly picked and entered fifty small and medium stores in the grocery, clothing, electronics and jewellery categories. I asked owners and managers whether they would consider using Africans in their marketing visuals. Forty-four answered “I would do it”, “I can consider” and other variables in the same vein.
Due to highly publicized campaigns in the last two decades, from the controversial Benetton ads to the Desigual campaign starring the Canadian model Winnie Harlow – considered as one of the biggest marketing coups in the last five years, the general perception was that involving racial minorities in mass marketing is the exclusive territory of major brands as they are seen as better equipped for aggressive tactics or transcending scripts.
The reality is that local brands and new players are increasingly taking the diversity route in an unapologetic fashion. When it comes to advertisement campaigns, product launches, in-store promotions and store openings among other marketing actions, many local businesses want to have African ambassadors.
An example is the Swiss shoe brand Ochsner who has deployed a nationwide in-store promotion campaign with at its core a giant poster starring an African woman. They see their campaign, not as a way of making noise, but simply as an organic way to talk about and promote the diversity they experience every day at a grassroots level, in their stores, whether it’s via suppliers, customers, or personnel.
Another example is the Italian eyewear company Snob who writes its name coupled with “Milano” in all its promotional material to reinforce its local identity. Yet the face of its branding is a young African woman. Quite clearly for this new player in a crowded eyewear industry, the goal is to be an influencer and make a difference.
3- BRANDING ASPIRATION
In 2016 the global dairy company Danone has embarked on its biggest campaign ever to reposition its yoghurt brand Activia. With the motto Live In Sync, Danone targets thirty-something year old female consumers it has identified as a health and nutrition conscious group.
From singers and actresses to A-list stylists and Olympic gold medal winners, Danone marketers usually pick public figures for fronting their campaigns at country level (at global level their ambassadors have been the singer Shakira and the actress Jamie Lee Curtis).
Nevertheless, in a bid to make Activia “an inspirational lifestyle brand with a mission to help women unlock their potentials”, Danone marketers have also made a radical choice: in Belgium, Activia’s ambassador is an African woman whose face Belgians have never seen before, whose name they’ve never heard of and would be able to pronounce only with long practice.
Danone’s rationale is that to be genuine about starting a conversation with young women about going on a personal journey, achieving balance, being “in sync”, what’s better than a fresh face combined with an unconventional name. To give more emotional weight to the portrait of a holistic and creative approach to wellbeing, the ad mentions the profession of the ambassador (textile creator).
4- Africans also stand for the future, entrepreneurship, dynamism, change…
5- …and for togetherness, personal development and growth
It is worth mentioning that the current campaigns are multinational. With minimal adaptations, they roll out across national borders within the broader European space. The Esprit campaign with the African youngster is in stores in Brussels, Zurich, Paris, and Berlin. The H&M campaign with the Ghanaian/British model Adwoa Aboah occupies outdoor billboards in London, Paris, Berlin. In that sense, they do more than recognizing diversity where it is a longstanding ingredient of the society, they also present diversity in places where it may be a burgeoning reality.
Traditionally marketers would start their creative process by focusing on the general market – in other words, White consumers – then at the end of their process, they would look at how to adapt things to specific consumer groups. Today brand strategists simply want to do good marketing within a multicultural space and incorporate the ethnic dimension at the research and design stages.
As ethnicity plays a role within the context of all other human dimensions such as life stage, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, businesses and brands willing to be relevant, engaging, authentic will embrace this redefinition of good marketing.
Cover photo of Patrick Gaincko courtesy of Sina Lou Ravasio
“Experience a relaxing moment in our business class »
This billboard is situated at one of the best spots in Kinshasa, precisely where the two busiest arteries meet, namely the Boulevard du 30 Juin and the Avenue des Batetela. The first is home to ministeries and public offices, the second is the address of upscale boutiques, restaurants and elite hotels.
In general, advertisements for business class air travel feature the following recurrent ingredients : a man or woman, middle-aged or senior, in a corporate or classy suit, travelling alone, the tie knot loosened, the shoes off, the laptop or the book handy or nearby… The suggestion is that you are no longer in the office but quite not yet off work. Getting the essence of both the office environment and the five star hotel room, you can either keep on being productive or get the much deserved rest. This traditional messaging is where the Emirates ad herein below belongs to.
Turkish Airlines ad proposes a script where business travel is not a solo, self centered affair, but rather a couple travelling together. Turkish Airlines Business class has less to do with work and more to do with indulgence. Gone are the laptop, the book and the whole arsenal of corporate attributes ; here the de-rigueur attire is wide open neck, short sleeve top for Madame and a V-neck jumper for Monsieur : they are in the business of offering themselves a special, tranquil treat.
Also absent in this ad is the usual abundance of sophistication that other airlines resort to when advertising superior classes, from the full-flat-bed convertible ergonomic seat to the LCD touchscreen TV and the branded amenities kit. Here, the only signs that you are not in economy are the fine entrée (sans premium drinks) and the spacious cabin.
Ultimately, I find that what Turkish’s ad depicts looks like what various carriers (Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, etc.) used to offer a few years ago : Premium Economy. It was an intermediate level between economy and business class, where you would get more legroom and a slightly enhanced economy service. By being subdued, almost frugal in presenting what is supposed to be sparkling and luxurious, this ad risks of leaving the targeted audience – affluent Congolese consumers – unconvinced.
As, by all measures their fortunes kept on growing in the last two decades, rich Congolese consumers have come to express a greater thirst for sophistication and ultimate experiences, notably in air travel. For the most part of this vast country (Africa’s second largest), maritime, road and rail travel is either non-existent or difficult. Air travel is therefore a daily affair for business travellers and private jets are a thriving business. As a result, all-too familiar with premium treatment, they now expect to be wowed when it comes to flying on international routes. And they would be more attracted by The Emirates’ advert which uses the same « relaxation » slogan but peppers the picture with plenty of symbols of materialism and opulence. If you have been in the rich Congolese social circles in Kinshasa, you know extravagance is a habit.
In recent months, Emirates and Turkish Airlines have showed steady aggressiveness among the non-African carriers courting African travellers. Both have publicly cited Africa as a priority opportunity, have augmented their capacity and extended their network. But in terms of sales pitch, they differ in a striking fashion. Having in mind that Dubai remains a preferred destination for African shoppers, Emirates has opted to compete with the heavyweight argument of increased free baggage allowance. On the other hand, Turkish Airlines proposes to make the world more accessible along trade routes, showing no hesitation to open routes with frontier, even fringe markets such as Somalia. While it remains to be seen whether playing the accessibility-trade card attracts affluent travellers, there is little doubt it has a sizeable chance to resonate with the African middle-class as these travellers are showing greater affinity with all-in destinations, such as Istanbul, which offer trade, shopping, tourism.
“Acknowledging our farmers’ know-how is all it takes for them to give us the best of their production. McDonald’s Morocco is a 100% Moroccan company, servicing Moroccans since 23 years. The brand has perfectly adapted to local consumer habits and commits itself to actively contributing to the country’s economic, social and human development. McDonald’s restaurants work with local suppliers for half of their supplies in raw materials such as bread, oil, vegetables among which salads, ice creams, dairy products, confectionery and packaging. McDonald’s Morocco is also a 100% Moroccan staff. More than 2700 men and women strive every day to meet the needs of their customers.”
CHANNELL’Economiste, a daily business newspaper and Tel Quel, a monthly magazine on current affairs
GOALS To gain long term brand assets, i.e. recognition and validation from specific targeted groups
MESSAGING Emotional and rational
TARGET Agri-food industry, private and public stakeholders, suppliers, partners (franchisees), influencers, affluent consumers
CONTENT This is a statement on the brand’s economic role and the company’s social responsibility in a national context. The tagline is “United in loving, united in acknowledging”.
VISUAL The main character is a farmer. His old age, his rugged hands, the absence of machinery suggest this is a longstanding, small-sized farm and an artisanal production.
In major cities across Morocco, one sometimes sees wall-covering, outdoor billboards containing nothing but flamboyant pictures and catchy names of McDonalds’s hamburgers. These billboards zoom in on the product features, are designed to create mass awareness and to generate augmented footfall in their restaurants in the very short term. What’s in this nationwide ad campaign running over several months is a totally different game.
By populating its message with numbers, McDonald’s Morocco tries to demonstrate that it is no longer a mere outpost of a US brand confined to importing US products. They are re-introducing themselves as an authentic Moroccan company that deeply understands local consumers and only employs local talents. They also wish to be considered as a major player in the Moroccan economy as they source half of the ingredients from local suppliers.
This elaborated narrative not only has powerful numbers, it also has evocative verbs – to adapt to, to service, to commit, to strive. The intention is stress that the brand entered Morocco and established itself with humility.
The text would have been perfect had they 1/ used “partner with” instead of “work” [with local suppliers], 2/ been conservative with what can be defined as “raw materials” (last time I checked, ice cream, bread, packaging, confectionery did not qualify).
By presenting a visual loaded with symbols – the green field, the used hands, the generous smile – and using an emotional tagline, McDonalds wants also to convince that it is a socially responsible company. So the pitch turns into a call to feel for and acknowledge Moroccan farmers. As Moroccans have a very positive view of agriculture, they will hardly resist to respond to this call.
Here also, it would have been perfect had McDonald’s avoided misspelling “reconnaissance” (acknowledgment).
Ultimately, McDonald’s Morocco is making a substantive, well-articulated case that will greatly resonate with the targeted audiences – corporate and institutional decision makers, influencers, stakeholders. In recent years these groups have gained greater confidence, have been more assertive about the stature, capabilities and prospects of the Moroccan economy at both the national and continental levels.
The advert will also resonate with well-off Moroccans who, as they became more empowered, more discerning consumers, expect brands to court them with sophisticated pitches.
Perhaps the whole advert would have been further incisive had McDonald’s Morocco gone beyond this past-present approach. Inspiring people, taking them to the next level, proposing a mission and a vision has proved to be a successful way to build a brand. For instance, Nike’s vision is to inspire the athlete in everyone, Unilever’s vision is to make sustainable living commonplace.
So what could be McDonalds’s vision vis-à-vis empowered audiences looking to a promising future?
Surprisingly, fruits, of which Morocco is a great producer, are left off the list of raw materials above. Therefore a step forward for the company could be to source 100% of the ingredients exclusively at national level and to use marketing to celebrate partnerships with vegetable and fruit growers, in addition to wheat and milk producers, and cheese makers. This is not only within reach, but it would also represent a decisive milestone in McDonalds’s quest for undisputable authenticity.
Tembo means “elephant” in Swahili, one of the five official languages in DRC . Tembo or Kitembo is also a Bantu language mostly spoken in Kivu, a region in eastern DRC.
This billboard is situated in Avenue Kasa Vubu, a central artery in Bandalungwa, a popular, middle-class-working class district of Kinshasa. A frequently congestioned place, Avenue Kasa Vubu is also a booming hot spot offering both unformal and modern retail, from medium-sized supermarkets and Mc Donalds-like fast food restaurants to bars, street vendors and pop-up stores.
The three main slogans in the campaign are “Let’s sculpt our dreams” (“Sculptons nos rêves“), “Hope is at the end of your fingers” (“L’espoir est au bout de tes doigts“) and “The future in our hands” (“L’avenir dans nos mains“, not pictured here).
The bottom line is “Respect”.
Most ads about beer in central Africa associate the product with flashy music artists and events, and gatherings with family and friends. Many advertisers also show beer as a man’s thing – beer is a must when men watch sport or when they finish work. Thirdly, usually ads show some type of action with or around the product against a backdrop made of bright colours: the characters open the bottle, kiss the bottle, or play with it; it’s about the golden elixirium splashing out of the bottle, the bubbles whirlwinding in the belly of the beer glass, the thick white foam on top.
Tembo proposes a completely against-the-wind, unexpected, intriguing story. There is a minimalist imagery that acts as a stage where each of the four characters – the elephant logo, the man’s face, the product standing, the main slogan – plays fully its solo part. They don’t compete for attention, they collectively construct a simple, unified message. No gimmicks here: the label on the bottle reads “Beer Tembo, Breweries Simba, Democratic Republic of Congo“. Authenticity is the message.
The three faces of the campaign are three established or rising Congolese sculptors, Alfred “Maître” Liyolo, Freddy Tsimba, Vitshois Mwilambwe (not pictured here). Clearly, you hardly see contemporary art associated with mainstream products, particularly in these shores.
This is not Product Demonstration territory. We are with the evocative genre of advertising. There is the evocation of carefully handcrafted high quality that you also see in the Rolex “Mentor And Protégé” campaign. There is the evocation of excellence built by exceptional destinies that you also see in the Under Armour campaign starring Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater. In that campaign, she says “I will what I want” because she was not destined to be a ballerina, because it’s bigger than art.
Similarly, the three sculptors were not destined to be brand ambassadors. It’s bigger than beer. They are not Western imported celebrities. From Kinshasa, where they live and work, they made their work known and recognized around the world. This is why their message of empowerment is perfectly in tune with the aspiration for modernity-plus, let’s say sophistication, that I see inside Kinshasa middle- and upper-class circles.
See, the current narrative about the African beer market is that it has enormous growth opportunities (hence the mega merger between the world’s two biggest brewers, SABMiller and AB Inbev), particularly in the low end, commercial beer category. But Tembo appeals to consumers of craft beer, a product category which is finding greater acceptance with affluent consumers who are shifting in their tastes and upgrading their preferences. They are the ones who are naturally receptive and won over by smart, inspiring, iconic brand messages. This is precisely what Tembo has achieved here.
Main: “Also feed their minds so that they awaken” (from French: “Nourrir aussi leurs têtes pour qu’ils s’éveillent”)
Secondary: “New formula enriched with zinc” (from French: “Nouvelle formule enrichie au zinc”)
At the crossroad between Boulevard Anfa and Rue Addamir El Kabir, in the Gauthier neighbourhood, which is home to a renowned high school (Lycée Lyautey) and various public schools. Boulevard Anfa is a top 5 artery in Casablanca with non-stop heavy traffic, Gauthier is a busy, mixed-use, middle- and upper class district.
The colours are a bit washed up, a dead palm tree entered the frame: this wall-sized, outdoor advert has been there for a while. Nevertheless, thanks to its can’t-miss location and grand format, it is getting great visibility and making strong impact.
Two factories of the Groupe Bel, one in Casablanca, another in Tangiers, produce the Laughing Cow in Morocco. The product enjoys a staple status in Moroccans’ food habits. As such it no longer needs to say what it is: is it cheese? To consumers, The Laughing Cow is a category of its own and cheese is a separate product category.
And yet, the advert is not about asserting the brand’s leadership. It is of the informative type, using scientific arguments to demonstrate the benefits of a new recipe. The message to the targeted audience (the families) is that the brand continues to invest in innovation.
Playing the traditional family values card not only powerfully resonates in the local culture, but it also comes with the advantage that it is applicable to a diversity of situations, in time and space. For instance this ad is relevant in the back-to-school periods or any other family-oriented period during the year. It also works in neighbouring Algeria, where the product is number one in the cheese category.