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.