out of africa

24Apr07

I loved the music I heard whilst travelling in West Africa conducting some consumer research a few years ago. It’s so vibrant and fresh. You can also see some marked differences in the way Western brands are distributed and marketed in African states.

I remember one conversation in Nigeria that I had with a distribution manager for The Nigerian Bottling Company, who are owned by Coca-Cola. Many locals earn the equivalent of US$1 a day, and a bottle of Coca-Cola is therefore a luxury item for the majority. But Coca-Cola operate 16 bottling facilities, 82 distribution warehouses and supply 200,000 retail distribution outlets in Nigeria alone.

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The large number of bottling and distribution points isn’t because Nigerians drink several bottles each a day. It’s because the roads are so poor that they would damage the product if it were made centrally and then distributed across the whole country. So the company manufactures it in many locations and only transports it locally. Almost like a micro-brewery model.

Thinking of breweries, Guinness has enjoyed huge success since 2000 with the adoption of the Saatchi and Saatchi created ‘Michael Power’ campaign across Africa. For those who missed the ads, the Michael Power character is a cross between a kind of African James Bond and a journalist.

His huge appeal across Africa is partly due to his looks, confidence and very macho success seen in the campaign. But the ambiguity in his exact origin allows him to appear as an international role-model who is still ‘one of us’ across diverse African cultures and nationalities.

This is important, because some Africans teasingly describe Afro-Caribbeans as ‘not proper black’ and Cleveland Mitchell, the actor who plays the part, is a Jamaican who was raised in the U.K. The campaign worked very well and sales were up 50% by 2003, 2 years ahead of target for Guinness.

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Michael Power appeared in a number of ads over the last six years, as well as in a US$5m brand sponsored movie that enjoyed good distribution in Africa and DVD sales worldwide amongst the African Diaspora.

Maintaining momentum behind a brand and a specific idea is difficult, particularly when clients change or the agency creatives gets restless with working on the project for a number of years. But there is a lot to say for continuity in strong campaigns, after-all, why would you kill the golden brand goose?

However, there was always an element lacking for me in the Michael Power idea and this now appears to be addressed. There was always a feeling that the Guinness brand campaign was about him (Michael Power) being cool and not about me (the consumer).

It’s also easy to post-rationalise that the brand benefit was externalised in clichéd macho glamour and not internalised to the drinking experience.

So I was interested to learn that this month sees the launch of the next Guinness brand campaign in Africa. In Kampala the new campaign will reveal the idea that ‘There is a drop of greatness in everyone.’

What a beautiful (dare I say brutally simple?) idea. A drop of greatness we may all aspire to and enjoy.

Such a unifying, emotionally warming, spirit makes the brand not only aspirational, but also accessible. It finally embeds the brand in the truth of the drinking experience.

Bloody hell, it looks like there has been some account planning and consumer insight on a pan-African campaign that hasn’t been reduced to African male-stereotypes!

The idea is also rooted in a desire to build frequency of experience, as there is a sense that the ‘Drop of Greatness’ is not aspired to once in a lifetime, but is the kind of inspirational behaviour we all should reach for everyday. What a nice way to think of encouraging you to drink a bottle or two regularly.

At a guess, I’d say Ama Okyere in Saatchi London and the team in Saatchi South Africa probably had a hand in the thinking. Well done.

Baker Magunda, the Uganda Breweries boss said: “Guinness has always been about Greatness. The new campaign is simply a natural evolution of the Michael Power campaign, which has been with us for many years. It is time to move the campaign from being about the Greatness of one man, to being about the Greatness in every man.”

I hope the creative work and production values bring the concept to life in the way it deserves and I can’t wait to see the finished work.

Which leads me to thinking about the unity a brand idea can emit, like a magnet attracting diverse consumers from different countries to join a new tribe. And how visible brands can make people identify and classify each other on first sight.

A consumer group have long been identified in East Africa and are catching on across the whole of the continent. The Wabenzi are making their presence felt, influencing the aspirations of young Africans and increasingly the attention of African journalists and bloggers.

Wabenzi is the Swahili name used to describe ‘The people of the Mercedes-Benz.’ (n.b. some sources translate the word ‘people’ as ‘drivers.’)

Its usage has become common parlance across many African nations over the last decade. The members of the Wabenzi are stereotyped as government and corporate officials, sometimes corrupt, but always powerful and wealthy when compared to the average African consumer.

While a Nike baseball cap may be a prize for a child who aspires one day to ‘just do it’ and actually own a pair of shoes. To aspire to be like the Wabenzi marks an individual out as truly recognising power, style and the possibility that wealth may not come from thinking of others.

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In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s police escorted Mercedes motorcade is referred to as ‘Bob and the Wailers’ as it cuts a noisy path through the streets. His Mercedes-Benz S600L stretch-limo is seen as the ultimate trophy of the Wabenzi tribe.

The Wabenzi tribe are actually associated with driving many different luxury cars and 4×4 vehicles, such as the Toyota Land Cruiser, BMW and Range Rover. But whether travelling in a motorcade or alone, tribal membership is conferred on-sight by the envious African majority. I’m sure they see more than a drop of greatness, but not all of it benign.

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