Fair Exchange: Your Brand In Africa - Global Guest Or Global Bully?

24 Jul 2013|Erna George

One of my pet hates is those global brands who arrive on our shores thinking they can fill a gap in any market in Africa without altering their product, packaging or communication.

While possibly an acceptable position in 1995 when our country was making its way back into the global economy, this has been a no-no for some time.

I remember those horrible pink ads for that detergent with the mismatched lips and voice-over that harked back to the days of simulcast TV. Lucky for it, that brand delivered on promise and garnered consumer buy-in (not forgetting, of course, that choices were a little slimmer back then). Today, the brand has locally-made communication and is ostensibly making good money, if the prices it is asking are anything to go by.

Don’t get me wrong; it is great to have access to world class brands and offers, but it is critical to ensure world class branding is also delivered because Africa has become incredibly sophisticated when it comes to brands.

Some brands have adapted to local conditions and got it right. Take Handy Andy, for instance. Elsewhere it goes by the name of Cif (pronounced ‘siff’). Not here. No explanation necessary.

Immersing in local markets with consumers, or partnering local experts, to ensure you know the local context and nuances enables global brands to win.

What thrills me is that I see far fewer poor examples of this. And when I compare that pink detergent launch to what Ariel is doing in South Africa as well as what I saw it do in Kenya when I was working there recently, I get goose bumps.

If memory serves me right, this is Ariel’s second attempt at the South African market, but this time I get the sense that they are ready for war, and they have a multi-pronged approach to take them into battle.

For credibility, they have used a trusted local spokesperson (Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu) in conjunction with a leading independent laboratory. For demonstration purposes, they’ve used real people to make real South African stains and then do a handwash. Both compare Ariel’s performance to the leading brand.

Added to this are the usual price promotions and ensured distribution in key channels. What I think has excitement is the introduction of a new format for machines – my own husband rushed out and bought a pack after seeing the commercial, despite my recent purchase of the monthly detergent!

All-in-all, it’s a very compelling campaign that takes on the likes of Omo and Skip with their long history in South Africa.

While in Nairobi, I picked up on a ‘green wave’ comprising numerous billboards and great merchandising in the Nakumatt (the equivalent of Pick n Pay or Shoprite in Kenya). I was also told how Ariel has actively targeted house-helpers who do the handwashing to demonstrate how powerfully it cleans while being gentle on hands. Now Kenyan house-helpers are actively asking for Ariel to replace the historical brand on the shopping list – the wave builds.

Interestingly, on the plane recently, I sat next to someone who had a note with a headline that said something like ‘Ariel has overtaken OMO in one month’. Now, I am not in habit of reading other people’s information, so I did not read any further.

But, let’s muse what this could mean. The headline could apply to sales, shelf space or myriad of other measures … but something must be working.

The established brands have reacted and are working hard to protect their space. I know, there’s been a flurry of increased OMO advertising and price promotions recently. Let’s watch this space to see the outcome.

Not every journey starts this well. I think the challenge for global brands is the battle between the efficiencies a single brand and communication piece brings versus the cost of ensuring local relevance. What needs to be added to this equation is the benefit of matching target market needs and local nuances.

With increased relevance the potential for success increases. While a single brand name can be in order, a different expression for communication or packaging is sometimes needed to match your target market requirements.

Of course there is space for global brands ‘selling’ international aspirational appeal, but often there are still some tweaks that need to be made whether it be on pack size, or where distributed, or something else to ensure it lands well in their country of choice.

Some of the brands who are not getting it right are from the beauty industry, which seems to continue to promote the western context of beauty. A case in point is those hair relaxer ads that show black women with long, flowing locks. My friends have certainly snickered at this saying ‘how do they expect us to buy this, it looks like it works for weaves, not her real hair!’

Fast food brands seem to get this ‘global brand made locally relevant right’ quite often. One of my pastimes is to visit MacDonald’s or KFCs in other countries to see what’s on the menu. Often, it’s the usual big Mac or Family bucket PLUS rice or pap instead of more European chips. And chopsticks instead of plastic forks!

For locals, there is something familiar that speaks to them. For the brand, there’s just enough to benefit from ubiquitous global communication with enough local flavour to ensure relevance.
If you’re on a team that’s bringing a global brand to Africa, consider that global muscle + respect for local markets = a winning formula.


– What about the current mix can be used and what aspects need tweaks?

– Have I looked or taken into account – local cultural and societal context or nuances?

– Which the local traditions, habits or heroes I can borrow to land the brand well?

Fair Exchange is a column on business relationships, written by Erna George, Business Director at Added Value for MarkLives. To read Erna’s previous post click here.

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