Pyramid scheme: To reach Africa’s poorest consumers, face-to-face contact works best

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

DISPOSABLE nappies take up much of the shelf space at the ABC Supermarket in Kliptown, a district of Soweto, an urban sprawl west of Johannesburg. “Kliptown is a baby town,” says Mossa, the ABC’s owner. His store carries a wide range of nappies, from global brands such as Huggies and Pampers to less familiar lines from Egypt and Turkey.

Outside its doors a team of locals is promoting Huggies to passing mums. Like Pampers they are sold singly so parents can buy one for when a reliable nappy is critical (a long trip in a cramped minibus, say). However, says the team leader, Sipho, Huggies also come in a bag that will safely store a used nappy until it can be binned.

Sipho’s team works for The Creative Counsel (TCC), a firm that specialises in marketing to the poorest consumers at the “bottom of the pyramid”, a term popularised by the late C.K. Prahalad, a management guru. TCC was established in 2001 as a two-person advertising agency by Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved. It has grown into one of South Africa’s largest. As well as Kimberley-Clark, the maker of Huggies, its clients include Unilever, Danone and Vodacom, part of Vodafone. TCC wins business because, as well as crafting a sales message, it can deploy a small army of people like Sipho to deliver it.

In the past international firms often took a simplistic view that African consumers aspired to a Western lifestyle, says Mr Oved. But billboard and newspaper campaigns based on that premise lacked impact. Imported television ads dubbed in local vernacular were scorned. Building brand loyalty among low-income shoppers is a job best done by folk who speak the language and know the lives of people they are selling to. That is why in places like Soweto TCC employs locals to work as cheerleaders for brands.

Source: The Economist (link opens in a new window)

marketing and advertising