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Using South Africa’s Story to Your Advantage

by on June 26, 2010

When 32 nations get together every four years for the World Cup, a clash of cultures is to be expected. Ideally, these nations would only clash on the pitch, but this time around there has been a significant amount of tension over one particular aspect of South African culture – the vuvuzela.

As the World Cup kicked off two weeks ago, the complaints against the vuvuzela were nearly as loud as the deep buzzing sound produced by the chorus of these horns during games. Rick Reilly summarized the feelings of many outside South Africa about the vuvuzelas as he included them 3 times in his top 10 most annoying things about the World Cup. Apparently even the more tech-savvy soccer fans didn’t appreciate the sound either, and quickly found a way to program high-end televisions to tune out the noise (which is a B flat for the musically inclined out there). FIFA even discussed banning vuvuzelas from all World Cup matches (but later decided against it).

As marketers, the vuvuzela really should be music to our ears. It isn’t every day that an audience comes out and makes one of their unique traditions so obvious. Although not all South Africans feel as strongly about the vuvuzela, some have not been shy about showing their support online. Of course, FIFA has other audiences to cater to, particularly in Europe where soccer gets the most significant amount of it’s support. However, it’s important to embrace the local culture and use it to your advantage.

A great example of this is Hyundai, who may have gotten their hands on too much of a good thing as they built a giant vuvuzela, triggered by text message, on an unfinished overpass in downtown Cape Town.

I love this idea, but I bet I wouldn’t feel so positively about it if I lived in the apartment building directly across from it. For understandable reasons, it was not immediately embraced by the city council. Regardless, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t get people talking about Hyundai. Of course, they went for the low-hanging fruit by grabbing the most obvious thing South Africans associate with soccer.

The real challenge is doing some good research and finding out some not-so-obvious details about the local society that could help a marketer take a meaningful step toward connecting with the audience.

After watching the last 15 days of the World Cup, reading through and and viewing Invictus, I feel like I know a thing or two about the “Rainbow Nation.” South Africa, right now, can really be boiled down into a diverse society that is trying to unite and move beyond its troubled past to build a better tomorrow. Brand South Africa is embracing this well in its “The South Africa You Want to Live in Campaign,” which gives South Africans an opportunity to share their hopes and dreams for the future of South Africa using a variety of media including text messaging and comments on their website. This is the kind of campaign, one that lends itself well to social media and focuses on the future of South Africa, that outside companies should be adopting.

The best example I could find of a foreign company doing this, surprisingly, came from World Cup sponsor BP. Their ad campaign, which is all available on YouTube, pokes some gentle fun at some South African stereotypes. But, most importantly, all three of their commercials focus on bringing people together to build “a nation united.”

Although BP isn’t looked on too favorably in the world right now, it seems their ads have taken some steps to find some sympathy in South Africa, if only for its sense of humor.

The lesson here is to look beneath the surface for ways to link with a foreign audience. In the case of South Africa, it might be a culture of people that love to sing and dance and generally make noise, but I think its also a nation with several proud groups of people trying to come together to work towards building a bright future. The companies that integrate this message into their campaigns, and discuss how they can help with the task, are the ones that will succeed.


From → South Africa

  1. I enjoyed the insights and thinking in this post. The vuvuzelas have indeed stolen the show at the World Cup, but you relate it nicely to the broader context of how brands need to have some cultural insights relative to the place they are marketing to before they can do something really engaging. The example of BP was a good way to bring this to life and support the main point of your post. The only small thing that could have made this post better was choosing a title more aligned to your main point … particularly given that your title only really makes sense if you watch the video – something that you often cannot count on a reader of your blog post to do (as people read feeds and on Blackberries all the time). Aside from that small point, great post. (5)

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