Creating resonating local content leads to brand growth

The Hey-Ho orange juice TV commercials that promoted the brand in Kenya in the 70s were created in the U.K. The fact that the Caucasian actors were not a reflection of the market did not matter to us as much as the enjoyment of seeing in motion happy people consuming juice from freshly squeezed oranges on Colour television, which was the latest development in broadcast technology at the time.

Come the 2000s and Kenyans rejected the Airtel advertising en mass even though it contained Africans actors. Research at the time showed that the consumers had evolved and now preferred to see their ‘own’ in advertising content for it to be both relevant and engaging. Back at the Airtel headquarters the plan of shooting commercials in South Africa with models selected for having the appearance that would pass as universally African seemed like a very good idea at the time. They could create some great advertising and make wonderful savings from central location shooting and production, and then deliver it to audiences across the continent.

You can blame Citizen TV for spoiling our viewers because they served daily helpings of local dramas with storylines and production values that deeply resonated with the wananchi. As the ratings of the local content shot through the roof, the work of marketing managers rose to their eyebrows because the highest advertising memorability and appeal was now associated with local celebrities and cultural trends.

It still beats me that brands with multimillion shilling media budgets would import productions with black actors of unknown origin and then slap on lip-syncing that is as uncoordinated as 1980s Kung Fu movies translated into English, without subtitles. Ironically, the few millions they save on producing great ads will be demanded to fix the brand image when determined competitors in the category come calling.

While in Addis Ababa last week we were introduced to a new beer brand called Habesha that is growing by leaps and bounds. The story was told to us by an Ethiopian media executive who was developing promotional activities for the brand, so like with tequila, we took the tale with a pinch of salt.

The brand has been introduced into the market and in less than a year it has become one of the most popular beverages, and when we asked our hosts to recommend a drink they named Habesha Beer without a hint of hesitation. This was one demonstration that it had captured the imagination of the Ethiopian beer consumers. We also observed that when bottles of Habesha were served, diners would immediately pick them up and stare at the word ‘Cold Gold’ on the label.

We launched an immediate investigation to find out what caused this curious behavior and found the answer on the back label where it was promised that if the text of the word ‘Cold Gold’ had turned blue, then the beer was at the perfect drinking temperature; if the text was still white, then it was not cool enough.

In a country that has frequent power blackouts, this is a wonderful gimmick that initiates a social norm as the ceremony of determining the chill factor of beer is performed before consumption. Obviously this idea wouldn’t fly in markets where beverages are always served ice-cold irrespective of the organ-numbing temperatures outside.

The design on the label uses Amharic script and artwork reminiscent of traditional Ethiopian paintings closely associate with their history. In line with their brand architecture, they have embarked on innovative promotional activities that link strength, pride and legacy with cultural programmes. Recently they sponsored a 3 part series of a radio programme that dramatized the Battle of Adwa, an event which is cemented in the minds of all Ethiopians as it was a defining moment in modern history.

When it comes to originality though, I had my own reservations about the name. According to our hosts, the Arabs refer to Ethiopia as Habesha, and the word is a combination of the 3 largest ethnic communities in the country. The word is extremely popular and many brands adopt it in combination with other words, yet it is still held in high esteem. This is quite unlike the word ‘royal’ in the U.K. – the regular warning being, ‘if it has the word ‘royal’ in it, don’t buy it.

Habesha Beer’s advertising is truly in line with its brand values and does so in a way that is authentic and not only do they promote traditional and positive values, they also lead the way when it comes to creating local content that deeply touches their target audience.


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